There are not many places in South Africa that remain ‘undiscovered’. As a nation we enjoy wandering the country, and travel journalists have shared most of the ‘secret’ spots with us already.
But if one is prepared to go that little bit further than the average trip makes comfortable, visit relatively unheard of towns that at first glance are unprepossessing, it’s amazing what one can uncover.
Whilst the towns below are no state secret, they seldom make it into braaiside conversations or appear on ‘must-visit’ bucket lists. That may change…
Photograph: Anglican Church in Lady Grey, Eastern Cape
Lady Grey, Eastern Cape
This little hamlet set right up against the Eastern Cape border with the Free State just makes ‘rural village’ classification. Far from being a farming community town that has lost its magic or been left to languish with little attention, Lady Grey’s Victorian-charm-meets-the-Witteberg-Mountains appeal lies in its dust roads, lovingly restored cottages, winter snow falls and an annual Easter three-day passion play that takes place in the streets, featuring a cast of locals.
Rather stringent architectural guidelines mean that few modern homes have made it into the village. If you’re after picture pretty, stoep surrounds, wrought iron gates, quiet and brilliant blue skies, then Lady Grey is your kind of town. Find out more here and when you book your accommodation in Eastern Cape, consider Lady Grey.
Photograph: Pretty in Suurbaak in the Western Cape
Suurbraak, Western Cape
Suurbraak lies at the foot of the Tradouw Pass en route to Swellendam, a rather subdued former missionary village that doesn’t exactly shout ‘tourist attraction’ given the long-suffering cottages. If you’re passing through in the rain, you’ll miss the point completely. But stop awhile because it’s a little like discovering a book is REALLY good when it’s cover is eaten through by book bugs.
You’ll discover an enthusiastic tourism office, a Saturday morning village square farmers’ market where you can buy the organic vegetables grown by the locals using traditions time almost forgot, rustic, handmade garden furniture for sale, a local bakery, ancient burial grounds, an organic restaurant and a couple of places to stay. Find out more here and when you book your accommodation in Western Cape, consider a visit to Suurbaak!
Photograph: Mining Commissioner’s House in Kaapsehoop
Up on a plateau just outside Nelspruit, this is one little town that seems to fall off the map. Few people, if any, have heard of it. But not for long. For there is something distinctly attractive about the combination of swirling early morning mists, wild horses, odd appearances of the endangered blue swallow, clumps of rough sandstone rocks and views out over the valley. Kaapsche Hoop has elements of Pilgrim’s Rest before it became a tourist haven for bus loads of people.
Its history is steeped in the gold rush of the 1880s when the valuable mineral was discovered up here even before Johannesburg uncovered a major vein. Today the lantern lit streets are dotted with lovingly restored cottages (there is a heritage committee), a few shops and restaurants, a series of hiking trails and a rather derelict jail and magistrate’s court at the top of the village. You can find out more here and book your accommodation in Nelspruit, its right nearby.
Photograph: Art Gallery in Baardskeerdersbos, Western Cape
Baardskeerdersbos, Western Cape
Buried in a part of the Overberg few people explore, Baardskeerdersbos is named after a tiny spider that cuts human hair to make its nest. Or at least it was in the 1660s when an expedition discovered the spot. Today its residents call it B’bos and thoroughly enjoy the undisturbed, tranquil country lifestyle.
You may have heard it spoken about in connection to its thrice annual art route, during which the roughly 12 resident artists open their homes and studios (often the same thing) to anyone prepared to brave the sand roads (a tar road is on the cards) linking it to Stanford, Franskraal, Pearly Beach and Napier. The enticing village, lack of any pretension and peaceful quiet make it seriously inviting. Find out more here and book your accommodation in Cape Overberg, all roads lead to Baardskeerdersbos.
Photograph: Scenes from Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape
Niewoudtville, Northern Cape
Up on the Bokkeveld Plateau above Vanrhynsdorp, in the Northern Cape, lies the little town famous for its bulbs. Part of the hardened Namaqua flower seeker’s trail, it is connected by a circular gravel road – the R364 – with Clanwilliam and Calvinia, which, if you have a fairly sturdy vehicle is an incredible drive. Niewoudtville is a convergence of many things special – 9 of Acock’s 88 veld types are visible within a 100km radius of town, it is home to the Hantam National Botanical Garden, there is an incredible quiver tree forest just outside town, a local waterfall, the local community run a bulb nursery, and 1350 species of bulbous plants are visible on the plateau.
There is the added quaintness of its Gothic church and sandstone homes, with the odd coffee shop that opens when visitors descend during the spring flower season. Find out more here or book accommodation in Northern Cape in or close to Niewoudtville.