08 May/13

Gorgeous South African Towns 3/5: Franschhoek.

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The quintessential French themed restaurants of Franschhoek

Just the name, Franschhoek (French corner) , eludes to quiet cobbled streets straddled by boutique wine shops and beautiful restaurants  And this couldn’t be more true – which is why we think Franschhoek is one of SA’s best towns!

Franschhoek is a small town in the Western Cape Province and one of the oldest towns of the Republic of South Africa. It is about 75 kilometres from Cape Town and has a population of 15,353. Since 2000 it has been incorporated into Stellenbosch Municipality.

The valley was originally settled in 1688 by 176 French Huguenot refugees, many of whom were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Olifantshoek (“Elephants’ corner”), so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original farm houses today.

The Franschhoek Valley from the air

In 1904 a 27 kilometer railway line was built between Paarl and Franschhoek to serve as an alternative to ox drawn carts for farmers wanting to get their produce to market. Steam locomotives operated along the route until diesel locomotives took over in the 1970’s and then, in the 1990’s, as the need for rail transport decreased, service along the railway line was discontinued. The railway line was reinstated in 2012 by a private operator and now sees service as the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a tourism project utilizing a newly constructed tram modeled after the open-sided Brill Trams of circa 1890 to transport tourists between wine estates in the area.

The original train track from Franschhoek to Paarl is still operational 110 years later!

Once a sleepy country retreat, the village began experiencing a boom since the 1990s, and property prices have sharply increased. The ideal summer weather, snowy peaks in winter and proximity to Cape Town have turned Franschhoek into one of South Africa’s most sought after residential addresses. The construction of the new English-medium private Bridge House School outside the village has also attracted many urban dwellers to the village.

Franschhoek is notable for having some of the top restaurants in the country within its quiet borders. This fact, together with the strong wine culture, and pristine natural and architectural beauty has made Franschhoek into what many describe as the “food and wine capital” of South Africa. The city hosts one of the TOP 50 restaurants in the world, according to the “S.Pellegrino world’s 50 best restaurants”-ranking and a famous Belgian Pâtisserie for Belgian pralines.
The attributes of the village have turned Franschhoek into a popular tourist destination, with dozens of bed & breakfasts and small cottages available for accommodation at premium prices as well as a large used bookstore.

Franschhoek’s week-end festival for Bastille Day has been celebrated for the last 15 years.

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