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Must-visit Towns and Villages For Your Bucket List

Must-visit Towns and Villages For Your Bucket List

A selection of the best dorpies for your bucket list. Make the most of the journey by stopping over at some of South Africa’s quaintest and most interesting towns and villages.

Here’s our pick of SA’s best towns and villages to visit on your next holiday.

Quick links: Jump to the town or village that interests you the most or scroll down to read about all of them.

  1. Augrabies
  2. Geluksburg
  3. Southwell
  4. Klaarstroom
  5. Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape
  6. Genadendal, Western Cape
  7. Sunsets in Knysna, Garden Route, Western Cape
  8. Darling, Swartland, Western Cape
  9. Rhodes, North Eastern Cape Highlands
  10. Churchhaven, West Coast, Western Cape
  11. Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape Karoo
  12. Yzerfontein, West Coast, Western Cape
  13. Cullinan, Gauteng
  14. Langebaan, West Coast, Western Cape
  15. Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga
  16. Hermanus, Western Cape
  17. Stellenbosch, Western Cape
  18. Montagu, Western Cape
  19. Klaarstroom, Western Cape
  20. Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape

Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape
Bucket list: Graaff Reinet

Professional golfer, Gary Player

Graaff-Reinet is a beautiful town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa and as one of the oldest in the country, it’s a charming place.

It’s close to my farm in the Karoo, and I drive through every year on my way to Plettenberg Bay for a holiday.

The Drostdy Hotel in the town is where my wife, Vivienne and I always stop for lunch or stay the night. I am never one to eat much bread, but my, they have some of the best I have ever tasted!

Also the Camdeboo National Park is close by and is an absolutely breath-taking area with spectacular views over the plains of Africa. One of my favourite places in the world.

 

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Out and about in the Karoo? Follow our road trip plan, challenge yourself with a cycle tour or indulge in some retail therapy.

Genadendal, Western Cape
Bucket list: Genadendal

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor and SAfm radio presenter, Nancy Richards

It wouldn’t necessarily be my ONE best spot – but such a special place that is so often overlooked on the incredibly well-beaten path to pretty Greyton is the mission town of Genadendal (Valley of Grace).

It holds such a special place in South Africa’s history. The mission ‘village’ itself is well kept and cared for and each time I’ve been, I’ve spoken to people living there who have such genuine pride in the place and its past.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t without its troubles – but show me a town without them. The school dates back to 1738 and the museum is a feast.  A real tribute to learning and education.

If for no other reason than to be reminded that for all their sometimes misguided approach, missionaries did some good work.

The place so impressed the late Nelson Mandela for instance, that he named his smaller residence at Groote Schuur Genadendal in its honour. It’s also a recognised national cultural treasure.

All the public buildings in the town are worth a visit – the simple, gracious church, and the Printing Museum, Old Watermill, Pottery Studio and Cottage Museum all on the Church Square. After you’ve seen all this, travel on to Greyton where you’re spoilt for choice with cute coffee shops.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Visiting Greyton in the Overberg? Here are three options to add to your travel list.


READER’S CHOICE: Sunsets in Knysna, Garden Route, Western Cape

“The sunsets are unforgettable. Each one is special and spending it with your loved ones makes it awesome. Definitely a bucket list town.” – Country Life reader, Reshma Deva

 


Darling, Swartland, Western Cape
Bucket list: Pieter Dirk Uys

Satirist, performer, author, and social activist, Pieter-Dirk Uys

When people ask me where I live, I say Darling. “Yes, darling, but where?” “Darling, darling!”

The picture below taken by Stefan Hurter, puts our town in a nutshell. Not as it used to be trapped in a Natshell during those years of apartheid.

Today the most famous white woman in South Africa has a permanent presence in the town. See your GPS and find the Evita Bezuidenhout Boulevard.

The top of the NG Kerk steeple points straight into it, the longest street in our community. The fact that Tannie Evita doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean she’s not real. The reality that she is a he in costume is also no secret in our community. And yet she has been embraced by many and celebrated by more.

Some friends I have here in this busy Swartland town, an hour from Cape Town Airport (which makes it an hour from New York, London, Sydney or anywhere), don’t know why they live here.

Like me and Stefan, we seem to have stopped in Darling and stayed. Stefan was here for ten days to visit his aunt and that was over two years ago.

