There were originally two very distinctive European influences on this most southern tip of Africa, the Cape, both brought through the Dutch East India Company. The sailing ships trading exotic spices and goods brought from the Far East and India needed a safe harbor and fresh food and water on their long journey to and fro Europe and brought Dutch farmers and settlers to the then uninhabited Cape. At the same time the persecution of French Huguenots had forced many of these people out of their native France and into Flanders and Holland. A business deal was struck between these displaced French and The Company (as it became known) bringing many of these Protestant families to settle and farm in the Cape.
“Wheat before wine” was the mantra but it was soon proven while water went stale, wine remained palatable even after many months at sea, and so more and more vineyards were planted. The French settled predominantly in Franschoek (French Corner). Long after the French language and accent has disappeared many of the names in that region still give testimony to their heritage today. As do the restaurants and wines of this region.
It is vaguely reminiscent of Sonoma Wine country in California but the mountains are bigger, greyer and somehow more forbidding. We stopped at Boschendaal along the way – it is a magnificent estate and enormous. Here it is possible to enjoy wine-tasting, picnics and distinctive gift shopping as well as history. They have a gorgeous old French Huguenot Manor House preserved and available to self-tour which is easy to do as it is only five rooms! Fascinating and well worth the $2 fee to get in.
Once again the gardens surrounding the manor are beautiful and in this perfect weather an outside amble is just compulsory. The little gardener responded to my greeting with a toothless grin and some word that sounded like “Oily” and indicated the old oak tree that he was sitting under. I looked up to see this gorgeous owl just sitting there as calm as can be and patiently observing me as if he was waiting for acknowledgement! Wonderful!
We explored the little town of Franschoek and a special place called the La Quartier Francais which is world renowned for its food and accommodation – and it was impressive – and then I did a side trip to the Huguenot museum. Most interesting and I just wish I had written down the names of those Huguenot ancestors that we have from the 1700’s. I learnt a lot in a short time.
It was getting late then and we still hadn’t had lunch so we decided to put lunch and dinner together and we drove out of Franschoek up the mountain to a beautiful vineyard with fantastic restaurant called La Petit Ferme. The view from the restaurant was expansive back over the villages and towards the southwest and watching the light change over the valleys as we lingered over late lunch brought back some long-forgotten memories of our time in the Cape while at university.
I enjoyed the most mouth-watering lamb wrapped in aubergine on rosemary potato gratin with yogurt sauce drizzled over all …. it was melt-in the mouth tender and SOOO delicious! La Petit Ferme grow most of their wines to sell in their restaurant and so it’s almost the only place you can enjoy their wine – had the most refreshing and delicious Sauvignon Blanc Fume full of green grass and melons! My sommelier daughter would be proud of me!