- 16 Dec 2016
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A Drive You Cannot Miss
As the name suggests, this sinewy route comprises four passes – Sir Lowry's, Viljoen's, Franschhoek and Helshoogte – with vast changes in elevation, varying road surfaces and breathtaking scenery. The base of Helshoogte in Stellenbosch not only signals the start of the drive but is also the final pass in this quartet of driving pleasure. Start early with coffee at Stellenbosch Kitchen before heading eastward to Somerset West.
First up is Sir Lowry's Pass, a 9.5 km stretch that rises almost 500m before dropping into the Grabouw valley. It's not the most exciting ribbon of tarmac, but is the gateway to the more enticing roads of this adventure. Before darting left into Grabouw, the Peregrine Farm Stall provides a small respite and the opportunity to stretch your legs or grab one of the restaurant's famous pies. The next sequence of bitumen can be described as simply superb. Categorised by its famous hairpin, the drop into Villiersdorp via Viljoen's Pass is one of the most spectacular descents in the region. The fast and flowing rollercoaster-like topography ensures an adrenalin-fuelled ride.
As you approach the lead-up to Franschhoek Pass, you'll notice the Sonderend River. This part of the drive is arguably the most exciting, as the initial entry to Franschhoek Pass is fast and furious. In fact, the aftermath of star drift driver Mad Mike Whiddett's exploits are still clearly etched onto the tarmac, a testament to the reputation this special piece of road has garnered all around the world. The first part of Franschhoek Pass from the Villiersdorp side is easy and flowing and allows for a steady rhythm and the chance to get your eye in. A little bridge signals the start of the pass proper – here you will need to remain composed, carefully choose your lines and just enjoy the flow. The descent into Franschhoek is just as spectacular as the views from the top. There are several lay-by areas and viewpoints at summit that serve not only for photographic purposes but also a chance to savour the sheer beauty of the Franschhoek valley below. Beware of the local wildlife though – encountering a troop of baboons is a regular occurrence and feeding them is prohibited.
Depending on the time of the day, traffic jams can be a real issue leaving the Franschoek region, but the many little restaurants and delis that punctuate the main road are ideal spots for waiting out the congestion. We suggest Ryan's Kitchen on Huguenot Road for a late lunch/early dinner. The last 15 km section traces a trajectory along the outskirts of Pniel and up through the northern slopes of Helshoogte Pass. Here you'll find a smorgasbord of wine farms to choose from, and Café Pavé at Camberley Wines is a popular spot. Quaint and set against the stunning backdrop of the Banhoek Conservancy, it gives you an opportunity to unwind and relax after a demanding 140km drive before dashing back to Stellenbosch where the adventure started a few hours earlier.
Whether you drive a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, S-Class or SLC, these roads are bound to set your passion for pistons alight. Not only is this route guaranteed to showcase the athleticism of your Mercedes-Benz, but it will also put a smile on your dial as you discover the magic and mystique of the Cape's best-kept secret – the Four Passes.
Words: Aaron Borrill