In 1996 I took a trip to McGregor and ended in Darling. Best wrong turn of my life. Others stopped for coffee and here we all are in a town with a name that translates into any langauge: Skattie. Liebchen. Caro. Cheri. Zuma?

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

The best places to eat, drink and dance in the Darling of the Swartland.

Bucket list: Hilda's Kitchen
Rhodes, North Eastern Cape Highlands
Bucket list: Rhodes

Regular COUNTRY LIFE contributor and renowned flyfisherman, Peter Brigg

The tiny village of Rhodes lies in a remote corner of the North Eastern Cape Highlands. Tucked away between the folds of the Earth in the most southerly region of the Drakensberg Mountain range, this picturesque Victorian-era village was granted National Monument status in 1997.

Now preserved for posterity, quiet and beautiful, it exudes a timeless feel and ambiance with its character streetscape and period architecture.

If you are a fly fisher a visit to Rhodes is a must with its hundreds of kilometres of fishable rivers and still waters in spectacular surrounds.

But also for the many other activities – hiking, bird watching, skiing, trail running, mountain biking, or to simply relax and soak up the ambiance of the place and enjoy the hospitality of the local community.

To attend one of the local annual events like the Fly Fishing Festival or the Stoepsit Fees, visit the local tourism website.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Take a scenic trip to Carlisleshoek Waterfall or an hours drive to the breath-taking Addo Elephant National Park.

Churchhaven, West Coast, Western Cape
Bucket list: Tony Leon

Former opposition leader and South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina, Tony Leon

Back home in Cape Town, after three years as the South African ambassador to Argentina, and I’m pretty much surrounded by permanent, deeply pleasing distractions (and attractions) like forests, mountains, beaches and waterfront.

I still spend a lot of time abroad lecturing (often on cruise ships!), doing business in my old haunts in South America and London, and really treasure the family time of a local holiday.

Two grown children and their partners, each with busy lives, and my wife with a hectic schedule, means we need a place within relatively easy reach and where ‘together time’ caters for everyone’s needs.

One December, for one idyllic week, we found just the ticket. Churchhaven, a tiny exquisite village in the West Coast National Park that is just two hour’s drive from Cape Town.

“It’s like living in a postcard!” my wife exclaimed when she first caught sight of the cottage we hired. It was perched just above the endless azure lagoon and bordered by carpets of fynbos and the evening delights of pink sunsets.

The shallow water was amazingly warm and a sighting of the dreaded pofadder (be warned, snakes abound there) was not enough to dent the rhythm and routines of lazy days and happy braai evenings.

There must be few places anywhere in the world where the ‘beach scene’ consists of perhaps five people dotted around a long spit of sand, with drives into the wonderful park a relaxing counterpoint.

For even the most jaded tourist palate, Churchhaven is beautifully restorative.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Holidaying on the West Coast? We’ve rounded up the best things to do – from a birding haven to the best coffee shops.

Bucket List: Churchhaven beach cottage

Nieu-Bethesda, Karoo, Eastern Cape
Bucket list: Nieu-Bethesda, Karoo

COUNTRY LIFE marketing co-ordinator, Roline Haine

A few years ago on our way back from Jeffrey’s Bay, we decided on the spur of the moment to stop over in the small Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda. I immediately fell in love with this hamlet.

I had a fascination with artist Helen Martins ever since I watched the movie The Road to Mecca and a visit to The Owl House was a priority.

What a fascinating world of concrete sculptures, fantastic figures and mythical beasts decorated with multi-coloured pieces of glass!

The Owl House was created by Helen Martins and Koos Malgas in the 1940s and is definitely a piece of art and a must-see. As are Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre which showcases fossils found in Nieu-Bethesda and other areas of South Africa.

Graves in the cemetery date back to the late 1700s and the Anglo-Boer War. A number of graves have tombstones made from local rock slabs. The oldest is dated 1786.

Fossil Safari’s Rock art walks, hiking and star gazing are just a few of the activities that you can do in and around Nieu-Bethesda.

There are interesting coffee shops and places to stay. There is also a brewery called The Sneeuberg Brewery and Two Goats Deli.

Unfortunately our time was limited and we could only visit the Owl House and the Fossil Centre. A longer visit with some of the other activities offered in the area is definitely on my bucket list.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

We’ve got the Karoo covered with our pick of where to stay and the best pub crawl. You can also test your Karoo knowledge with our quiz.

