“French flags adorn the buildings and the classic French beret makes a fashionable come-back – donned by all who roam the streets.”
No, I’m not referring to France (although I wish I was). I’m actually referring to the festivities that take place every 14th of July in the quaint little town of Franschhoek in the Western Cape, South Africa.
Franschhoek which, when directly translated from Afrikaans, means “French corner”, is one of the oldest towns in South Africa and was first established in 1688 when the French Huguenot refugees began to populate the valley.
With the Huguenot Monument proudly posing at the end of the main road, this festival is all about celebrating Franschhoek’s French heritage by shining the spotlight on the many French traditions as well as the national day of France, aka Bastille Day!
It’s one of my favourite times to visit Franschhoek. French flags adorn the buildings and the classic French beret makes a fashionable come-back – donned by all who roam the streets. As you drive down the main road, you oddly feel as though you’re being transported straight into Europe, leaving South Africa far behind.
A whole weekend is dedicated to the festival, which means visitors have plenty of options: you can purchase a Saturday pass, a Sunday pass, or if you’re feeling really enthusiastic and “French”, you can even purchase a full weekend pass. I’d suggest buying a Saturday pass and then spending the Sunday exploring the rest of the town and its myriad of stories and perhaps popping into a wine farm or two to chase away the winter blues.
We arrived on Saturday, dropped our bags off and enjoyed a pleasant walk to the festival grounds – conveniently within walking distance of our Airbnb.
The setup was quite striking: the floor was covered with wood chips and all the wine and food stalls, as well as the main stage and dance floor, were nestled under an enormous white marquee tent.
The atmosphere was further enhanced by a live band on stage, the sound of people chit-chatting as they walk from stall to stall indulging in and discussing the various tasting delights on offer.
The smell of blue cheese and fresh baguettes instantly took me back to my time living in France some years ago and I felt a wistful longing for days spent along the banks of the Seine.
The famous French crêpe satisfies any sweet craving – oh-so-light and thin and oozing with Nutella, it’s easy to convince yourself why you should go back for more.
But don’t be misled in thinking the party is over once the sun goes down. Certainly not. The combination of lively restaurants and bars and visitors in celebratory spirits carry the festivities late into the night.
We wandered off and headed to Station, a restaurant/pub that, fittingly, had also transformed itself for the occasion. With a stage and dance floor set up, we knew it was the place to be. The crowd grew as the hours ticked by, the sound of conversation and laughter swelled, and the dance floor heaved with moving and grooving bodies. We danced into the night and collapsed onto our beds at a somewhat questionable hour, exhausted but content.
We strolled into town on Sunday morning in search of a killer breakfast at one of the many quaint cafes dotted along the main street.
Food in our bellies and feeling far better for it, we ambled along, exploring the numerous art galleries and boutique stores that one can only find in Franschhoek.
As the streets started to fill up with fresh, bright-eyed Sunday festivalgoers and recovering, headache-nursing survivors from the day before, we decided it was home time.
Making the most of our time in the area we stopped at the renowned Vrede en Lust wine estate on our way back to Cape Town.
For a wine enthusiast like me, and never having been to Vrede en Lust before, I was really looking forward to experiencing something new.
Walking through the estate, I was speechless staring at the beauty around us. The tasting room looks out onto one of the estate’s glorious vineyards and we were lucky to have some snow-capped mountains create a picture-perfect backdrop.
With the fire roaring in the background, we settled down and enjoyed a tasting of six different wines of choice as well as their MCC. Wow. The bubbles. So small and smooth you might mistakenly think it’s butter gliding over your tongue.
Having never tasted their wines before I simply soaked in the depth of flavour and secretly fell in love with it. As munchies started to kick in, we opted for a cheese and charcuterie platter – an explosion of flavour. Think perfectly cured meats, rich flavour-filled farm cheeses, a deliciously rich and spicy biltong jam and a sweet yet tangy beetroot preserve along with some fresh olives.
What a perfect weekend to escape the nine to five and make lasting memories with friends and strangers alike. Until next year!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
ACCOMMODATION: Make sure to book your accommodation as far in advance as possible in order to save costs and find a place close to where everything’s happening. There are plenty of hotels and Airbnb’s in the area that caters for all budgets.
HOW TO GET THERE: If you’re staying in Cape Town, the drive to Franschhoek takes anything from 45 minutes to an hour and a half – depending on traffic. Whether it be Friday or Saturday, try to leave in the morning.
WHAT TO WEAR: Bundle up! July is mid-winter in South Africa and, since Franschhoek is surrounded by mountains, it can get extremely cold and wet. Make sure to check the weather forecast before you go and don’t forget your French beret!
SHOPPING: The stalls all have card machines so you don’t need cash.
HOW TO BOOK: You can purchase tickets at www.webtickets.co.za with a day pass costing around R350. A day pass gets you a free wine glass which you receive upon entry, as well as five free wine-tastings and R20 off a bottle of wine.