Franschhoek is South Africa’s top food and wine destination. Along with its world-famous wine estates and award-winning fine dining restaurants, the history of Fansheok is just as fascinating as the town’s culinary attractions.
The area now known as the Franshoek Valley was set-up in the late 1600s by Dutch settlers as a halfway station supplying ships trading between Europe and the East. Once the French Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, the Dutch passed on this land to the French, who introduced their knowledge of viniculture. Centuries later, this wine-producing region is one of the best in the world.
Learn the fascinating history of Franschhoek, one of South Africa’s top travel destinations, adored by food and wine lovers from all around the world.
An overview of Franschhoek
Nestled between scenic vineyards and towering mountains, the picturesque village of Franschhoek is located 45 minutes from Cape Town. Known as the French Corner of the Cape, Franschhoek boasts an elegant charm, visible through the architecture and culture that salutes the town’s French history.
Forming part of the Cape Winelands, Franschhoek, along with the neighbouring wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington and Somerset West, produce some of the top-selling wines in the world.
The Franschhoek Wine Valley is home to an array of superb wine farms, ranging from boutique wineries for intimate tastings to extensive cellars that offer group tours and tastings. Many of these farms still bear their original French names and pay homage to the early farming community.
French Huguenots arrival in South Africa
Franschhoek has a rich history that dates back to the 1600s. In 1687, Simon Van Der Stel and 23 other Dutch settlers arrived in the region which is now known as the Franschhoek Valley. The Dutch settlers set up a halfway station to supply ships sailing from the Dutch East Indies and Europe.
In 1685, the French King, Louis XIV, banned Protestantism in France. Hundreds of people were forced to leave their country. In 1688, almost 300 French Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope by ship.
The Dutch colony needed to develop agriculture in the Cape to supply the sailing ships with fresh produce, so they gave the French an area of land to begin growing crops. The area was a seasonal breeding ground for elephants but was well-watered and had fertile soil. The valley soon became known as Franschhoek (French Corner in Dutch).
Franschhoek begins its wine legacy
Many of the French Huguenots that arrived in the Cape were highly trained as blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors and merchants. Some of the men came from wine-producing regions and possessed specific skills and knowledge of viniculture.
Those from wine-producing provinces took the lead and began laying out vineyards for wine production. Many of the settlers named their new farms after areas in France, such as La Provence, La Motte, La Terra de Luc and Bourgogne. The French helped establish the Cape’s wine industry and was soon known as Le Coin Français (The French Corner).
Franschhoek has transformed itself into one of the top tourist destinations in South Africa. The French Huguenots were small in number, but they contributed greatly to Franschhoek’s development. Once a sleepy town, Franschhoek has grown into an internationally renowned food and wine capital.
The small town exudes an elegant charm that is visible through the sweeping views of the vineyards, quaint cafes and boutique art galleries. Franschhoek is widely known as South Africa’s food and wine capital, and boasts a vast selection of world-class restaurants and wine farms. For those looking to explore the area, there are a range of hotels that cater to solo travellers, couples, families and larger groups.
Franschhoek has a refined restaurant culture with many world-renowned chefs opening up fine-dining eateries in the region. Known as the ‘gourmet capital’ of the Cape, travellers come from far and wide to get a taste of Franschhoek’s culinary scene.
The main street is lined with bistros, top restaurants, cookery shops and trendy artisan food markets. Franschhoek is home to some of the world’s most acclaimed fine-dining restaurants. Here is a list of our favourite fine-dining restaurants in Franschhoek.
- La Petite Colombe
- Chefs Warehouse at Maison
- Le Coin Français
- Miko at Mont Rochelle
- Pierneef àa La Motte
The Franschhoek wine valley is one of the most popular wine-producing regions in the Cape Winelands. The fertile valley has an exceptional variety of wine estates that produce some of the finest wines in South Africa.
The choices for wine tastings in Franschhoek seem endless. Here are some of our list of 5 incredible wine farms to visit in Franschhoek.
The town holds several festivals and events that commemorate and celebrate the history and culture of Franschhoek. Guests can visit a number of workshops and exhibitions that highlight the charming qualities of Franschhoek. Here are some of the top annual festivals that take place in Franschhoek.