Yzerfontein, West Coast, Western Cape
Bucket list: Jean de Villiers

Former Springbok Rugby Captain, Jean de Villiers

When I want to get away and focus on being a good husband and father, our family loves going to Yzerfontein.

A quiet little fisherman’s village up the West Coast where not much goes on. No malls, fast food drive-throughs or anything that pushes you to get things done quickly.

Life is slow in Yzerfontein. In the old part of Yzerfontein there’s a lovely beach where we enjoy building sandcastles together as a family. Often seals and dolphins come to play in the waves. And after a long day on the beach, the sunset in the distance is awe inspiring.

The modern side of town also has a long stretch of beach and on a clear day you have the most unbelievable view of the ocean, fynbos and Table Mountain in the distance.

The best part of Yzerfontein is the fact that it’s just about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.

I get to spend quality family time there with my girls and experience the calmness and beauty of the West Coast. What more can you ask for?

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Three laid-back West Coast activities you have to try on your next road trip.

Bucket list: YzerfonteinBucket list: Springbok Rugby Captain Jean de Villiers

Cullinan, Gauteng
Bucket list: Derek Hanekom

Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom

The diamond mining town of Cullinan, which is in its own right a sparkling and irresistible gem, has become one of my favourite destinations.

It has the advantage of being just an hour’s drive from where we live in Johannesburg.  If I owned a Harley Davidson, I’d be tempted to join the many bikers who go out there on the Sunday breakfast runs.

Cullinan captures the history of the rush for gold and diamonds, and seamlessly combines colonial English architecture with a modern cosmopolitan African vibe.

There are plenty of places to stay, restaurants, quirky art galleries and even health spas – all situated along attractive shady avenues.  The buildings are intriguing, from rustic corrugated iron homes to the St. Georges Anglican Church designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

To my knowledge this is the only South African town that offers an underground tour of an operating mine.  For the less energetic there are plenty of other attractive tour options and places to discover on one’s own.  There is no better place to find funky and creative art work made out of recycled material. And if you want to round it all off with a great locally brewed beer and a wholesome, unpretentious meal, the Cockpit Brewhouse has just what you’re looking for.

This has to be the most popular out of town Sunday morning breakfast place in Gauteng.  On my last visit I had to queue for breakfast, as the many restaurants were already full.  It was worth the wait!

For the nature lover, Cullinan has an unusual variety of bird species, lured by the varied habitats – the Big Hole, the suburban gardens and the surrounding grassland and bush.  For more serious game viewing, the Dinokeng Game Reserve is just a 30-minute drive away.

What you should not miss is the Big Hole – four times bigger than the Kimberley mine –  and the mini-museum.  And if there is a special romantic occasion coming up, avoid the road and take a steam train. This has to be the most alluring place in the world to buy that special diamond in the magnificent diamond shop.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Here’s a round up of the best spots to visit and stay at in Cullinan.

Bucket List: Cullinan parkingBucket list: Cullinan parkingBucket list: Cullinan restaurants

Langebaan, West Coast, Western Cape
Bucket list: Whitey Basson

Managing Director and Chief Executive of Shoprite Holdings Ltd, Whitey Basson

When I am fortunate enough to wake up in the morning in Langebaan with its beautiful white sandy beaches, surrounded by the clear waters of the Lagoon, it just brings a smile to my face.

It is not often that I have the time to visit this beautiful little village on the southern tip of the West Coast of Africa but it has been my favourite spot over many years where I wind down and breathe the beauty, calmness and simplicity of the land.

The tranquil lifestyle, which the people of Langebaan enforce on the land, attracts me and I am able to spend hours engaging with the fisherman and other locals who have lived in the mild climate and protected waters of the lagoon for generations.

Not only do they gain their living from the sea, they also understand it, having collected wisdom from this special way of living over decades.

The wild flowers and sea life are another bonus of this piece of land which one only encounters on the African continent in our amazing country with its many stretches of beauty.

For me there is not a better place to collect my thoughts and appreciate life. I always leave town with sadness to return to the busy life of retail but I feel re-charged and always know that I have gained from what the landscape and people of Langebaan offer with such open hearts.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

The West Coast has so much to offer. If you’re going to Langebaan, make sure to include some of these stops in your journey.

