The storytellers of Prince Albert
Did you know?
Prince Albert, named for Queen Victoria’s consort, turns 250 in 2012.
Prince Albert in the Western Cape is a village that knows how to tell its story – from many different angles.
In fact, over the generations, this little town at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range has become renowned for its storytellers, who use all manner of anecdotal devices to communicate the magic of Prince Albert to visitors.
One of the most beloved of them was the late 'Outa Lappies', also known as The Patchwork Man, although his real name was Jan Schoeman. He was an outsider artist who worked with discarded glass and tin. Outa Lappies, who was a firm favourite with overseas visitors, had an engaging way of talking and one always remembered his motto: ‘Make something out of nothing – every day.’
The most devoted of all Prince Albert storytellers, however, was the late Helena Marincowitz, a local farmer’s wife who managed to put together no fewer than 40 historical and cultural booklets on her favourite town and its environs. Marincowitz also fought successfully for the preservation of Prince Albert’s historic architecture.
Through her stories, many of them packed with humour, thousands of people have grown closer to the communities of Prince Albert and, indeed, have bolstered its bustling tourism industry.
And if you should be in Prince Albert for the Olive Festival, which normally takes place every year in late April or early May, you’ll see how well the town has carried on its traditions of storytelling.
Visit the Fransie Pienaar Museum, which is a treasure house of old fossils, Victoriana, local artwork, community archives and diaries. It also has a gun room full of exotic weapons, as well as its very own witblitz (moonshine) distillery.
Or take an early morning walk up the Robert Gordon Koppie with conservation ecologist Dr Sue Milton, and she’ll show you Prince Albert from a geological point of view. She also knows about the veld flora and the folk stories behind practically every plant you see.
Out at a nearby farm called Scholtzkloof, John Begg and Judy Maguire will tell you all about the palaeontological side of Prince Albert. John will take you deep into the mountain cuttings and unveil the story of the San, who lived here as the first people of South Africa.
Then there’s the Story Weaver of Prince Albert herself, Ailsa Tudhope. During festival time, she takes interested parties on ghost walks around the village. But her knowledge goes far further than a few juicy spook stories.
Highly trained in drama and history, Tudhope runs her own business called Prince Albert Walks and Stories. You can wander the streets of Prince Albert after dark with Tudhope, hear a couple of anecdotes over a glass of wine, go on a local architecture tour or, simply, climb a nearby koppie (hill) and time-trip to the mid-1700s, when the village was born.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Prince Albert Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)23 541 1172
How to get here
Take the R62 from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn, then either drive over the Swartberg Pass or reach Prince Albert via De Rust. The distance is approx. 400km – plan for a leisurely five-hour drive.
Best time to visit
The Fransie Pienaar Museum is open week days from 9.30am to 4.30am (but is closed for lunch during 12.30pm and 2pm). It opens on Saturdays between 9.30am and 12pm and on Sundays between 10.30am and 12pm.
Around the area
Neighbouring De Rust is also an attractive little town, with the bigger centre of Oudtshoorn just beyond.
Tours to do
Take a trip through the Swartberg Pass and, if you have a sturdy vehicle, drive carefully down to Gamkaskloof – also known as De Hel ('the hell').
Driving yourself gives you the option of mobility and the chance to explore the famous Route 62 between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn.
What will it cost
Entry fees to the Fransie Pienaar Museum are R10 for adults and R2 for children.
Length of stay
Prince Albert is the ideal weekend destination – plan for a 3-day stay.
What to pack
You’re in mountain country, where the weather can suddenly turn cold, even in spring (September/October) or autumn (April/May), so pack accordingly. The summer months (November to March) are very hot, so pack light clothing.
Where to stay
Prince Albert has a range of accommodation, from the local Swartberg Hotel to upmarket guest houses to a number of self-catering options. Check the listed tourism website for options.
What to eat
Eating out is an adventure in Prince Albert – the range of venues is vast considering it is such a small town. Most of the restaurants are on the main street (Church Street), and the offerings are top quality.
The Prince Albert Olive Festival takes place annually at the end of April or the beginning of May.
Try some of the great cheeses at Gay’s Guernsey Dairy.