French history in South Africa
Did you know?
Franschhoek’s Food and Wine Route has established it as the gourmet capital of South Africa.
Many of the French Protestants (Huguenots) who lost their national citizenship in 1685 gained a little piece of heaven when they came to live in South Africa.
For nearly a century before 1685, the Huguenots in France had lived under the protection of the Edict of Nantes, which assured freedom of religion. This was revoked by King Louis XIV, and thus began the mass exodus of Huguenots from France.
The Dutch East India Company, which ruled the Cape at the time, was keen on Huguenot immigrants – they came with a vast bouquet of skills and a can-do attitude so necessary for frontier survival.
The nearly 300-strong group of Huguenots who arrived were given land in a valley called Olifantshoek ('Elephant’s Corner'). But where others saw vast herds of marauding elephants, hardships by the bushel and bleak mountains, the Huguenots saw great wine terroir – and set to work almost immediately. Olifantshoek became Franschhoek – French Corner.
Within 60 years, few of the Huguenots were speaking French – at least in public – anymore. They had been assimilated into the Dutch culture, which later morphed into the Afrikaner culture.
But as you drive through the shady lanes of Franschhoek on a sunny day, past the orchards and vineyards, the elegant main street and up to the Huguenot Museum, it all looks and feels very Gallic. Franschhoek has become one of South Africa’s most stylish, sought-after little towns and it celebrates its French roots in a number of ways. Most of its restaurants, antique shops, festivals and streets all bear French names.
There was wine in South Africa before the Huguenots arrived, but once their expertise and natural love for viticulture was blended into the industry, the future of wine-making changed. South Africa has established itself as a world leader in quality wine production – thanks in no small part to the Huguenots and the French cultural influence on South Africa.
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Who to contact
Franschhoek Huguenot Museum
Tel: +27 (0) 21 8762532