Bucket list: West Coast wildflowersBucket list: WildflowersBucket list: Langebaan
Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga
Bucket list: Pilgrims Rest

COUNTRY LIFE content manager and travel blogger, Carina Borralho

One of my most memorable and enjoyable countryside experiences was at Pilgrim’s Rest, which sits on the Panorama Route in the Kruger Lowveld region of Mpumalanga.

My boyfriend and I stayed at the Victorian-styled Royal Hotel on Main Street, where the bar has created a tradition of visitor writing messages on R10 notes and pinning them to the bar walls.

The walls are covered with R10 notes with messages from local and international travellers. George the barman believes people who write on notes will always return.

The old-fashioned charm of the little town makes me feel nostalgic about a time I never lived through. It felt strangely familiar even though it was my first visit.

Pilgrim’s Rest was declared a National Monument in 1986 as a living memory of the early gold rush days in South Africa in the late 1800s.

Redefining the meaning of “fresh air”, Pilgrim’s Rest is the perfect place to visit if you want to escape the city. About four hours’ drive from Johannesburg, most locals use the little town as a stop-over on their way to Kruger National Park and other major Lowveld attractions, but I would recommend it as a destination.

Set between mountain ranges and lush vegetation, Pilgrim’s Rest offers 360 degree views of stunning natural scenery.

Expect a mixed group of people, including travelling bikers who roar slong the tight winding roads, families passing by on their way to the Kruger, and lots of international visitors who love the local beer, and let’s not forget the African art and crafts vendors.

Go to the Royal Hotel bar and pin your message to the wall while sipping a cold  beer and enjoy exceptional hospitality.

The art market, which takes place on Main Road on weekends, offers a myriad of art works and hand-crafted pieces, including clothing and décor items.

Try the House Museum and a tour through the old gold digging site to get a taste of what Pilgrim’s Rest was built on.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

More Mpumalanga adventures for your next holiday.

Hermanus, Western Cape

Lundi Khoisan, media personality, KykNet

Hermanus is arguably the most beautiful towns in the Western Cape. The scenery includes views of mountains, the ocean and winelands.

Often one can spot dolphins swimming off the coastline and between September and November, you are almost guaranteed to spot a whale family in the bay.

Hermanus has named its arts festivals after these animals – “Kalfiefees” & “Whale Fest”. These festivals draw art lovers from all over the country to enjoy all the magic of this small coastal town.

The character of the town not only lies in its scenic beaches, but the independent businesses in its core.

My favourite shops include – Romantiques Bygons & Collectables and OneLove The Fashion Shack.

Pear Tree Bistro is my favourite restaurant in all of the Western Cape.

Country Life Magazine also recommends:

Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Bucket list: Stellenbosch

SA COUNTRY LIFE editor, Nita Hazell

Stellenbosch is my Alma Mater, but the town has changed so much over the years.

Apart from its magnificent old buildings, oak trees and famous wine route – the longest in the world – there are more than 80 restaurants and a plethora of markets where you can sample local fare.

Don’t miss the Saturday morning Slowmarket at Oude Libertas and a visit to Dylan Lewis’ sculpture garden at Paradyskloof and Old Nectar, the estate of the late gardening doyenne Una van der Spuy. The Woordfees in March is next on my list.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

There’s so much to do and see in Stellenbosch that it’s hard to choose, so here are some of our top foodie and culture options for you to try.

Montagu, Western Cape
Bucket list: Montagu

Ex Vice Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State, Jonathan Jansen

Montagu still bewitches me. This place of my birth brings back memories of childhood, mostly happy ones. Avoid the big business that has developed around the precious resource of this little Boland town, the hot water springs, and its most common export, those dried fruits called Montagu.

Avoid the obvious marketing brands and discover that the real Montagu of hiking, biking and rock-climbing costs you nothing. In my case, simply walking and talking yields the same costless pleasures.

Walk along the side roads that run through the town and imagine hearing the hot water running along those man-made sluices still covered by brown-red metal plates.

On the pristine sidewalks along the main road reach out your arms over a fence and you might still find fruits hanging from those trees.

As children you could reach over the fence and grab a fully grown peach, sink your teeth into it, and feel the juices running down your faces and staining your clothes. No need to run, there were too many large fruits for the local farmer or household to care.

