When King Louis the XIV outlawed Protestantism in France in 1685, the French Huguenots fled their homeland and immigrated to various parts of the world. In 1688 a community of 176 Protestant French Huguenots, applied for permission to settle at the Cape. They were also skilled farmers who brought the fine art of wine making to the Cape and a legacy of centuries-old vineyards, not to mention an element of culture and sophistication.
Initially the Huguenots were unhappy with the quality of the soil on their farms. They decided to go scouting and came across an isolated, well-watered valley with good soil called Olifantshoek. As history shows 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 Franschhoek (meaning French corner)
Today if you looking for a top-notch hotel, my favorite is La Residence. It’s elegant, chic, pleasing to the eye with beautifully decorated rooms, and views of the valley. It will leave you mesmerised for hours. On a different note, we were mesmerized by the staff that was readying themselves to sing the national anthem, in support of the Springboks in their final against England. It was an emotional moment for everyone present.
On a different note, I love Leeu House, situated right along the main road in the heart of Franschoek. It is not as grand as La Residence, it is different, a classic Cape Dutch-styled building, which has been restored back to life in a contemporary way and an eclectic touch with modern interiors. We dropped in for lunch and decided the perfect spot for a spot of lunch was alongside the pool terrace, the food, nothing special but good; it was the atmosphere that was special. It also gave us a chance to admire the finely restored heritage buildings, part of the Leeu Collection property.
After lunch, our first port of call for our wine tasting experience was the wine farm, Grande Provence, a very well manicured farm, which also showcases an art gallery and a really lovely little artifacts shop. The wine on offer is pleasant to taste, easy to sip, and pairs well with their cheese platter.
To cap (or cork) it all off, we visited Mont Rochelle Hotel and Vineyard. Sir Richard Branson’s hideaway, I found it to be charming and in a setting with natural views, we decided to sit on the terrace for the wine tasting. It was tranquil, low key and very good, a superb choice of wines, accompanied by wicked potato skins that teased our taste buds and left us craving for more. We had to agree that this was a palate pleasing experience with wine tasting. Above all, there is a sense of calmness that accompanies the moment of wine tasting; a simple sensation that life is good.
Centuries later we enjoy the fruits of the land, the food the wine and the culture that has been instilled and influenced by the Huguenots. The breathtaking views of the mountains, and dramatic color changing sunsets, that will leave you gasping in awe of the beauty. I’m sure this memory will stay with you for years to come.
Franschhoek is a gem to be treasured in African contemporary history. Mother nature will nurture you with her extraordinary beauty and you will be reminded of once upon a time architecturally. After all what more could be better than settling into the spirit of the original settlers? The world is your oyster and you just found a pearl.