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TThe Franschhoek valley has treasures that make it one of the most magical places to visit in South Africa, not only for its scenic beauty, but also for its historical interest, wonderful wine farms and many gourmet restaurants.
The town's original name was Olifantshoek (meaning 'elephant corner'), a reference to the large herds of elephants that used to migrate into this sheltered valley.
But, it later became Franschhoek (or 'French corner') after 176 French Huguenot refugees were settled here back in 1688 by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch were careful, however, to intersperse French families with Dutch families in a bid to promote integration, so consequently the French language was lost within 3 generations.
The elephants, too, are long gone, but the French influence lingers on in the names of the wine farms that dot this valley, like La Provence, La Motte and Cabrière, as well as French surnames, like du Toit and Marais, which can be traced back to the Huguenots.
And every year, the village turns French again, decked out in the colours of the tricolour as it celebrates Bastille Day on July 14.
A very popular Franschhoek activity is wine tasting and you can visit some of the world's most-acclaimed wine estates here. Most of these wine estates started out as humble farms owned by the 'vignerons de Franschhoek' (French winemakers of Franschhoek). Today, this is some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
The area is also famous for producing hand-turned sparkling wines in the French style, called cap classique (because the name Champagne may not be used outside of France), a technique pioneered by winemaker Achim von Arnim of Haute Cabrière.
This heritage is celebrated each year during a Cap Classique and Champagne Festival held in early December.
The town's main road is lined with restaurants, some run by award-winning chefs like Reuben Riffel of Reuben's Restaurant and Margot Janse van Vuuren of Le Quartier Francais, where it's well worth trying to secure a table.
There are also other delectable items to be had here, such as hand-crafted chocolate and smoked salmon trout (raised in mountain dams in the area).
Franschhoek hosts an annual literary festival that attracts big-name authors, the likes of history buff Anthony Beevor and Alexander McCall-Smit, the author of the popular No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Franschhoek Wine Valley and Tourist Association
Tel: +27 (0)21 876 2861
How to get here
The most direct route from Cape Town to Franschhoek is about an hour’s drive – take the N1 to Paarl and then turn right on the R301 and this takes you directly to Franschhoek.
Best time to visit
All year. In winter (May to August) it can rain, but the surrounding area is beautifully green, while in summer (November to February) you will experience hot days and balmy nights.
Things to do
The wine towns of Paarl and Stellenbosch also have fabulous restaurants and wineries that you can visit as part of a winelands tour. Also, be sure to pop into the French Huguenot Memorial Museum at the T-junction at the end of town.
There are a variety of cellars, from small boutique wineries that cater for those in search of something unique, to large cellars that offer organised tours and wine tastings. Visit Haute Cabrière to witness sabrage, a technique of using a sword to open a bottle of sparkling wine.
The Franschhoek Bastille Festival occurs annually in July. Other popular events are the Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival that takes place in early December, and the annual literary festival in May.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes to stroll around town.
Where to stay
Franschhoek has many accommodation options to suit all pockets. There are guest houses, hotels, B&Bs, self-catering cottages and wine estates.
What to eat
Many of South Africa's top restaurants are in Franschhoek. Leading chefs serve everything from haute cuisine to sublime light meals using the freshest produce of the Franschhoek valley.
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