But before you even come into Montagu from the Ashton side stop along that short, winding road, look upwards and imagine seeing Italian prisoners of war building that jagged tunnel overhead.

Come through the short tunnel somewhere around sunset on a hot day, park your car and put your feet into the cool streams running over and round shiny stones in the rivulets below the road level.

Continue walking down the clean, grey pavement of the main road and stop at the old DRC church now turned museum. There you will find living history including my maternal aunts and uncles, the Johnson clan, in black and white photos of church gatherings and choir rehearsals.

Take a walk through the location and ask for directions to a common family name in those parts like Pekeur or Saunders and anyone will be able to direct you to the exact address; it works every time.

The real natural resource of Montagu is it’s laid-back people who engage you in the most beautiful Boland Afrikaans that makes you feel you are in another country.

Before you head out of Montagu in the direction of the Calitzdorp stop, at the last little restaurant on the right hand side of the road and ask for coffee, home-made bread and thick konfyt; you are about to experience a simple heaven.

Then as you leave the town you are now on our own Route 66 (actually, Route 62) and before long you will be passing— yes, passing—Ronnie’s Sex Shop on the way. Happy thoughts, and travels.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Maximise your time in Montagu with our selection of the best spots to stay, eat and play.

Klaarstroom, De Rust
Bucket list: Michelle Joubert-Martin

Film Maker, Michelle Joubert-Martin

Situated just 25km outside De Rust, at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains where the Little Karoo and Great Karoo meet, is where you’ll find a small town called Klaarstroom.

This blink-and-you-missed-it whistle stop is definitely a place you shouldn’t pass by if you find yourself longing for endless blue skies and the vast open spaces of the Karoo.

With only a hand full of permanent residents, very little has changed over the last century. It’s like stepping back in time… but with much better food.

Be sure to pop in at the famous Klaarstroom Hotel. It takes about 10 minutes flat to walk from the one side of town to the other, and the hotel is located bang in the middle, so it’s pretty hard to miss.

It’s doors originally opened in 1874, and as you can imagine, typical Karoo charm and hospitality abounds here. I highly recommend you stay a night or two, but if you’re just driving through, at least drop in for a snack and a cold beer.

Far from a one-trick pony though, there’s plenty more to see and do in the surrounding areas. Everything from staying at the permanent tented camp next to a beautiful dry riverbed in the veld, exploring the idyllic Meiringspoort gorge, wine tasting and a number of walks and mountain bike routes to choose from.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

Get the most out of your Swartberg adventure with a stop in Calitzdorp and a tour of the Prince Albert Wine Route. Plus, read a funny story about a sheep in Klaarstroom.

Visit Michelle’s blog to see more of her work or follow her on Instagram @mjoubertmartin


Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape
Bucket list: Dion Chang

Trend-spotter and style guru, Dion Chang

I’ve recently revived a tradition of renting a big house in Plett with some close friends. But there’s a caveat. For me, ‘December holidays’ is a contradiction. There’re always family commitments, running around and getting into the silly season. That’s not a holiday.

So the rule is that we only go out of season, usually mid- to late-January, just after schools have started. At that time of the year, if there are 12 other people on the beach, it’s ‘crowded’.

The point is just to veg out and lie in the sun, and the hardest decisions are what to eat and what to read.

Having started our Plett pilgrimage about 20 years ago – I remember when the restaurant on Lookout Beach was just a little tuck shop – we’ve done and dusted all the tourist sites, so ‘inactivity’ is our holiday mantra.

We’re all foodies, too, so we tend to hibernate and cook rather than eat out.

One possible excursion is to take a rowing boat up the Keurbooms River for a picnic, and the biggest challenge is packing the Champagne flutes so they don’t break – we don’t do paper plates and Styrofoam cups.

My company published a report on digital addiction and burnout. I’m usually ‘always on, always connected’, tracking the latest trends, but Plett is a retreat for me, so I do a digital detox.

We don’t even have WiFi in the house. If I start feeling guilty about being on holiday just when everyone starts working, I reclaim my Asian roots and tell everyone I adhere to the Chinese New Year, which means my year starts in February. Problem solved.

COUNTRY LIFE RECOMMENDS:

There’s so much more to Plett than just the beaches. Here’s some insider knowledge on the best spots to visit on your next Plett pilgrimage.

Bucket List: Plettenberg BayBucket list: Keurbooms River
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