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iith a beautiful mountain backdrop and the languid Breede River on its doorstep, Swellendam is a nature and adventure lover’s paradise – not to mention what it has to offer foodies and those fascinated by the quirks of history.
Swellendam was established in 1745, making it the third-oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and Stellenbosch, so it has lots to offer those interested in the past. But don’t imagine that history is all this pretty spot has to offer.
Built among the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains, Swellendam has one of the most beautiful settings in the country, and Western Cape province’s largest navigable river, the Breede (meaning ‘broad’), flows 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 Swellendam an ideal springboard for tourists wishing to explore this part of the country.
IIn addition, there are several nature reserves nearby, 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 and hikers to horse riders and 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, to 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 2011 to celebrate 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?
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)28 514 8500
How to get here
Self-drive along the N2 from Cape Town, or take 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 (September to May).
In town, you can get around on foot or make use of the Swellencab service. Alternatively, bring your own car.
Things to do in 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.
What will it cost?
What a visit 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 explore on foot.
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 5-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 Northern Cape province. Two excellent restaurant/coffee shop options are the Old Gaol and Pennantwing, while De Vagebond offers a fine-dining menu.
Swellendam has an annual Amazing Berry Race to raise funds for local charities. There are also several outdoor sports events through the year.
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.