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I stayed in Swellendam, on South Africa’s Garden Route, two years ago. It was part of a long held ambition to explore the Eastern Cape, the southernmost tip of the African continent. This is an area teeming with history, wildlife and stunning landscapes, and Swellendam proved to be the ideal place for a stop along the way.
Why Visit Swellendam?
Swellendam is around 200 km from Cape Town. It is a small town, with everything in walking distance. It is surrounded by mountains and open countryside, but the chief attraction within the town itself is the 50 plus historic buildings from the 18th to 20th centuries. Built in the Cape Dutch style, which itself incorporates a variety of architectural traditions, these buildings tell the story of Swellendam since its founding in 1745 (making it the 4th oldest town in South Africa). You can read more in my earlier post about Swellendam’s heritage buildings.
Visitors are well catered for. We stayed at the Augusta de Mist, a fabulous guest house in a historic homestead with individually designed rooms and two hectares of beautifully landscaped gardens. You will find traditional African food (often with a modern twist!) both at the Augusta de Mist and at restaurants in the town – we tried crocodile sashimi and springbok carpaccio among other local specialities.
Swellendam as a Base
It is very easy to drive out of Swellendam: the roads are quiet and at times it seems you are as likely to spot a baboon or other wildlife as another car! There are several nature reserves nearby, including the Marloth Reserve (a ten minute drive), with access to the long distance Swellendam Hiking Trail. Further afield (around 2 hours’ drive) is the Stony Point Penguin Sanctuary at Betty’s Bay.
For us the highlight was a drive to the De Hoop Nature Reserve, 50 km from Swellendam. Although partly on unmade roads, it was worth the effort, with vast empty landscapes. We passed fields of ostriches and zebras, a lone hartebeest and dozens of different types of birds.
History, wildlife and African food… Perhaps I should go back to Swellendam.