In 1688, after fleeing religious persecution in their own country, the French Huguenots settled in Franschhoek.
The first farm in the valley, Keerweder, was allotted to Heinrich Müller in 1692. Today this farm is the largest in the valley and retains its original name.
The Huguenots that settled in the Cape were originally allotted farms farther down the valley but they were unhappy with the soil conditions in these areas.
The area, above the Berg River and towards the end of the valley, where the soils were more fertile, was originally know as Oliphantshoek (elephants corner), as elephants found it the ideal place to raise their young. It was here, in 1694, that the first nine farms were allotted by Simon van der Stel, then Governor of the Cape.
All of these farms are still in existence, although many have been sub-divided to a much-reduced size. Even today, many of the village’s inhabitants are direct descendants of the original settlers, as reflected in their surnames (family names).
The area became known as “de France hoek” (French corner), due to its inhabitants being mainly French speaking. They were, however, forced to adopt the language of the Dutch settlers but did so willingly, as the French language represented what they were fleeing from. It is reported that within one generation, Dutch was widely spoken.
Today, despite many farms etc. still having French names, there is little French influence in the Franschhoek valley. One notable exception is the Bastille Festival, which is celebrated in July every year.
Of course, the biggest legacy that was left by the early settlers was the wine; something for which we are all still grateful.
Full details of the history of Franschhoek and the Huguenots can be found at the Franschhoek museum.