A stroll through Franschhoek’s history

I had awoken during the night to the sound of heavy rainfall outside so it was no surprise to find that Friday morning was overcast and drizzly as we made our way to the breakfast room at our hotel. While the temperature may have been a little cool, I’m not convinced it justified the roaring log fire at breakfast. We took a table as far away from it as possible and enjoyed our omelettes and multiple pots of tea.

We had intended driving back up Franschhoek pass to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve to hike one of their trails, but looking up from the floor of the valley, we could see the surrounding peaks swathed in cloud. Weather is due to improve steadily, so we decided to postpone that activity till Sunday, leaving us at a loose end for the day.

It’s important to be pragmatic when travelling for eight months with a single suitcase. Any opportunity for laundry should be leapt upon, and Franschhoek has La Laundry which offers service washes, so we decided to try to locate that. We ended up parking at the wrong end of town, so had to walk all the way through to find it. Then all the way back to the car. Once we got there, we decided we should visit the local museum, which includes the Huguenot monument (pictured above) and where we became considerably better educated on the history of this area.

Franschhoek used to be called Olifants Hoek, or Elephant’s Corner, because cow elephants used to make their way over the surrounding mountains to calf in the protected valley. Early white settlers arrived here in the 17th century and recognised the agriculture opportunities afforded by the fertile valley floor.

In France, at the same time, protestants were being persecuted and denied their right to worship. These French protestants were known as Huguenots. As a result of continuous persecution, many fled France forefeiting all property and possessions. A number of those refugees arrived in the Netherlands, where their faith was supported but where they encountered severe economic hardship. Much like religious and economic refugees of today, really. So it was that, when the representative of the Dutch East India Company here in South Africa pleaded for more settlers to farm these lands and deliver provisions to the Company’s ships, the settlers that were delivered were, ultimately, around 300 Huguenots. Those Huguenots who settled in Elephant’s Corner and began farming here retained their native language for a considerable period of time. Thus the area came to be known as French Corner, or Franschhoek. And, of course, the French included vines in their planting so the Franschhoek wine industry was born.

That was quite enough history for one day, so we made our way off to one of the places recommended by our hotel, Babylonstoren, a vineyard with a lovely garden. We had a stroll through the garden and Ishbel encountered the wild animal she’d been itching to see since we got here: a tortoise.


After that success, we headed back to the hotel to play our instruments and get ready for dinner. Despite our friend (you know who you are, Jeannine) recommending a non-existent restaurant the previous day, we gave her one more chance and booked what she describes as her favourite place in the whole world, La Petite Ferme. She has travelled extensively so this was high praise. And the restaurant lived up to the hype. It is in a beautiful situation, partway up the Franschhoek Pass road with a broad, open outlook across the valley. Time for another of Ishbel’s panoramic shots…


The food was amazing. I had the Slow Roasted Pulled Lamb, with all kinds of funky accompaniments and Ishbel had the Southern Chicken Drums with equally interesting accoutrements. Every time I describe a meal, I realise how unworthy I am of the Instagram generation as I keep forgetting to take pictures of the food in its pristine condition on arrival. I will try to do better in future.

I can’t let the day pass without mentioning the passing of Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. The band produced immaculate pop songs during the punk revolution of the seventies. Ishbel went with her sister Marjory to see the re-formed group in Brighton 2 years ago. I couldn’t go as I was off watching football somewhere so the last time I saw them live was 40 years ago at the Loch Lomond Festival, where they were third on the bill of the second day, behind the Average White Band and the Boomtown Rats.

Watch the pop genius at work here.