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France in Franschhoek

Words: Duane Stacey | Photos: Duane Stacey & Tania Steyn

As a South African you might be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into an unlikely political coalition celebration, as red and blue berets bobbed along the streets of Franschhoek over the weekend of 12 and 13 July 2014. Fortunately you would have been mistaken, as this small town, nestled between two mountain passes, came to a standstill to embrace the decadence of its heritage in fine French fashion, celebrating Bastille Day at the Franschhoek Bastille Festival.

Photo credit: Duane Stacey & Tania Steyn

With so much on offer for the whole family, most festival goers wound their way between the many craft stalls browsing through a collection of all-things French or nibbling away on French baguettes and olives. Others settled down to a hearty lunch in the 'Marche de Franschhoek', located in the grounds of the Town Hall, or found a table at one of the many street cafés wrapped in the colours of the French flag. Boules competitions, jumping castles and the Franschhoek minstrel parade kept those seeking a leisurely stroll through the valley amused.

For the more active festival goers, the Salomon Bastille Day Trail Run offered competitors four different distances; 14 km, 24 km, 35 km and 50 km in which they could compete and explore the Franschhoek Mountains by foot. Those that survived the run and Saturday night’s festivities were also able to compete in the third edition of the Bastille Festival MTB Classic. Three route lengths of 10 km, 32 km and 45 km enabled riders of various ability to kick-start their Sunday morning with some activity. Race organiser, Geddan Ruddock, made use of the various terrains available, which included sand, water, rocks and clay, to provide contestants with an exhaustive yet adrenaline-filled ride.

Set at the end of the main road, through the funnel of red, white and blue and below the Huguenot Monument, was where most of the festivities took place. Groups of friends huddled together in a jumble of colour to reminisce over stories, which left the tent abuzz with a distinctively festive atmosphere. Delicious delicacies lined the perimeter of the food and wine marquee, while some of the region’s best wines and cheeses coated the stomachs of many folks enjoying the revelries. This turned out to be a cultural extravaganza even the French would not turn their noses up at.

Photo credit: Duane Stacey & Tania Steyn

Live music and entertainment from local artists continued through the afternoon, but up for grabs on the dance floor was an all-expenses-paid trip to the Seychelles for a couple who could best mimic the movements of the ten Seychelles dancers and musicians on display.

Competition was fierce as fancy-dressed competitors were cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd. When the winners were announced, the tricoloured dance floor erupted into celebration. The festive atmosphere lasted well after the sun had set behind the snow-capped mountains, as this unique event bowed out in style.

After washing away the wine stains and packing away the berets, I am sure many festival goers will have loads of fond memories and be eager to return next year, turning the town French once again.