Last week I wrote about our wonderful walking holiday through rural Italy. Often during this unique experience, I noticed similarities with Franschhoek – the charming villages, the picturesque landscape, authentic hospitality, delicious food and wine. And then, a few days later, Franschhoek was hit by a storm that caused extensive damage to its infrastructure and industries. Back home, in the aftermath of the flooding and landslides with rescue and recovery operations underway, one must wonder, what is the real state of tourism in Franschhoek at the moment?
Coming from a long and wet winter, tourism in Franschhoek was finally back to pre-Covid levels, says CEO of Franschhoek Tourism, Ruth McCourt, and then came the weekend’s flooding. She does continue to say, however, that while working tirelessly to recover and rebuild, the valley stays open for business. Electricity and water supply would hopefully be restored by the weekend and social media posts were keeping visitors updated as to which establishments are ready to receive guests. Now working from a temporary office at Mont Rochelle, known for its magnificent views, Ruth keeps an eye on everything happening in the valley below and while sympathising with the heartache of many, she praises the support and strength of the Franschhoek community.
Despite such a positive attitude, there is no denying the damage to some establishments. The accommodation sector was hit particularly hard. Extensive damage to guest houses, chalets and wedding venues on the brink of the tourism and wedding season, is tragic. Despite the millions of Rands in damage to infrastructure and furnishings, the loss of income from bookings for the season, will have a detrimental effect on all local businesses.
Quick to react, the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) has extended an invitation to tourism attractions affected by the storms of the past weekend (23 – 25 September 2023) to register their organisation with the Western Cape Government. DEDAT is in discussions with the Department of Tourism with a view to identifying possible assistance that can be availed to affected attractions, however, information is needed to assess the scale of the impacts. Please click here to participate in the survey.
While the scale of the damage affects the seasonal income for some, it also resulted in more immediate needs for others. Franco, the Franschhoek Resource and Network Coordination Organization is helping those who are displaced. They are collecting donations – physical donations can be dropped off at 5 Mark Street, Groendal, Franschhoek, while financial contributions can be made via their website.
La Motte Farm Manager, Jaco Visser, who measured 250 mm of rain on La Motte in five to six hours this weekend, says that the rainstorms higher up in the mountains were even more severe and about 300 mm of rain fell in a ridiculous short time. He explains that the exceptionally wet season until now also contributes to the disaster. Our average rainfall is 500 mm annually. In 2023, before this weekend’s figures, we were already at 1200 mm. This means much more groundwater than usual and a higher water table. When the weekend’s rain fell on such saturated soils, it resulted in rivers and mudslides and the consequential damage along the mountain slopes and in the valley.
Can we hope that this was the end of the raining season for the Cape Winelands? According to independent agricultural meteorologist, Johan van den Berg in an article for Landbouweekblad, the Cape can expect more rain during the first 10 days of October. The forecast is, however, more focused on the Northern parts of the Southern Cape, the Garden Route and coastal areas of the Eastern Cape.
At La Motte we had significant damage to our vineyards and irrigation systems. Sandy soil run-offs resulted in clogging and water damming up – even in the cellar! Despite this, we are extremely grateful that we didn’t have significant damage to our visitor infrastructure or the historic werf where we currently have the Tasting Room, Bakery and JAN Franschhoek open for business as usual. Many other Franschhoek establishments are still operating as well and our community need support now more than ever. Keep an eye on the Franschhoek Valley social media updates and while we would suggest being wise and not hamper recovery efforts, don’t shy away from making your reservations where we are ready to welcome you.
Featured image: Terbodore Café, Franschhoek from Facebook