There aren’t many small towns in South Africa where you can find boerewors and baguettes. In Smithfield you can. An easy drive from Bloemfontein, this enigmatic Free State town has entertained everyone from Moshoeshoe, the first king of the Sotho people, to British soldiers fighting the the South African War from 1899-1902.

Did you know?

The town of Smithfield was founded in 1848 when Sir Harry Smith was the governor of the Cape.

In 2002, South African columnist Carmel Rickard decided to find somewhere new to live, somewhere rural, interesting and close to an airport, and where she could walk in the veld with her dogs.

She found Smithfield in the Free State province.

Just 135km from Bloemfontein, it’s a walking, birding and cycling hotspot, and an inviting stopover for people heading to the Eastern Cape, or from Johannesburg or Durban to Cape Town.

For cycling enthusiasts, Smithfield is an ideal destination. Resident Gus Uys has laid out several excellent mountain-bike trails through the surrounding hills and kloofs.

Birders also enjoy coming here; leading South African ornithologist Rick Nuttall calls it an 'undiscovered gem', with more than 270 species recorded in the area.

And all who visit comment on the good accommodation and tasty food.

Cuisine in Smithfield varies from women cooking boerewors (traditional South African sausage) on the sidewalk, to a deli, where you can eat delicious Karoo lamb with garden-grown vegetables, to a restaurant run by a French cook who also makes fresh bread and baguettes.

A local delicacy is sheep-milk cheese, made by farmer Elmarie van Aswegen on her farm, Patria.

Smithfield attracts artistic and eccentric people, and you'll hear tales of romance and ruin if you linger a while.

Even the town square is romantic: Juana Square was named after Juana Smith, the Spanish beauty and much-beloved wife of Sir Harry Smith, who the town was named after. (Another South African town, Ladysmith, is also named after her, while the town of Harrismith was named after him.)

The story goes that Smith met his future wife as a young man in the peninsula wars in Spain.

After the British ransacked the town and convent where Juana and her sister attended school, she presented herself at Smith's tent and demanded proper treatment for ladies such as themselves.

He was swept off his feet and theirs was a lifelong romance.

King Moshoeshoe's time in Smithfield was not quite so romantic, as he arrived in the mid-1800s to try to improve the relationship between the local Sotho people and the Boer farmers.

Fifty years later, during the South African War of 1899 - 1902 (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), Smithfield served as a British stronghold.

Relics from this time can still be found in the veld where the sweet-smelling Massonia jasminiflora, a member of the hyacinth family, flowers in winter.

Travel tips & Planning info

Related articles