Nestled in the heart of the Cape Winelands, the Franschhoek Valley is famous for its magnificent mountain scenery, world-class culinary scene, and above all, its award-winning wineries. The region’s wine-making history began more than 300 years ago in France, when Protestant refugees fled to the Netherlands to escape Catholic persecution. Many of these refugees, known as Huguenots, were transported to the Dutch-governed Cape Colony in South Africa. In the Franschoek Valley, nine families were given land to farm, and used their native knowledge of viticulture to transform the wilderness into the region’s first vineyards.
Today there are an overwhelming number of wine estates in the Franschhoek area. The easiest way to get a comprehensive overview of the best the valley has to offer is to book a day out on the Franschhoek Wine Tram.
How Does it Work?
The Wine Tram offers a choice of eight hop-on, hop-off routes. Each one begins in Franschhoek Village, where you board a vintage-style railway tram or open-air tram-bus. You’ll be given a timetable detailing the names of the wineries on your chosen route, and the available drop-off and pick-up times for each one. You can decide which stops you want to disembark at, and how long you want to spend at each one. All of the wine estates offer different activities, including cellar tours and gourmet wine and cheese pairings. Most have restaurants where you can enjoy a languid lunch. The tram or tram-bus will return at scheduled intervals to pick you up and transport you to your next stop.
The tour costs 260 rand ($16) per adult and 90 rand ($5) for kids aged 3 to 17. Younger children are welcome and travel for free.
Which Route Should I Choose?
All eight of the Wine Tram routes offer breathtaking scenery, exceptional wine estates, and a knowledgable on-board guide. They are divided into the following pairs: the Blue and Green Lines, the Purple and Orange Lines, the Pink and Grey Lines, and the Red and Yellow Lines. Each pair visits the same selection of wine estates, but in a different order.
Generally speaking, the Blue and Green Lines focus on boutique estates with dramatic mountain scenery, while the Red and Yellow Lines specialize in internationally-renowned estates with rolling valley vineyards. For all four of these lines, the tram stops at each winery once an hour. Intervals are shorter on the Purple, Orange, Pink, and Grey Lines, with the tram stopping at each estate every 30 to 35 minutes. Choose one of these routes if you’d like greater flexibility and the chance to visit as many estates as possible.
One of the best ways to decide on a route is to research the region’s wine estates carefully before you book. Choose one or two must-visit properties, then opt for the line that best fits your schedule. Or, you can plan your trip based on the activities you want to take part in and where you want to have lunch. If you already have morning plans, the Red Line offers the latest departure, leaving at 1:30 p.m. from Franschhoek Village.
Notable Wine Farms
Each winery has been carefully chosen for the quality of its wine and activities, so all of them are well worth a visit. Some of them stand out for specific reasons, however; these are a few of our favorites:
Historic Wine Estates
If you’re interested in the history of wine-making in Franschhoek, pay a visit to one of the region’s oldest estates. Established in 1685, Boschendal is the second-oldest wine farm in South Africa, with original Cape Dutch architecture set against the stunning backdrop of the Simonsberg Mountains. A highlight of the Purple and Orange Lines, Boschendal offers gourmet chocolate pairings, Rose Garden picnics, and horse riding. Alternatively, take the Blue or Green Line to La Bri, a boutique winery established in 1688. Like Boschendal, it was one of the first nine farms granted to the Huguenots and specializes in chocolate and Turkish Delight pairings.
Foodie Wine Estates
World-class cuisine is a feature of most Franschhoek wineries. For outstanding gourmet meals, choose GlenWood (on the Blue and Green Lines) or Le Lude (on the Grey and Pink Lines). The former is a boutique winery known for its Fine Wine and Food Experience, which pairs a tasting flight of six of the estate’s best wines with samples of six matching dishes. Choose your favorite pairing as a memorable main course for lunch. Le Lude specializes in Methode Cap Classique sparkling wines and is home to gourmet French restaurant Orangerie.
Family Wine Estates
The Wine Tram welcomes children of all ages, but some of the more formal estates can be intimidating with little ones in tow. For the most family-friendly experience, build your itinerary around the Grande Provence or Leopard’s Leap estates. Grande Provence (a stop on the Blue, Green, Pink, and Grey Lines) offers a supervised jungle gym and special grape juice tasting sessions especially for kids. Leopard’s Leap (on the Pink and Grey Lines) is the most laid-back estate, with an informal buffet restaurant that caters to even the pickiest of eaters. From the restaurant, you can watch as the kids play on sprawling lawns with two jungle gyms.
Additional Tour Options
In addition to the standard hop-on, hop-off tours, the Franschhoek Wine Tram offers the following experiences.
Curated Wine Experience
For those in search of a more exclusive day out, this curated wine tour takes you on a tram ride to one of the region’s best wine farms. Here, a knowledgable local guide will treat you to a lecture on the science of wine-making, the history of the estate, and the unique grape varieties and cultivars of South Africa. After a tour of the estate cellar, enjoy a three-course lunch at the restaurant, followed by a premium wine tasting experience at two more acclaimed Franschhoek estates. This tour is for adults only and offers 12 spaces; book well in advance to secure your spot.
Village Walking Tour
This guided walking tour takes you through Franschhoek Village, one of the most beautiful small towns in South Africa. Stop at landmarks like the Franschhoek Town Hall and the Huguenot Memorial Monument and learn the history behind the town’s picturesque Cape Dutch architecture. You’ll also take part in a chocolate tasting at Huguenot Fine Chocolates, and watch a ceramic demonstration by a local artisan at ORGARI by HS workshop. The tour is followed by a complimentary glass of wine or Methode Cap Classique at River Café. There are 12 spaces on every tour, with departures at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
When to Go
The Wine Tram operates every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and during the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival (held over two days in September). In winter, certain lines may not operate on weekdays.
Many visitors choose to rent a car and drive themselves to Franschhoek for several days spent exploring the area’s wine estates, restaurants, and boutique hotels. From Cape Town, the journey takes roughly 1.5 hours depending on traffic. Take the R1 out of the city, then turn right onto the R45 near Klapmuts. All tours depart from the Franschhoek Terminal, located on the corner of Main Road and Cabriere Street in Franschhoek Village. You will find free public parking nearby.
If you want to visit Franschhoek for the day only, avoid drinking and driving by booking an exclusive transfer to and from your hotel. The Wine Tram offers door-to-door services from Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Strand for reasonable rates that start at 600 rand ($36) per person. Alternatively, City Sightseeing offers all-inclusive Franschhoek Wine Tram experiences that include transfers from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and a ride on the Purple or Orange Line.
- If you have a specific route and departure time in mind, it’s a good idea to book online via the Wine Tram website at least a few days in advance. Tickets can be collected from the ticket office in Franschhoek Village 15 minutes before your scheduled departure time.
- For lunch at one of the estate restaurants, be sure to call ahead and make a reservation to avoid disappointment.
- If you buy a Wine Tram tote bag from the ticket office, you will be given a discount card that you can use when purchasing wine at participating estates. Leave your bottles with the tram driver and pick them up from the ticket office at the end of the day.
- Don’t expect to visit all of the wine estates listed on your chosen route. Choosing four or five should give you enough time to explore each one properly.
- You can (and should) spend a full day on the Wine Tram. Allocate a minimum of three hours for a worthwhile experience.
- All lines operate in one direction only. This means you will only have one chance to get off at each wine estate, so plan your stops carefully.
- Fees for wine tasting and other activities or meals are not included in the tour price, and differ from one estate to the next. Budget for between 25 rand ($2) and 150 rand ($9) per person, per tasting.