The Western Cape is blessed with some of the best driving roads in the world. One destination, in particular, offers a tantalising combination of boutique shopping and seat-of-the-pants thrills. Contributor Ian McLaren spent a morning exploring the many attractions the bourgeoning town of Franschhoek has to offer.
Nestled at the foot of the Western Cape’s Wemmershoek Mountain Range, the first farm to be established in the ‘Fransche Hoek’ broke ground more than 300 years ago. While the three-arched monument standing tall at the summit of this town’s Main Road serves as a reminder of the culture these Huguenot settlers introduced, the unmistakably French influence remains proudly entrenched within the lifeblood of contemporary Franschhoek.
With original farms such as La Motte, Haute Cabrière, La Provence and La Dauphine continuing to prosper, the steady growth of other amenities and industry within Franschhoek’s borders, including the establishment of new schools and infrastructure, has seen this once quaint town grow into a viable alternative to traditional Cape Town suburban living.
Combine this with the natural beauty of this part of the world and it’s little wonder many prominent family names from both within South Africa and abroad have been drawn to this area.
Dramatic rock faces to one side and sheer drops to the other.
Currently home to some of the finest dining experiences, luxury weekend-away destinations and high-end art collections in the country, a clue towards a somewhat more accessible daytrip drawcard to Franschhoek can be found within the town’s official flag. Dominated by the French tricolour, a lone grey elephant sited at the centre of the flag tells the mythical tale of a herd of these lumbering mammals that once grazed in this valley before carving a seasonal path over the adjacent mountain range towards the pastures that today house the Theewaterskloof Dam.
While the last of these elephants has long since vanished, the trail these magnificent beasts created would form the silhouette for the 23 km of Lambrechts Road that, once tarred in the 1960s, would become known as Franschhoek Pass. Dominated by dramatic rock faces to one side and sheer drops to the other, it’s said that Jan Joubertsgat Bridge located midway over the pass is one of the oldest of its kind in South Africa.
Roughly an hour’s drive from Cape Town, it’s best to arrive in Main Road with the light from the rising sun still threatening to summit the peaks above. Crisp at this time of the morning no matter what the season, seek comfort within one of the many coffee and breakfast shops that line the road leading to the Huguenot Monument. While some cater to modern trends and flavours, always popular is the traditional charm of Café Franschhoek, including a choice of pavement or fireplace-warmed inside dining. Watch as this small town comes to life with pavements being swept and vendors preparing to trade before setting course up and over the pass before it gets too congested.
Introduced in 1986 as a homologation special that would allow BMW continued participation in racing series such as the DTM (German Touring Cars), the first-generation M3 was never officially sold in South Africa. Indeed, our market would have to wait until the launch of the second-generation (E36) 3 Series before it would gain access to the pinnacle 3. Through four subsequent generations covering nearly three decades, the M3 and, since 2014, its two-door M4 sibling have been engineered to offer enthusiastic customers (of which there have been many over the years) a heightened sense of connection, precision and performance compared with the already impressively accomplished standard 3 and 4 Series models on which each has been based.
If previous generations of the M3 and M4 have tended to favour dynamic ability over everyday usability, the all-new models aim to make sure you get to and from your favourite section of driving road in as much comfort as possible. To this end, while a return to a traditional automatic transmission offers altogether fewer jarring gearshifts in all driving conditions compared with the double-clutch arrangement fitted in the previous-generation cars, the new models also offer a plethora of configuration options, ranging from maximum comfort to all-out attack mode.
One of the highlights of a superbly well-appointed interior in the new M3 and M4 Competition twins is a set of red ‘M’ buttons positioned on the steering wheel, within easy reach of either thumb, left and right. Adding a welcome sense of purpose to an already appropriately upgraded cabin, these buttons, labelled 1 and 2, can be programmed to host a set of one-touch, predetermined system setups, including the firmness of the suspension, sensitivity levels of the steering and throttle pedal, and even at which moment in proceedings you’d prefer the car’s stability control technology to intervene.
While snug-fitting optional bucket seats and, indeed, the Sao Paulo Yellow paint finish seen here won’t be to everyone’s tastes, the appeal of the impressively powerful (375 kW / 650 Nm) new BMW M3 Competition and M4 Competition is that they harness all of this German carmaker’s knowhow when it comes to driving dynamics and handling prowess within a package that, despite looking suitably purposeful, is generally easy to live with on a daily basis.
Harness all of this German carmaker’s knowhow when it comes to driving dynamics and handling prowess
Arriving back at the town, allow time to park your car before enjoying a leisurely stroll either side of Main Road, setting course for one of a selection of ice-cream stores or even the famous chocolatier in Daniel Hugo Street. Just remember to keep a keen eye and ear open for any number of other high-end sportscars or motorcycles making their way towards the pass…
There’s even a chance that, should you fall in love with one of the many pieces of art on display throughout the town of Franschhoek, it could potentially fit comfortably into newest M car’s generously sized boot space. Worst case, you courier the art and fill the boot with cases of award-winning wine and chocolate instead.
Photography by Ian McLaren