in Places

Somerset West – Every town has a story

Somerset West – Every town has a story

By: Stefnie Meyer

17 January 2017


Somerset West has its own unique stories of growth, suffering, triumphs and intrigue.  I appreciate historical events & the collaboration of Towns-people that retained old-world charm while keeping abreast with the new so beautifully & gracefully.  A modern town intertwined with nature & agriculture that not only creates breathing space but slows the pace of living at just a blink.  This mingling of Times takes me on a journey into the past.   

20 years after Jan van Riebeeck established the Refreshment & Trading post in Table Bay, the need for cattle grazing & expanding territory for the Dutch East India Company set Dutch soldiers out to scout.  A three day-trip by ox-wagon brought them to the “Tweede Rivier” (2nd River) now called the Lourens River where they created a cattle post and ultimately a town developed. 

Willem Adriaan van der Stel succeeded his father, Simon as governor of the Cape in 1700.  He claimed a 30,000 hectare piece of land for himself in the Lourens River area on the slopes of the Hottentots-Holland mountain range overlooking False Bay; He called the farm Vergelegen – (meaning “situated far away”)

The plot thickens – this naughty boy used the resources of his employer, the Dutch East India Company, to improve this estate.  He did very impressive improvements but obviously bullied the small farmers as well.  A number of these “Free Burghers” manned up and in 1706 drew up a formal memorandum complaining about van der Stel’s illegal activities.

Needless to say, Van der Stel and his cronies were sacked, had to return to the Netherlands and three-quarters of the original Vergelegen estate was sold off, drastically reducing the size of the property.

This piece of land just couldn’t escape being associated with “Governors of the Colony” 

The town “Somerset” was only established in 1822 on a part of the original farm, named after Lord Charles Henry Somerset – it gained the suffix “West” 3 years later to differentiate it from Somerset East in the Eastern Cape.

To link the town with outposts further east over the Hottentots-Holland mountains, the “Sir Lowry’s Pass” was built in the time of Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole’s appointment (1828 – 1833).  He didn’t like being in the Colonies.  “I am heartily tired of a situation in which I feel I can do little good’, he wrote.  He retired to Highfield Park, Hampshire and died 9 years later.  He was described by all as ‘candid, open, warm-hearted and a little passionate’ – so seen in that light, Sir Lowry, if you could see this country today, you might take pleasure in the contribution your service made.

As a residential area, Somerset West maintains a “small town feel” because you just have to take a “left, a right and a round-about” to meet up with a mountain view; a vineyard or a view over False Bay.  The people too – friendly – and then someone mentions “Little Germany” and you notice shop-isles of “German produce” just to find out that many German Expats choose Somerset West as their new home.  If you’re looking for Flair Français – Franschhoek is just “around the corner”.

As a holiday destination, Somerset West is the perfect “headquarters.”  You are really spoiled for choice without having to take a day trip out to do entertaining stuff, especially if “unwind” means less traveling for you.  Water fun & fishing are a stone’s throw away & once you’ve covered the local sites, follow the extensive scenic routes leading to more wine, brandy & art savouring venues.  Avoid disappointments – confirm operating days & hours and make bookings ahead of time – being busy over weekends most businesses take their Rest Days on week days.

The typical Mediterranean climate, mountain slopes and valleys are the perfect habitat for the wine grape Vitis vinifera; Olive trees & Mediterranean fruits. South African Olive Oil producers have won various international awards & have become popular brands.  You are so fortunate to have easy access to the best of the best – taste it for yourself as a dozen or more wineries & olive oil producers are situated in the Somerset West district.   

Be warned, after your tastings & various wine-food pairings, you’ll leave with shopping bags bursting with wine, olives & oil, cheese, chocolate, fruit & preserves, artisan bread – the list goes on. Gastronomical-overload is the norm as many restaurants boast the hottest chefs the country can produce!  – But you’ll be back!

Social events – Follow posts on weekly/monthly markets to source yummy organic products, unique arts & crafts, experience “culinary-bliss” for lunch & have some alfresco entertainment.  Somerset West is well known for its traditional Festivals – the magical “Helderberg Lights Festival” or the yummy “Strawberry Festival” & the “Carols by Candlelight” hosted by Vergelegen at Christmas. 

Explore the region, buy local, do what gives you pleasure, try something different.

The idea is to know your environment, to appreciate it, take care of it, share it with others & make memories. 

Neighbouring Towns: Cape Town; Strand; Gordons Bay; Stellenbosch; Paarl; Grabouw;