Monday, 1 August 2011

The Swartberg Pass and Prince Albert

Just North of Oudsthoorn (in the Western Cape), past the well trodden chambers of the Cango Caves, is the start of, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular mountain passes in South Africa. The Swartberg Pass takes you 27km up and over the Swarterg Range and then down into the little hamlet of Prince Albert. Any car can do it, but if you're worried about sheer drops and blind corners, let someone else drive or avoid it altogether. The scenery along the way is truly spectacular and from the top, at an altitude of 1583m above sea level, you can really appreciate the effort that went into the last of Thomas Bain's engineering masterpieces.

Every time I drive into Prince Albert I'm amazed that even though it's in such a dry area, the gardens are always full of colour. The reason is that there is an abundance of water carried from up in the mountains and then around town via a network of channels that residents have allocated times to access. There is a wide variety of shops, galleries and restaurants and plenty of activities. Soet Karoo (or sweet karoo) is a sort of one woman one garage winery that, as one would expect, produces wine of the sweet persuasion. There is a lady named Ailsa who takes visitors on both historical and ghost walks around town and there's even a cooking school. If you feel like getting completely lost and escaping for a while then a few nights at the fig farm of Weltevrede is a good option. You can book the whole farmhouse and hibernate with some fine wine, a few kilo's of lamb and a good book. For the more energetic there are a number of hiking trails and there's also the opportunity of cycling the pass, preferably down.

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