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 This was revoked by King Louis XIV, and thus began the mass exodus of Huguenots from France.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.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Franschhoek Huguenot Museum
Tel: +27 (0) 21 8762532
How to get here
Franschhoek is less than an hour's drive east from Cape Town via Stellenbosch or Paarl.
Best time to visit
Franschhoek lies in the winter rainfall area and is best-looking in spring (September to October) but is a year-round destination.
Around the area
There are great day trips to Stellenbosch, Hermanus and the fishing villages of False Bay from Franschhoek.
Tours to do
The range of tours available in the district includes shark diving, wine estate visits, aerial adventures, 'book safaris', exclusive game lodges and a quiet day spent on a lonely beach or in the countryside.
Hire a car from Cape Town. Touring the winelands is one of the great South African experiences.
What will it cost
Accommodation in Franschhoek is mostly upmarket and targetted at the discerning traveller, but is worth the expense.
Length of stay
The area is well worth three days of your time, although you might want to extend your visit to the rest of the Cape winelands and beyond.
What to pack
The best advice here is to take a large empty case along with all your luggage, because you're going to buy books, gourmet foods and wines in the area.
Where to stay
Franschhoek is famous for its many fine guest houses and places to stay.
What to eat
A delicious mix of French cuisine and South African dishes awaits you.
Check the Franschhoek websites for book festivals, wine festivals and food festivals.
The wines of the region at the estates of origin.