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.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Huguenot Memorial Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 8762532
Fax: +27 (0)21 8763649
Email: hugenoot@museum.co.za

How to get here

Take the N1 from Cape Town, turning right onto the R303 to reach Franschhoek. It should take an hour or so.

Best time to visit

Spring and summer, but even in the wet winter Franschhoek's restaurants are worth the drive, and probably one of the most pleasant ways of whiling away a cold day.

Around the area

Hiking in the Mount Rochelle Nature Reserve, bike trails, golf, and of course the many wine routes around Franschhoek and beyond.

Tours to do

Try the Franschhoek Vineyard Hopper or the Chocolate, Cheese, Olive and Wine Tour offered by La Rochelle Tours.

Get around

Much of Franschhoek is walkable, but to get to the surrounding wine estates, you will need a car. Alternatively you can enlist the services of a local, specialist tour operator.

What will it cost

R10 for adults; R5 for Students; R2 for children

Length of stay

The museum and monument will take a few hours to wander through, but try and spend more time in the delightful Franschhoek Valley.

Where to stay

Small as it is, there are some 109 accommodation establishments in Franschhoek and its surrounding valley, and many of them are recipients of international awards. See www.franschhoek.org.za

What to eat

This being South Africa's corner of France, French cuisine is at its best in Franschhoek. Some dining hotspots are Reuben's Restaurant & Bar, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais and the French Connection at Haute Cabriere.

What's happening

The Franschhoek Bastille Festival (11-12 July) is celebrated with reckless abandon. Franschhoek Uncorked, celebrating spring on October 10-11 is another thrash worth making. For an acess pass of R60, you can take a complimentary shuttle between the wine farms and participate in their free tastings.