The southern-most town in the south-eastern Free State, Rouxville virtually falls off the map it so seldom makes it onto anyone’s travel agenda, but as a destination to get away from it all (completely and utterly) the town definitely qualifies as one of the best bets.
At first glance the town appears to lack the attraction of nearby towns like Smithfield – where restaurants, art galleries, their very own Boere mark and general joie de vivre (if you discount the local supermarket that charged three times what it should have for an iceberg lettuce!) – and Lady Grey – where a gorgeous setting up against the Maluti Mountains, close knit community and simply deliciously restored homes win hands down.
But I run away with myself. We chose Rouxville as our destination based on a Smithfield tourism website that made it sound, well, made it sound a little more enticing than it turned out to be. But the effect of having heard that there was a secret life in the little town, and that all you had to do was look a little further than the main road, meant I couldn’t shake the idea that Rouxville really is a place just awaiting discovery. Which in many ways it is. Our journey to Rouxville was particularly pretty. We left Victoria West along the beautifully scenic R63 that takes one all the way to Graaf Reinet, joined the N1 again until just beyond Colesberg and then took the R701 via Bethulie to Smithfield before turning onto the N6 to Rouxville.
Smithfield is an extremely pretty town, nestled up against the mountains. It’s apparently the third oldest village in the Free State and has obviously recently undergone something of a revival, as the main road is filled with lively looking restaurants and art galleries, many of which, unfortunately, seemed to be up for sale – a sign of the times? Despite this, the town has something of an atmosphere. It’s clean and tidy, has obviously attracted a group of artists and ‘out of towners’ and is definitely somewhere you could spend more than a little time.
It’s also home to The Famous Pig Out, a restaurant in Wessels Street. The turn of the century Cape Dutch style house alone is worth the detour and the food is said to be wonderful! (we didn’t manage to indulge). And the ‘pig out’? Well, that alludes to the size of the portions, which are apparently more than generous. The owners support the slow food movement, which means you’ll be able to savour local (they have their own organic vege garden), made with love, served with flavour, lekker kind of fare.
But on to Rouxville. I have to say that our accommodation on Albertain Street (the street wasn’t clearly marked, so we stopped and asked the local policeman as he was strolling up from the main road) more than saved the day. We found ourselves in one of those incredibly big (high-ceilinged, expansive rooms) old, Cape cottage-style homes that has been beautifully restored. Tinkerbell was just lovely, and cheap to boot, which means stealing down here from Johannesburg with a group of friends (the cottage sleeps up to ten people, although eight comfortably) to idle away a long weekend is probably one of the best breaks you can imagine – there’s a large room with a pool table and turntable to while away evenings usually reserved for partying.
The owners, Celeste and Melanie, intend retiring here. It began when they fell in love with the home that is now Tinkerbell online and bought it out right. They say Rouxville chose them, rather than the other way around. It then seemed a shame to leave the now renovated home standing, used only when they made it down from Pretoria Accommodation, and so they began leasing the house to like-minded people. It did so well, that the pair have now bought a second home, this time a sandstone affair with a completely different personality, called ‘Pandora’, and aimed at smaller more intimate stays.
Celeste is well aware that the town still lacks the restaurant and arty shops on the main drag that act as an instant appeal, but she feels it’s only time before these appear. The people of Rouxville, the two inform me, are incredibly friendly and helpful, and it’s quite an experience to simply sit on the stoep and listen to the stories that emerge from passers by.
Pity about their immediate neighbour, who stood idly watching us from his back garden, coffee mug in hand, surrounded by his dogs, not a smile or any sign of recognition when I raised my hand in welcome, whilst he stood sipping coffee next to his bakkie, its front laden with various ox horns. And this on a Sunday morning – wasn’t he supposed to be in church, or something?
In Rouxville the streets are wide and generous, even if untarred (the main road through town is). The properties are big and some of the beautiful, old Cape cottages have been bought and restored. There is an element of interest from out-of-towners, but nothing like Smithfield. Yet there is a wonderful sense of safety. And you wake in the morning to the sound of cows and the crowing of roosters, not traffic or noisy neighbours.
There are a couple of shops where you can stock up on milk and bread (and not much else) and whilst there are rumours of a restaurant, I certainly didn’t see it. The tuisnywerheid-come-supermarket on the main road stocks real farm milk – just look out for the two-litre fanta bottles filled with a white substance in one of their fridges. But don’t expect anything as advanced as homemade bread!
Rouxville is well placed, and exploring from here is great. Zastron is only 30 kilometres away, as is Aliwal North, but in the other direction. The Gariep Dam is around 60 kilometres away, and Lesotho and the Drakensberg are accessible. Like other towns this close to Lesotho, Rouxville has sightings of the Maluti Mountains. This together with its other claims to fame – the gorgeous sandstone church, a few historical houses, a tractor museum, a smattering of B&Bs and a highly sought after peaceful atmosphere – make it a wonderful breakaway in my eyes.