Cape Winelands Attractions in Franschhoek

Published: 11th December 2009
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The town of Franschhoek may be small in terms of size, but the viticultural settlement offers endless entertainment and places of interest to visitors. Famous for its excellent wines and delectable cuisine, the town is regarded as the culinary capital of South Africa. The vibrant, cultural atmosphere and warm hospitality of the area is set amongst a tidy and picturesque valley in the Cape Winelands. Vineyards extend over the bulk of the surrounding slopes and create a pastoral setting of old Cape Dutch architecture, green vineyards and dramatic mountain views.

Franschhoek is an hour's drive from Cape Town and a popular spot for enjoying viticulture, arts, crafts and antiques. The high street is busy and reminiscent of days-gone-by offering many coffee shops, restaurants and quirky shops.

Apart from the viticultural and culinary attractions, Franschhoek has a rich cultural history with many locals who are descendants of original settlers and slaves in the area. Franschhoek's history can be explored in the local museums whilst the cultural heritage of the town is celebrated at various festivals and celebrations.

A brief history of Franschhoek
The first inhabitants of Franschhoek were San hunters and Khoe pastoralists. They lived a nomadic existence in the area for thousands of years, until the first settlers arrived from Europe in the mid 17th Century. Once the Dutch East India Company established farming operations at the Cape of Good Hope, slaves were introduced to the area. The slaves came mainly from India, Indonesia and East Africa. This combination of people led to the establishment of a so-called Cape 'Malay' culture which is still very much a part of life in the Cape.

The name "Franschhoek" is in fact Dutch (Fransche Hoek) meaning "French Quarter". The town earned its name from 200-odd French Protestant settlers who fled France in the late 17th Century to escape persecution, after the revocation of religious freedoms in France. Once these French Huguenots arrived in the Cape of Good Hope in 1688, they were granted areas of land in a valley then called "Oliphantshoek" ('Elephant Quarter'). The name was soon changed to Franschhoek. The Huguenots brought with them a passion for wine, and vineyards were planted and the French settlers were soon producing Cape wine.

There is no better place to learn about the history of Franschhoek than the Museum van de Caab, located at the Solms-Delta Wine Estate. The museum features the history not only of the settlers but also the history of the slaves and native San and Khoikhoi people who were the first inhabitants of the Franschhoek valley. The museum is open seven days a week and also has provisions for finding personal history for those who wish to research their family's history. Additionally, the museum displays various artefacts extracted from dig sites on the Solms-Delta estate.

In Franschhoek village itself, the Huguenot Museum showcases Huguenot history from before and after the arrival of the French refugees. The museum is situated inside a building which contains parts of Saasveld House, an 18th Century home in Kloof Street, Cape Town, which belonged to Baron Willem van Reede van Oudtshoorn, built in 1791 and demolished in 1954. The museum displays furniture, bibles, documents and relics which give a small glimpse into the everyday life of early Cape settlers.

Another popular local museum is the Franschhoek Motor Museum, at the l'Ormarins wine estate, featuring over a century of motoring history. The museum houses an impressive number of motor powered transports such as cars, motorbikes and bicycles.

Food, Wine and Franschhoek Estates
Award-winning estates in the area offer wine tastings, cellar tours and often charming restaurants to accompany the wine tasting experience. Franschhoek is known for its bold and innovative culinary experience. Restaurants in the area prepare South African, French and international menus with a touch of genius. Their expertise always surpasses expectations. As Franschhoek is only a short drive from Cape Town, the valley and its wine farms make a perfectly likeable spot to visit for a leisurely lunch. Especially good local restaurants are Le Quartier Francais, Reubens, Chamonix and Fyndraai.

Wine and food pairing is a popular attraction at Franschhoek wine estates. Because of the experimental styles of cooking and winemaking, each wine is different. Every meal has specific wines which will compliment the flavour and texture of food. For example, fish or rich pasta dishes can couple a dry white wine perfectly whilst a rich, full-bodied red strengthens the flavours of rich meat and casseroles.

The town is a cultural hotspot, with the Cape Malay, Afrikaner, European and African population celebrating their rich heritage at festivals such as the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival, the Franschhoek Literary Festival, Franschhoek Oesfees (Harvest Festival) and Franschhoek Champagne Festival. People flock to the town to enjoy the showcase of local culture.

Franschhoek is well known, well visited and well liked. Visitors can enjoy tasting award-winning wines, sumptuous food and local culture. This in combination with Franschhoek's aesthetic location adds to the overall experience in one of the most diverse areas in the Fairest Cape.

About the Author:
Solms-Delta is a Franschhoek wine estate in the Cape Winelands of South Africa featuring wine tastings, a restaurant and Wijn de Caab museum which capture the rich cultural and historical heritage if the area and its people.

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