Among the earliest white settlers in the Cape’s colonial history, were French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Their arrival added yet another thread to the South African cultural tapestry. Their contribution is celebrated at the Huguenot Memorial Museum in Franschhoek, South Africa’s ‘French corner’.

Did you know?

270 Huguenots arrived in the Cape courtesy of the Dutch East India Company between 1688 and 1720.

Although the Huguenots assimilated into the Dutch population soon after their arrival, it was not without leaving a strong French imprint. Common Afrikaans surnames like Du Toit and De Villiers are of French origin, and some of the best-known wine farms in the Western Cape carry French names.

A village that arose on two of these farms, La Cotte and Cabriere, marked the beginnings of a Western Cape tourist delight, Franschhoek which appropriately translates to ‘French corner.'

At the Huguenot Memorial Museum in Franschhoek the story of the Huguenots is well documented. Here the Huguenot Memorial soars above perfectly manicured lawns and a calm pool of water. The religiously-inspired monument has three arches symbolising the Christian trinity, above which shines the sun. A female figure casts off the cloak of oppression and gazes into the future.

Among the things to see in the Franschhoek museum are antique items of furniture brought in on trading ships from the East and items related to Huguenot church congregations and farming methods. Developments in Huguenot architecture are traced from early wooden homes, to clay, stone and eventually Dutch-influenced structures with gables.

Material relating to the indigenous Khoisan population of the time, and the largely-endemic fynbos that grows so prolifically in the area, are also on display. There's a wildflower garden and a restaurant, and the location makes a great picnic spot too.

After touring the Huguenot museum in Franschhoek, take some time to walk the main street with its shops and restaurants. The town has a reputation for outstanding cuisine, so stop for a meal too. And bear in mind that your ‘French' experience will only be complete with a stop or two at the local wine farms.

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