Top 5 Towns to Visit in the Western Cape.

    There are several towns in South Africa’s Western Cape Province that shouldn’t be missed on a visit to South Africa. But if you’re pushed for time, we have narrowed down the must-see towns to five – Stellenbosch, Knysna, Hermanus, Oudtshoorn and Franschhoek.


    1 Stellenbosch

    If you’re into culture, history, scenery and wine, then Stellenbosch could be your paradise on Earth. This student town, located 48 kilometres (30 miles) east of Cape Town, is the second oldest white settlement in the country. It features several interesting monuments such as the slave houses, a village store named Oom Samie se Winkel, and the Rhenish Church, which was built in 1823 as a school for slaves’ children. Stellenbosch is named for Simon van der Stel, who discovered the area in 1679. The village was founded in 1685 and it became a municipality in 1840. Look out for the many oak trees that line the town streets.

    Best time to visit: November to March

    2 Knysna

    Few towns can rival Knysna for sheer beauty; dramatically located on a lagoon on South Africa’s Garden Route, it is – apart from Cape Town - probably the most popular resort in the Western Cape Province. The town doesn’t have any monuments of which to speak, but its scenery more than makes up for a shortage of historic architecture. Particularly noteworthy are the Knysna Heads, two sandstone cliffs that protect the lagoon from the sea. Knysna, which is famous for its oysters, is located 68km (42m) east of George; its name is derived from the original inhabitants’ name for ‘fern leaves’.

    Best time to visit: November to March

    3 Hermanus

    There are a few places in the world where one can watch southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), but none are as good as Hermanus. The reason for that is Walker Bay – an inlet on the Hermanus coastline where whales arrive from the sub-Antarctic in order to calve. They arrive in June and leave in December, but in September and October there’s little chance of missing these gentle giants as they breach, lobtail and skyhop in the bay. Just to ensure you don’t miss a sighting, however, a ‘whale crier’ patrols Hermanus during peak season, sounding a horn to alert visitors to the whale’s location. Hermanus, which was established in 1855 and named for Dutch teacher, is located 120km (75m) south-east of Cape Town.

    Best time to visit: June to December

    4 Franschhoek

    Although it isn’t far from Stellenbosch (about 30km or 19m east, to be exact), Franschhoek is completely different in appearance and character to its more famous neighbour. Nonetheless, it’s certainly worth visiting on any tour of Cape Town’s so-called winelands route. Established in 1860, Franschhoek attained municipal status 21 years later. Its name means ‘French corner’ – a reference to the fact that about 270 Huguenot refugees from King Louis XIV’s France settled here in 1688. The Huguenot Memorial at the top end of the main street is the most visible monument in Franschhoek and was built to commemorate the arrival of the refugees.

    Best time to visit: November to March

    5 Oudtshoorn, Western Cape

    In about 1870, several Victorian and Edwardian sandstone mansions sprouted up in the small Western Cape settlement of Oudtshoorn. The reason was that ostrich feathers had suddenly become very fashionable – good news for Oudtshoorn’s ostrich farmers. The boom lasted about 10 years, helped by the fact that the climate was ideal for growing the ostriches’ favourite food, lucerne, and led to the building of so-called ‘feather palaces’. Fortunately, the end of the feather frenzy in fashionable circles didn’t spell doom for Oudtshoorn; instead, it capitalised on its value as a tourist resort, and today offers tours of ostrich breeding facilities and even ostrich derby races. The town was named for Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn who came to South Africa from Holland in 1741. He was appointed governor of the Cape in 1772 but died on his way to Cape Town a year later.

    Best time to visit: November to March

    When is the best time to visit?

    The best time to visit the Western Cape is between November and March, but Hermanus is an exception as its main attraction – the southern right whale – only appears in June before leaving the shores of the Western Cape in December.

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