The Western Cape's Untapped Beauty: Paarl

Paarl - Western Cape - - Western Cape -
Paarl - Western Cape - - Western Cape -

The Western Cape's Untapped Beauty: Paarl

Less than an hour's drive from Cape Town and its golden beaches lies another one of the Cape's gems—or rather, pearls.

In 1657, Abraham Gabemma set out inland to search for new meat resources. It was after a rainstorm when he saw a mountain in the distance with a giant granite rock that glistened like a wet pearl in the sun.

He named the mountain "Peerleberg" (Pearl Mountain), which later became Paarl Mountain, and the town that evolved at its base was named Paarl.

It was 30 years after the discovery of this fertile valley that farms were given to pioneers, shortly before the arrival of the Huguenots in 1688. The pioneers started their work, and in 1699 the first water mill was put to use.
The first church, the "Strooidak Kerk" (Thatch Roof Church), was consecrated in 1805, and today it is the oldest church building still in use. The gables are regarded as the most attractive of their kind to have survived.

The Old Parsonage ("De Oude Pastorie") was built in 1787 and is one of the most precious architectural treasures of Paarl, situated below the impressive "Toringkerk" (Tower Church). It was bought by the municipality in 1937 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Huguenots, and today it houses the Oude Pastorie Museum, which displays an interesting collection of Cape Dutch furniture and silver and copperware.

Another museum well worth a visit is the Paarl Museum. The original building was used to accommodate eleven ministers from the Strooidak Kerk between 1715 and 1872. In 1872, the property was sold to the Thom family and remained in their possession until 1924. It was then used as a boys' hostel by Paarl Gymnasium High School until it was purchased by the Paarl Town Council.

The building was renovated in 1939 and opened as the Huguenot Museum. The name changed in 1969 to the Old Parsonage Museum, and again on March 1st, 1995, to its present name, the Paarl Museum.

The museum focuses on the history of Paarl and displays a fascinating collection of Cape antiques, artefacts, documents, and photographs that reflect the cultural diversity and development of the town.

Although Paarl is not the oldest town after Cape Town, it did have a significant influence on South Africa's history. In 1840, it became the first town to have a municipality. Paarl was the major supplier of wagons and played an important role in the Great Trek, which led to the discovery of the rest of the country.

The intriguing Afrikaans Language Monument was inaugurated on October 10, 1975, to represent the influence that the residents of Paarl had on the development of the Afrikaans language.

Paarl is surrounded by a naturally beautiful countryside, dotted with many farms and smallholdings. Few towns are blessed with a landscape this dramatic, where the massive granite mountain contrasts with its picturesque fynbos vegetation and the famous Paarl Rock is set among ancient wild olives, rock candle woods, and wagon trees.

Paarl Mountain offers several viewpoints, from which you have a panoramic view towards Table Mountain and the sea in the west and the Boland Mountain ranges in the east.

Paarl and its wines:

Paarl proudly accommodates the headquarters of the South African wine industry, the Co-operative Wine Growers' Association, better known as the KWV. The KWV is a South African institution whose unique achievements and top-quality wines and spirits have earned it an outstanding international reputation.
Paarl Vintners is an all-encompassing organization that has established Paarl as one of the leading wine regions in the world. Since its inception, the organization has made a significant impact, not only in the Paarl region but also in the broader wine world. Some achievements are the first Braille Wine Route guide to assist blind wine lovers, the establishment of a wine-tasting competition for cellar workers, and the arrangement of educational and specialist wine seminars.

Paarl and its immediate vicinity boast enough wine cellars and estates to justify its own wine route. Wine cellars on the Paarl Wine Route include:

  • Boland Wine Cellar, with its charming new underground tasting venue* De Zoete Inval, which has become a popular meeting place for family, friends, and visitors. Cheese and cheese pastries are served in between exceptional wines.
  • The KWV: apart from producing wines and spirits of internationally renowned quality, the KWV also sponsors the annual Berg River Canoe Marathon, which takes place in September and attracts participants from near and far.
  • Laborie Estate, which serves elegant wines and divine traditional dishes in a stylish restaurant, where the splendor of the Paarl Valley stretches away in an incredible vista.
  • Nederburg, located on the northern end of Paarl, is the setting for the fabulous Nederburg Wine Auction each year during April. This event is considered a highlight on the international wine calendar and attracts wine lovers from around the globe. The auction takes place over two days, and its main features include an international guest speaker, a trend-setting fashion show, and, of course, the auction itself.
  • Fairview, a unique experience—peacocks scatter as you drive past the famous goat tower. The tasting room is warm and welcoming, and a large selection of fine wines and delicious cheeses tempt the palate. Fairview not only produces award-winning wines but also Jersey milk Brie and Camembert, as well as a wide variety of Italian and French-style goat and sheep's cheeses.
  • The wine estates that belong to the wine route arrange tours for visitors and provide an opportunity to meet the winemakers in person, sample their produce, and purchase these excellent, nationally and internationally acclaimed red and white wines.

Other attractions in Paarl:

The Wine Route Ostrich Farm in Paarl offers a fun day filled with activities such as watching emus and white ostriches on display, walking the guided tour, and cooing over ostrich chicks. Enjoy specialty dishes such as ostrich or crocodile steak at the restaurant, or request a spitbraai with a live Marimba band as entertainment.
The Paarl Rock Brandy Cellar was founded by the De Villiers brothers in 1856. Since then, their exquisite brandy has been awarded more than 200 medals and awards at both local and international shows—an achievement unrivalled by any other South African brandy!
The Wagon Maker's Museum tells of one of the most prosperous industries in historic Paarl. Wagon-making developed from a number of one-man workshops into a full industry with large factories. Especially during the Anglo-Boer War and the years following that, the factories worked around the clock to meet the demands.
However, after 1914 and with the advent of the motor car era, the wagon-making industry declined very rapidly. The museum preserves the glory of these romantic days and is well worth a visit. Another special treat is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, situated just south of Paarl. The farm is home to more than 1,000 crocodiles, and the daily guided tours are both educational and entertaining. After being awed by these prehistoric creatures, visitors can capture the memory in a souvenir from the curio shop or enjoy the farm's specialty crocodile pie at the cafeteria.
Paarl has so much to offer: a magnificent countryside, five mountain passes, a bounty of fruit orchards, and beautiful vineyards, with the Berg River winding its way through and giving life to this fertile valley. Add to this a rich cultural heritage and diversity of historic buildings throughout the town, balanced by top-notch modern architecture and amenities. Excellent dining and exquisite wines, friendly people, and a transcending feeling of tranquility—be sure to experience all this for yourself!

Gerald Crawford was born in South Africa and studied electronics, telecommunication, eco-travel, and African travel concepts. He taught responsible tourism in South Africa. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me. Email Address: Website Address: []

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Paarl - Western Cape -