When King Louis the XIV outlawed Protestantism in France in 1685, the French Huguenots fled their homeland and emigrated to various parts of the world. The Dutch government granted them land in the southern hemisphere and offered them the possibility to start a new life elsewhere.
When they initially arrived in the Cape, the Huguenots were unhappy with the quality of the soil on their farms. They went scouting and came across an isolated, well-watered valley with good soil called Olifantshoek. The valley was the seasonal breeding ground for herds of elephants. In 1694 Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape Colony, agreed to give nine farms in Olifantshoek to these diligent French settlers and renamed the area Franschoek (meaning French corner).
The Huguenots were skilled farmers who brought the fine art of wine-making and a legacy of centuries-old vineyards to the Cape. Today, we enjoy the fruits of the land and the culture of food and wine the Huguenots instilled in this magnificent valley with breathtaking views of mountains and spectacular sunsets, all in close proximity to Cape Town.
La Residence hotel is magnificent and in a class of its own! It has a pleasing, elegant quality about it, with chic, opulent rooms that aren’t over the top. The rooms offer views of the valley to gaze at for hours. The staff were extremely polite and greeted us with warm smiles. On the day we arrived, they were readying themselves to sing the national anthem in support of the Springboks in their final against England. It was an emotional moment for our nation.
Leeu House is another hotel situated in the heart of Franschoek and offered us a beautiful spot for a spot of lunch. The pool terrace was peaceful and gave us a chance to admire the finely restored heritage buildings. We knew we had arrived!
After lunch, our first port of call was Grande Provence. The wine farm is grand and well manicured. It also showcases an art gallery and a little artifacts shop. The wine on offer is pleasant to taste, easy to sip, and pairs well with the cheese platter.
To cap (or cork) it all off, we visited Mont Rochelle Hotel and Vineyard. Sir Richard Branson has a good eye and nose for wine. The setting and the views are, naturally, spectacular. Mont Rochelle offers a superb choice of wines, but also less fussy fare such as the wicked potato skins to tease your taste buds. A sense of calmness accompanies the moment of wine tasting.
Franschoek is a gem. The world is your oyster there when it comes to food and wine, pristine nature, and architectural beauty. What on earth could be better than settling for the spirit of the original settlers?