The Bastille Festival in Franschoek

The French National Holiday known as Bastille Day is celebrated in France on 14 July each year. In honor of its French Huguenot past, the picturesque town of Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province of South Africa celebrates Bastille Day on the weekend closest to 14 July. The 2008 Franschhoek Bastille Festival is set to take place from 12 to 13 July and everyone is invited to indulge in good food, excellent wine and enjoy the incredible party atmosphere.

In the 1600s, French Huguenots settled in the beautiful lush valley surrounded by majestic mountains, bringing many of their traditions with them. One of these traditions was wine-making and many of the vineyards in the Franschhoek area still bear the names that were given to them by the original settlers. These names often refer to the region in France from which they fled to escape persecution.

For the French, Bastille Day represents freedom, as it commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to the establishment of a Republic. In line with the theme of freedom, visitors are encouraged to join in “The Long Walk”, starting at the gates of the Drakenstein Prison (formerly Victor Verster) from which Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, following a 21 kilometer route and arriving at the Huguenot Monument in the heart of the Franchhoek valley. Tokyo Sexwale, fellow comrade of Madiba and Franschhoek patron, will be joining the walk which is in honor of the life and achievements of this South African icon, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday on 18 July 2008.

The entire town enters into the spirit of the Bastille Festival and red, white and blue reigns as buildings are draped in the colors of the French flag. Locals and visitors alike don French berets and dress in French colors for the occasion. Many of South Africa’s finest chefs and winemakers converge on the town square, setting up stalls offering a wide array of tasty fare. Visitors will have a choice of oysters, local and imported cheeses, hand-made chocolates, freshly caught salmon trout and of course, Franschhoek’s finest wines. Talented crafters and artists offer their wares at market stalls and the town’s craft shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants offer Bastille Festival specials. Festival-goers can try their hand at a game of traditional French boules or take part in the barrel-rolling contest. Other features of the Bastille Festival include the popular chefs and waiters race, festival floats representing surrounding farms, kiddies’ soccer, mountain biking, craft market stalls, live music and French movies which will be screened at Le Quartier Francais Screening Room.

Franschhoek is a wonderful town to visit at any time of the year, and the Bastille Festival presents the perfect opportunity to explore this little corner of France in sunny South Africa.