Each year during July, the Bastille Festival commemorates the town’s Huguenot heritage by celebrating all things, French. For two days, locals and visitors flock to the valley to feast on gourmet food, award-winning wine and fun activities. Festival-goers love dressing up in french-inspired outfits, partaking in traditional French games and indulging in food and wine.
Franschhoek Literary Festival
Each year in May, readers, writers and publishers come from far and wide to experience this three-day literary celebration. The Franschhoek Literary Festival provides book lovers with the opportunity to discover what is happening in the local and international literary scene, as well as a place to interact with other writers. The programme includes a variety of workshops, poetry readings, storytelling, lectures and debates which provide a great space for sharing and learning in the community.
Cap Classique and Champagne Festival
This annual December event is one of South Africa’s social highlights. Oozing elegance and sophistication, the Cap Classique and Champagne Festival is a celebration of fashion, food and wine. Guests can mingle and sample a wide range of award-winning wines, local MCCs as well as a selection of French champagnes. There is a dress code, and a prize is awarded to the best-dressed couple.
The Festival of Art
Franschhoek calls on artists and art enthusiasts to experience the Festival of Art, an annual fine art festival that takes place in October. Franschhoek has established itself as one of South Africa’s premier art destinations with its numerous art exhibitions and galleries. Art lovers can browse the galleries along the main road or view famous artworks on display at the wine farms.
Franschhoek has an excellent range of accommodation in and around the valley. From five-star luxury villas to intimate boutique hotels, this small town is well-known for its warm hospitality and incredible attention to detail.
From intimate stays for honeymooners or families looking for a spacious villa, here is a list of our top hotels in Franschhoek.
The Last Word
A hidden gem in the heart of Franschhoek, The Last Word is an intimate five-star hotel that provides guests with a home away from home. Conveniently located on Main Street, this hotel is walking distance from the local restaurants and galleries.
Located on a private estate in the valley, La Residence is a chateau-style hotel that is surrounded by lush vineyards, plum orchards and towering mountains. Each suite is individually designed with elegant antiques and stylish furnishings. This luxury hotel will transport you to a world of opulence, sophistication and tranquillity.
Mont Rochelle is Sir Richard Branson’s premier Cape Winelands estate. This luxury hotel boasts incredible views of the flourishing vineyard and offers guests exclusive access to private activities, such as picnics on the estate and bike rides through the neighbourhood. Mont Rochelle is also home to the well-known Miko Restaurant.
Le Quartier Français
Le Quartier Français forms part of the Leeu Collection and is home to the award-winning fine-dining restaurant, La Petite Colombe. Le Quartier Français is a garden oasis with 32 luxurious suites and two independent villas for families.
La Clé des Montagnes
With a superb location and exquisite french charm, La Clé des Montagnes is the perfect experience for couples or small groups that want an intimate stay in the Winelands. Guests are within walking distance from cafes, restaurants and art galleries in the Main Street.
Museums and Monuments
A getaway to Franschhoek is a cultural experience. The village has an interesting history that is still honoured through several museums, memorials, galleries and monuments.
Various parts of the town boast impressive attractions that honour Franschhoek’s art, culture and history. Choose from a selection of museums and activities to understand the history of Franschhoek:
- Visit the Huguenot Memorial Museum and learn about the French settlers that helped build up the Franschhoek area.
- View the Huguenot Monument and observe the town’s cultural history.
- Take a trip to Franschhoek’s Motor Museum and admire a unique collection of cars, bicycles and motorcycles.
- Hop on the Franschhoek Wine Tram and discover some of the most esteemed wine estates in South Africa.
- Stroll along the charming streets and admire the Dutch architecture.
- Each year in July, celebrate the Bastille Festival with French-inspired gourmet cuisine and world-class wines.
Franschhoek was once a desolate area but has since transformed into one of the top travel destinations in South Africa. With fascinating architecture and lush vineyards, towering mountains and charming streets, this lovely town is unlike anything you will experience in the city.
Whether you’re a couple on honeymoon, a group of friends or a family, Franschhoek has something to keep everyone entertained.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the history of Franschhoek. This quiet, picturesque village is one of our all-time favourite destinations in South Africa, if not the world! If you want to experience the unique charm of Franschhoek, contact us and we’ll help you plan your next getaway in the Cape Winelands.
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