One of my longstanding travel goals has always been to explore South Africa, specifically small town South Africa. As a Cape Town born, Joburg raised girl, I’ve always had a fascination with small towns so moving from the city to the Karoo Heartland with my favourite human just over a year ago was an absolute dream come true. What better way to explore small town South Africa, than living in small town South Africa?
Our 2017 travel bucket list includes exploring at least one new small town per month and so far so good! This month we explored Graaff-Reinet, a gem of a town which has been getting a lot of love on HGHU over the past year.
Two reasons why we keep returning to the Gem of the Karoo, as it’s aptly nicknamed, is a) it’s conveniently located just over an hour’s drive from Somerset East, and b) it’s sooo pretty. It doesn’t hurt that it’s home to a number of quaint little restaurants, shops and art galleries – I always arrive home with a full belly, a happy heart, and arms filled with vintage treasures, home made produce, or delicious fresh fruit. I’m still dreaming about the incredible blueberries I found after our trip to Valley of Desolation earlier this year.
We headed to Graaff-Reinet early on Saturday morning to take some sunrise photos before the town got too busy – the sleepy little town is a popular weekend breakfast destination for many surrounding towns. It was overcast and surprisingly chilly for early April, but that didn’t stop us from taking to the wide (wide enough for two ox wagons to drive side by side 😉 ), quiet streets to take in the beautiful Victorian architecture. One thing you notice about the town straight away is how exceptionally tidy is, which gives the impression that locals are proud to call Graaff-Reinet home, and so they should be, it’s hard not to be seduced by the authentic charm of this picturesque little town. Another thing you notice as you first drive into town, is Graaff-Reinet’s spectacular centerpiece, Groot Kerk. Now, I love a historic site with an interesting backstory, and Groot Kerk is one of those historic sites…
Construction on the church site commenced in 1792, but sadly the church was destroyed by fire in 1799 before it could be completed. In 1880 a second church was completed and demolished again in 1822, with the arrival of Reverend Andrew Murray. A third church served the community for 60 years before the foundation stone was laid for the fourth, existing Groot Kerk – the stone of which was obtained locally. Photos don’t do this building justice, but here are a few to give you some idea of the dramatic beauty of this site.
The heritage town is a historian’s dream, and caters for a wide range of tastes and interests. Even though we opted for a leisurely stroll this time around, there are plenty of things to do in Graaff-Reinet – five of which I’ve highlighted below.
- For the explorers: Valley of Desolation needs a spot on your bucket list. Pictures and words won’t do the spectacular views justice, but here’s a little something to whet your appetite.
- For the plant ladies: A trip to Obesa Nursery, with its over 7,000 plant species, is a must. Here’s a post I wrote last year after our first visit to Obesa.
- For the history buffs: Experience life in the 1800’s by visiting Reinet House (one of five museums in a town with over 220 heritage sites) and be sure to pay a visit to the giant black acorn grapevine which has been growing in the Reinet House garden since 1870!
- For the art and culture enthusiasts: Enjoy the artwork of famous contemporary South African artists at the Hester Ruper Art Museum.
- For the foodies: Visit Maria’s Coffee Roastery for a wide selection of coffee and freshly baked scones, Polka Café for ciabatta pizza and juicy Karoo lamb burgers, and GRT for refreshing craft beer.
We ended our trip with a delicious cup of coffee at Polka Café before heading home to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon with the cat kids. All in all, a beauty of a day!