With a beautiful mountain backdrop and the languid Breede River on its doorstep, Swellendam is a nature and adventure lover's paradise. And that's not to mention what it has to offer foodies, too.

Did you know?

The first people to live in this area some 2 000 years ago were herders, known as the Hessequa, which means 'people of the trees'.

Swellendam, established in 1745, is one of the oldest towns in South Africa, but don't be fooled into thinking that this bit of history is all this pretty town has to its name.

Built among the foothills of the Langeberg mountains, Swellendam has one of the most beautiful mountain settings in the country, and the Western Cape's largest navigable river, the Breede (meaning 'broad' river), flowing close by. 

Its location, at the start of the Garden Route, and close to the Tradouw Pass, which leads to the famous R62 road and the Little Karoo, makes it an ideal springboard for tourists wishing to explore this part of the country.

In addition, there are several nature reserves in close proximity, including the Bontebok National Park. This is the smallest national park in South Africa, established originally as a safe haven for Bontebok, a rare antelope that once numbered only 17 individual animals. 

Provincial nature reserves include Marloth, adjacent to the town, the birder's paradise of Grootvadersbosch for its indigenous forest, and the spectacular De Hoop Nature Reserve on the coast, which offers great whale viewing in spring (August/September) and has an iconic, multi-day hiking trail called the Whale Trail.

With all this natural beauty around, no wonder Swellendam is a drawcard for outdoor enthusiasts, from mountain bikers to hikers, and horse riders to river rafters.

The town also lies at the centre of a healthy agricultural industry producing a cornucopia of fresh goods, including berries that are grown in the nearby Hermitage Valley, honey from the mountain fynbos, and fresh milk from the herds of jersey cows that graze on the well-watered pastures in the area. 

There's a vibrant food culture here too, with more restaurants than one would ordinarily find in a town of this size, offering everything from boerekos (traditional farmers' food) to coffee shops serving delectable cakes and fine-dining experiences.

Today the town brands itself the 'Republic of Swellendam', with good reason. This harks back to the day on 17 June 1795 when the local populace expelled the Dutch East India Company magistrate and declared themselves a republic. Their status as a free 'republic' came to an end three months later when they agreed to accept British rule, but that fierce sense of independence lives on.

The modern-day residents made a 'tongue-in-cheek' declaration of independence on 18 June in 2011 celebrating Swellendam as a 'Republic of love, community, unity, art, music, good food and beauty'.

With so much on offer, who would not wish to linger a little bit longer here?

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Swellendam Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)28 514 2770

How to get here

Self-drive or on a tour.

Best time to visit

Many establishments take a break in mid-winter, so it's best to visit during spring, summer and autumn.

Around the area

Take a day trip to see the whales at De Hoop Nature Reserve; cross the Breede River on the pontoon at Malgas; drive through the Tradouw Pass to Barrydale; or visit the nearby mission village of Suurbraak.

Tours to do

If you're keen on adventure, arrange to go river rafting on the Breede River, or horse riding near the Marloth Nature Reserve. At Umshanti, on the Buffeljags River Dam, you can also go microlighting. If history is your thing, then a visit to the Drostdy Museum is a must. Or else pamper yourself at the local Rain Forest Day Spa, where they use products manufactured locally and now exported the world over.

Get around

In town, you can get around on foot or make use of the Swellencab service. Alternatively, bring your own car.

What will it cost

What it costs will depend on the level of luxury you require, however prices for dining out and accommodation in general are reasonable compared to Cape Town.

Length of stay

You could easily spend several days or a long weekend here.

What to pack

The climate is generally mild but it can be chilly in winter (June to August) and warm in summer (November to February). Bring hiking boots if you want to go for a walk.

Where to stay

Swellendam has numerous B&Bs, country lodges and self-catering cottages on offer, some located on reserves and farms outside of the town. For those who want a five-star experience, there is the Schoone Oordt Country House located in a beautiful Victorian building.

What to eat

There are several excellent restaurants in town. For outstanding steaks, try de Companjie Restaurant, which serves meat especially brought in from the owner's farm in the Northern Cape. An excellent coffee shop option is the Old Goal or Pennantwing, while De Vagebond offers a fine-dining menu. 

What's happening

Swellendam has an annual Amazing Berry Race to raise funds for local charities. There are also several outdoor sports events through the year.

Best buys

An assortment of honey and honey products from the Bee Shop, handmade decor items from Pennantwing, health and beauty goods from Rain, or delicious deli items from Tradici on the edge of town.