Three storybook-worthy dorpies that are sure to enchant
Let’s not forget that one of the world’s most famous and epic stories, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, was inspired by the misty mountains and raw beauty of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Truth be told, South Africa has a variety of small towns (or ‘dorpies’) that are so picturesque they could have popped straight out of a page from a child’s storybook. A visit to any of them will leave you feeling not only like you’ve left the hustle of the city, but also like you’ve time-traveled to another era. Here are three dorpies that are definitely worth a visit.
Tulbagh (Western Cape)
Tulbagh, less than an hour’s drive out of Cape Town, is probably most well known for the earthquake it suffered in 1969, but it’s also the fourth oldest town in South Africa and has no less than four historic museums and a wine route second to none.
In Tulbagh it feels like the air is fresher, the trees greener and the sky bluer. Surrounded by the Groot Winterhoek Mountain Range, the town is as pretty as a picture with its Cape Dutch buildings and monuments. There’s lots to do, too: chocolate tasting (by Moniki Belgian Chocolates), wine tasting (it’s part of the Western Cape wine route and home to the first estate to produce Methode Cap Classique in South Africa), lots of eateries and little shops, a theater bar/restaurant, as well as mountain biking and hiking.
Sutherland (Northern Cape)
Sutherland is the epitome of the small Karoo dorpie. A town that came into being as early as 1858, imagine well-worn dusty red gravel roads, stone houses with wrap-around stoeps and the clearest night sky (and air) in South Africa – that’s Sutherland.
Its biggest attraction is the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and guided stargazing at the observatory at night. Both are worthwhile things to do when visiting. Other attractions include the home of famous Afrikaans poet N.P. Van Wyk Louw, the Jewish Cemetery online casino and the NG Kerk. Sutherland also has a handful of restaurants that offer great Karoo cuisine like lamb dishes and traditional boerekos (farmers’ food). With not too much to do except take it easy, it’s a good choice for a weekend away. And if you go in winter, you might get to play in the snow! Just remember to pack accordingly; it is the coldest town in South Africa in winter.
Matjiesfontein (Western Cape)
If you are travelling to Sutherland from Cape Town, you must make a pit stop at Matjiesfontein (just off the N1 before you turn off to Sutherland). It’s a no-horse town where time has simply stopped. It’s a bit surreal, so don’t be surprised if you have to pinch yourself to check that you have not landed on a film set. There’s an old Victorian hotel called the Lord Milner, an old English pub where wait staff wear tuxedos and top hats, and a railway station that dates back to 1878.
You can get a red bus tour (English-style) of the town and visit two interesting museums: the Railway Museum and the Marie Rawdon Museum, which houses a collection of turn-of-the-century household items that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve watched the TV series Downton Abbey. Other interesting things to do include a visit to the historic cricket pitch, courthouse and jail, and history buffs will enjoy a trip to the British Army Remount Camp. Oh, and apparently the dorpie is haunted.