The valley was originally settled in 1688 by 176 French Huguenot refugees, many of whom were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Olifantshoek ("Elephants' corner"), so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français ("the French Corner"), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for "French Corner"), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original farm houses today. These farms have grown into renowned wineries. Many of the surnames in the area are of French origin, e.g. Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis, Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.
This heritage is shown today by the Huguenot Monument which stands at the end of the town. The museum nearby chronicles the history of the first settlers, with each of the original Huguenot farms having its own fascinating story to tell. The Cape Dutch architecture in much of the village is unspoilt, as restrictions have been placed on the extent of renovations and new construction in order to preserve the spirit of the original settlers to the area.
Franschhoek is notable for having some of the top restaurants in the country within its quiet borders. This fact, together with the strong wine culture, and pristine natural and architectural beauty has made Franschhoek into what many describe as the "food and wine capital" of South Africa. The city hosts one of the TOP 50 restaurants in the world, according to the "S.Pellegrino world's 50 best restaurants"-ranking and a famous belgian Pâtisserie for belgian pralines.
The attributes of the village have turned Franschhoek into a popular tourist destination, with dozens of bed & breakfasts and small cottages available for accommodation at premium prices as well as a large used bookstore.
Franschhoek's week-end festival for Bastille Day has been celebrated for the last 15 years.