I would like to believe it makes sense to spend the last of your warm days at the beach or skating on the promenade with friends. This is especially true for a girl born and bred in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, on a restricted visa in Cape Town. However after three years of the same routine, I decided I had to welcome my winter days differently this year, by venturing one of the oldest well engineered routes in South Africa: The Franschhoek Pass.
With a summit 740 meters above sea level, the Franschhoek Pass holds illustrious French history dating back to the 17th century where thousands of French fled to the Cape of Good Hope, after a disastrous persecution amongst reformed Christians in France. Nestled in the stunning country side, the construction of the pass was authorized in 1822 by the late British Governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset.
However it is not just the history of this spectacular route that captured my heart’s interest, but rather the trendy French corner situated between some of the magnificent Cape wine lands and mountains, the Franschhoek city.
My journey began about 80 kilometres out of Cape Town. I drove on the N1, passed Century City and stopped in the Northern suburbs to pick up my mother and niece. Before passing the motionless town of Paarl, I took exit 47 onto the Stellenbosch/Klapmuts road, passing a four-way-stop about 550 meters away and turning to the left 300 meters further down into Franschhoek.
Welcomed by the red, yellow and brown vineyard scenery during this vivid season of transformation laid exquisite Dutch buildings, which boasted award winning restaurants complimenting the vote of Franschhoek being South Africa’s culinary capital. Being a Sunday evening, my family and I were warmly welcomed at the Elephant and Barrel village pub. We did not waste any time devouring delicious ribs and sampling the local wine, we were after all surrounded by French vineyards and amongst them the world renowned La Petite Ferme, Haute Cabriere Winery and the La Motte Wine Estate. Good food and wine is not all that unfolded in this beautiful French town. As we toured the main road, we were enveloped by an array of restructured Dutch buildings such as the post office, church, luxurious hotels, village houses, vineyard arts galleries, fashion boutiques and of course the classic Franschhoek motor museum.
After a glorious day of sightseeing, we had yet to discover there was more to this historic town that awaited us. As we exited the Main Road, to our left rested the elegant Huguenot Memorial and Monument. In honour of the French that settled in the Colony from 1671, the Huguenot Monument was inaugurated on the 17th of April 1948. Having found a home in the Cape, the French excelled in wine making and kept the legacy by giving their winelands French names.
The monument tells the history of the Christians that were persecuted in France before the hundreds that settled in this corner fled to the Cape. The figure of the woman holding a bible in her right hand and a broken rosary in her left, while surrounded by French lily flowers (The fleur-de-lis) is said to personify ‘religious freedom’ and the ‘noble spirits’.
With my niece being impatient about getting to a destination called Baboons Wander , we drove up the steep summit route that rests 740 meters above sea level, that gave breath to the panoramic view of the Franschhoek valley and town. The summit route is popular for being a bike trial and car testing route between great the mountains, where large herds of elephants used to roam in and created a path called the Orliphants hoek, which is now referred to as the Franschhoek Pass.
As we headed back to Cape Town, I was left with a feeling of bliss and a little overwhelmed by the rich history, the culture and wondrous views of the treasure we call Franschhoek.