This town, named after Lord Charles Somerset in 1819, lies at the foot of the Hottentots-Holland Mountains. In 1850, inhabitants added the “west” to the town to distinguish it from Somerset East in the Eastern Cape Province. The historic buildings tell the story of the town’s development with eloquence. Over Christmas, Somerset West’s Main Street is transformed into a fairy-tale spectacle when Christmas lights are strung across it. People come from far and wide to see them and to browse around the night-time street market.
Adventure And Sport
Golf: Take on the challenge of the championship Erinvale Golf Course and savour the accomplishment. This golf course was designed by Gary Player and hosted the 1996 World Cup Golf Tournament.
Helderberg Nature Reserve: Altitudes in the reserve vary from 80 to over 1 000 m above sea level. Several graded walking trails have been mapped out, ranging from a gentle amble through the lower reaches to longer and higher ones posing more of a challenge.
Art And Crafts
Craft Markets: Somerset West hosts two popular open-air craft markets on Saturday mornings at Southey’s Vines in Main Road. The Country Craft Market, at which more than 150 local artists and crafters display their work takes place on the last Saturday of every month. The Helderberg Veldwinkel (“Veld Shop”) takes place on the first and third Saturdays of the month.
Helderberg Art Route: The route operates on the last Sunday of every month when some 13 artists and crafters open their homes to the public. One can meet the artists at work in their studios, creating African art, sculpture, pottery, jewellery and glassware.
Helderberg Wine Route: The route is only a 15-minute drive from Cape Town International Airport and is near the town of Somerset West and quite close to the Stellenbosch and Paarl Wine Routes.
Vergelegen: Built by the Dutch Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700, it is one of the oldest grants in the Helderberg region. The beautiful Vergelegen homestead has been preserved and the gardens restored to their original grandeur. The five magnificent massive camphor trees planted in front of the house by Simon van der Stel have been proclaimed historical monuments. Today, Vergelegen is owned by the Anglo American Corporation and is open to the public for wine-tasting, tours and lunches.
Morgenster Wine Estate: A touch of Italy in the heart of the Cape! The historic Morgenster Wine Estate in Lourensford Road also produces and sells virgin olive oil from five Italian cultivars. The hills behind the graceful homestead are covered in olive trees. Morgenster also sells olive pasta and young olive trees. Visitors need to make appointments first.
Culture / Community Tourism
Indibano Cultural Village: The village lies near the Firlands Farm Stall on National Road N2 to the Garden Route. The name means the “meeting place” and it is indeed where Western and African cultures can mingle successfully. Visitors should make arrangements in advance and will be welcomed by traditional African dancers and the smell of African dishes cooking on an open fire. African huts and wooden sculptures, the shebeen, the restaurant and the friendly people all combine to create a feeling of stepping into another world.
Entertainment And Shopping
Somerset Mall: The mall is the shopping Mecca of the Helderberg region.
Fauna And Flora
Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary: This bird haven is located in Lower Victoria Street and offers a home to a vast number of water birds as well as to other species of birds.
Flora: Mesic mountain fynbos makes up the greatest part of the plant life in the area. Specimens of proteas, pincushions and cone bushes are abundant. Fine forests of silver trees, some of the few remaining natural stands in the country, can be found at Silverboomkloof, north-west of the reserve. A clump of indigenous trees in the area known as Disa Gorge dates back hundreds of years and includes stinkwood, magnificent yellowwood and rooiels trees, some of which are 40 m in height.
Helderberg Nature Reserve: The reserve is situated in Verster Street and stretches up the slopes of the magnificent Helderberg Mountain. The wonders of nature can truly be appreciated in this beautiful reserve, which covers some 365 ha. It is particularly
acclaimed for its large variety of species of proteas, as well as for its rich bird life. It has 10 km of walking trails through fynbos and indigenous forest. Blue and red disa orchids dot the hillsides, where grey duiker, grysbok, bontebok and steenbok roam.
Nearly 170 different species of birds have been recorded in the Helderberg Nature Reserve. These include the protea seed-eater and the Victorian scrub warbler found only in this area. The various melodious bird-calls, together with the soothing sound of running water and the peaceful quiet, will compel you to immerse yourself in nature. However, snakes such as the Cape cobra and puff adder may be encountered and should be avoided. Enjoy a stroll through the bottom garden section, a visit to the duck pond or the views of the countryside and ocean below. The reserve also has a restaurant and popular picnic areas under 100¬year-old oak trees, as well as an educational centre and information centre.
History And Architecture
Coachman’s Cottage: The cottage was built some 140 years ago and is the only remaining cottage that features the original architecture of that time. The Somerset West Society restored the cottage in 1977, after which it was proclaimed a national monument.
Lourens River Bridge: The structure is one of the landmarks of the area and crosses the Lourens River, the only remaining bridge of five on which work started in 1844. No longer in use, it was declared a national monument in 1958. It was built from Table Mountain sandstone and its two arches each have a span of 5,3 m.
Ou Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Old Dutch Reformed Church): Located in Church Street, this historic building is the last resting place of several prominent South Africans. The church was originally built when the farmers in the Hottentots-Holland region expressed the need for their own church. After numerous delays and a great storm, the church was completed in 1820.
Pigeon House (Loft): The loft lies on the farm Die Bos (The Bush), 2 km from Somerset West on the way to Sir Lowry’s Pass Village. It was built around 1810 and declared a national monument in 1960. It is a lovely example of the lofts that were built on old Cape farms to match the gables of the main house.
Police Station and Magistrate’s Court: These buildings are located in Main Street and date from 1835 and 1889 respectively. Both were proclaimed national monuments in 1958.
Spook Hill: A visit to this hill can lead to hours of interesting discussions. See whether you can come up with a reasonable explanation why cars roll uphill here, instead of downhill. The right spot for the experiment is at the top of Paarl Vallei Road, directly in front of Straightway Head Country House