After fully recovering from Covid in Cape Town, South Africa (a wild story!), my husband and I had a few Covid-free days to explore the area before flying home. We took advantage and signed up for a South African activity that I have been wanting to do for a long time – wine tasting on the Franschhoek Wine Tram! This article shares valuable information for those planning their own Franschhoek Wine Tram tour, whether from Cape Town or not!
Of initial importance, the Franschhoek Wine Tram visits wineries in and around Franschhoek, South Africa (not Stellenbosch town). Franschhoek is a small town, originally founded by the Dutch, a little over an hour outside Cape Town that is famous for its wineries and gorgeous scenery. Franschhoek very close to Stellenbosch (and part of the Stellenbosh municipality), another popular wine town in Cape Town. Tourists visit Franschhoek to taste wine and visit the downtown area, and they come as both day trippers from Cape Town and those staying a few nights. Franschhoek, like Stellenbosh, is filled with cute bed and breakfasts, shops, cafes, and restaurants that and could easily occupy a few days. We only had one day, so it was a day trip from Cape Town for our visit!
THE FRANSCHHOEK WINE TRAM
Ok next, the Franschhoek Wine Tram! The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a combination tram/bus system that transports visitors around a “wine circuit” visiting around eight different wineries. For ease of discussion, I will refer to both the tram and bus as the “tram” unless expressly stated. Guests can get on and off the tram at the various wineries as they please, and the tram drop off/pick up times are very clearly set. The tram runs the circuit continuously thorough out the day from the morning until very early evening. The tram is easy enough to board/disembark, just a step or two on and off the tram.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram is separated into four routes, or “circuits”, with two color-coded lines serving each route: Purple & Orange, Pink and Grey, Blue & Green, and Yellow & Red. All wine tours depart from the Franschhoek Terminal right in downtown Franschhoek, except the Purple and Orange lines. The Purple and Orange lines depart from the Groot Drakenstein Terminal a bit outside of Franschhoek’s downtown.
With regard to the various wine routes, which wineries are visited on each route are clearly listed on the Franschhoek Wine Tram’s website and each color line hits every winery on the circuit, just at different times. If there is a restaurant and/or winery you want to visit, be sure that its on your line. Here is an example of the Orange and Purple lines for an idea of what I mean by the color lines and the circuit. As you can see below, each visits eight different wineries throughout the day, dropping off and picking up at specific times. Honestly, it looks confusing online, but its quite easy once there.
I would also note, importantly, all colored lines EXCEPT the Orange and Purple lines, stay at each winery for one hour. The Orange and Purple lines only stay at each winery for 45 minutes. I found 45 minutes to be a bit too short to do a leisurely tasting and, as discussed below, recommend guests on the Orange and Purple lines to visit fewer wineries and stay longer (for example, stay 1.5 hours rather than 45 minutes).
THE ORANGE AND PURPLE ROUTES – MY REVIEW OF THE WINERIES.
While most Franschhoek Wine Tram passengers can choose any route, those coming from Cape Town with CitySightseeing tours, which we did, are limited to the Purple and Orange line. Which you get between Purple and Orange is random, although you can ask for a particular route, and unless you have a preference of winery visit order, the two routes are equal. We asked for the Purple Route due to a lunch reservation at Vrede en Lust and received the Purple Line with no issues. Aside from the order of wineries, the one difference is that the Orange Line starts on the actual “tram”, whereas the Purple Line begins on the bus and later moves to the “tram”. Don’t worry – both lines ride the tram and receive the tiny tram wine sample that people love so much!
As mentioned, the wine tram has eight stops, each at 45 minutes on the Orange and Purple lines. Due to our schedule and time constraints imposed by CitySightseeing, we could visit a maximum of five wineries with 45 minute visits at each stop. We opted to visit only four wineries, staying 1.5 hours at the last stop to have lunch. Looking back, I would probably visit three and stay 45 minutes at 1 winery and 1.5 hours at two others. In any case, it’s totally up to the visitor whether to catch the train or wait for the next one. Wineries are pretty accustomed to getting wine tram passengers in and out in 45 minutes, but as the day goes on, wineries get busy, especially on the weekend. We found it best to order as soon as someone asked and then ask for the check when our wine first arrived. Here is a summary of our day and the wineries that we visited.
ALLÉE BLEUE. Allée Bleue is the first stop on the Purple Line, and we arrived promptly at 9:55 AM (the first drop off for CitySightseeing passengers). We originally planned to skip Allée Bleue, but it was very pretty so we got off the tram (maybe we were also a little excited)! Allée Bleue is located in a gorgeous setting with an outdoor, sit down tasting room overlooking the stunning vineyards. The tasting room also offers food, and we saw a lot of families eating breakfast. We skipped breakfast and went with the Allée Bleue Signature Tasting at R105 per person, which came with generous samples of five wines: sparkling, a white, and three reds. The final red was our favorite. Had we not already purchased so much wine, we have taken a few bottles home. We managed to taste all five wines in 45 minutes, but we were vigilant about the time. Keep that in mind if stopping here. Looking back, I recommend Allée Bleue for a breakfast and tasting pairing over 1.5 hours. In other words, get off at 9:55 AM and catch the Tram at 11:15 to move to the next vineyard.
We paid our tab and walked out to catch the wine tram (i.e. bus) right at 10:28 AM. I would note that the wine tram runs on time, and there are not many steps between Allée Bleue’s Tasting Room and the bus stop (for those with difficulties).
BOSCHENDAL. From Allée Bleue, we rode the Tram two stops, arriving at Boschendal at 10:57 AM. Boschendal is one of Franschhoek’s most popular, upscale, and well known wineries, which was the reason for our decision to stop at Boschendal. We had even tasted one of Boschendal’s wines our our food tour of Cape Town! Like Allée Bleue, Boschendal is set on a gorgeous property with seating in front of an old white house that has been turned into the tasting center. Tastings are due under a big tree, and its popular to do a wine and chocolate pairing here. We skipped the chocolate at went solely with the Cap Classique – i.e. Cape Town’s version of sparkling wine – tasting. For this tasting, we tried four types of Cap Classique, from very dry to too sweet. We finished our tasting and ran out to catch the 11:57 AM Tram. I would again note that this was a quick tasting, and given how busy Boschendal is, we got lucky to get a seat and a tasting within 45 minutes. Further, Boschendal requires a walk from the wine tram to the tasting area. It was easy for us, but could take a bit of time for slower movers. Finally, Boschendal also offers small plates if guests are hungry. Returning, I would also stay 1.5 hours at Boschendal and do the wine and chocolate pairing!
Pro tip – Boschendal sells wine carriers for purchase, as well as a few food goods and wine things (openers, decanters, etc.). If you want to take wine home, get your wine carriers here! They hold 6 bottles with enough packaging to check it on two international flights!
PLASIR DE MERLE. After Boschendal, we boarded the wine tram (or bus), which took as back to Groot Drakenstein Terminal station. Here, we moved from the bus to the actual wine train to travel to Plasir de Merle! The actual wine tram is two floors and we sat on the top floor in the front for the best views! As we boarded, we were also given a tiny glass of Cap Classique to drink on the short journey between Groot Drakenstein Terminal and Plasir de Merle. We arrived at Plasir de Merle right on time and were met by a Plasir de Merle van to transport us between the wine tram and the tasting room. Plasir de Merle was my favorite stop. Home to local shopping, a swanky indoor tasting room, and an outdoor tasting room, we opted for a wine and fudge pairing – how unique and fun! We paired four wines with four fudges. Each were delicious, but, again, I wish we had doubled our time here to 1.5 hours instead of just 45 minutes. I would have liked to have done some additional shopping!
VREDE EN LUST. Our final stop on the Wine Tram was Vrede en Lust. We boarded the wine tram at Plasir de Merle (a van drove us from the tasting room to the wine tram stop) and de-trammed at Vrede en Lust, where we made lunch reservations at their restaurant, Lust Bistro and Bakery. Since we did lunch here, we spent 1.5 hours at Lust, which was pre-planned. Lust Bistro and Bakery offers food and wine, though no wine “tastings.” As such, we ordered an “award winning” bottle of red to go with my pizza and Dan’s healthy with a salad. The food was good, but not outstanding. I would eat here again only if it fit my schedule. After lunch, we moved to the wine tasting area.
After lunch, we moved to the tasting area, where I tasted a couple of Vrede en Lust’s wines. Dan skipped this and took a nap, LOL. The tasting area of Vrede en Lust is gorgeous and overlooks the vineyards, as well as mountains in the background.
Vrede also offers gin tastings, as well as several other activities. Due to time constraints, we missed these things, but you could certainly spend a lot of time at Vrede en Lust. I would note that each “activity” has its own area, so you need ample time to hit everything.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR USING THE FRANSCHHOEK WINE TRAM
- You do not have to use the wine tram to visit wineries. Visitors can drive themselves/take taxis.
- You don’t need a reservation at wine tram wineries – the wineries are experts at getting wine trammers in and out (which is good and bad, nevertheless, as recommended, do less and stay longer).
- After the wine tram stops running, Ubers and taxis are difficult to find (at least according to locals). Be sure to plan transportation in advance if you are staying into the evening in Franschhoek but not overnight.
- All the wineries took credit card.
- If you purchase wine and plan to check it back to the states, a wine carrier is not a bad purchase. We purchased two, which were nice bags that perfectly fit styrofoam (included) to hold six bottles of wine. Our wine was transported in these boxes from South Africa to the US via Frankfurt! No problem.
- Also, if you buy wine on the wine tram, the wine tram will hold it for you for free until you leave for the day, which is really nice to not have to carry it around.
- If you are simply traveling within South Africa, you can carry on wine on airplanes! Yes, you can take wine from Cape Town to other parts of South Africa in your carry-on. As such, a wine carrier may not make sense in this case (although you can carry the wine carriers on as a carry on).
- If there is a restaurant at which you really want to have a meal on a wine tram route, I suggest making a reservation.
- The Wine Tram has a small gift shop at each terminal selling wine tram branded things, some local artisanal products, and snacks, coffee and non-alcoholic beverages.
- While we skipped other wineries on the Purple Line for random reasons based purely on time, we skipped Babylonstoren for the specific reason that it is advertised as being very child friendly and busy. I would leave extra time if you are visiting Babylonstoren, especially over the weekend.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Franschhoek Wine Train: This is the English website.
CitySightseeing: We did CitySightseeing’s Wine Tram Tour from Cape Town through Viator. Our tour departed from the V&A Waterfront area and returned to the same spot. You must arrive early to collect tickets from CitySightseeing booth, and you must have proof of purchase either on your phone or in hard copy. If you cannot find this confirmation, CitySightseeing is totally unhelpful. CitySightseeing coordinated the bus both ways, purchased the wine tram tickets and explained how it works. The CitySightseeing bus does have restrooms on board. All in all, this was an easy way to get out to Franschhoek, but I would stay the night if you really want to get in lots of tastings.
All of the wineries we visited are linked above if you want to plan your own visit!