Paarl: a cultural capital

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Balloon over the Vineyards

Paarl is the third-oldest town in South Africa. Its attractive Cape Dutch homes, famous vineyards and glistening mountain range beckon year-round. The town’s rich fauna and flora forms part of the numerous attractions of the region.


The natural attractions of Paarl captivated the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, when he visited the town in 1836.

Deep within the Cape Winelands is Paarl, the third-oldest town in South Africa lying in a beautiful valley between the Drakenstein Mountains and Paarl Mountain, a landmark outcrop with three enormous granite boulders on top.

The story goes that when the Dutch first arrived to establish a provisioning station in the Cape they needed to to set up trading relations with the local Khoi tribes who kept cattle in this valley.

The first of these exploratory expeditions, led by the fiscal Abraham Gabemma, arrived in the valley in 1657. The granite rocks atop the mountain were glistening in the sun after a rain shower, so Gabemma named the area “de Diamondt en de Peerlberg” (diamond and pearl mountain).

The town was settled from 1687 onwards and consequently, some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture are found around here, some of which can be seen alongside the 12km-long main road, along with a mix of Victorian and art deco buildings.

A lovely example of such a Cape Dutch manor can be found at the well-known Nederburg wine estate. This H-shaped homestead, completed in 1800, has a beautifully proportioned Cape Dutch gable and is fitted with yellowwood shutters, beams and doors and Batavian floor tiles.

Another of Paarl’s claims to fame is as the birthplace of Afrikaans as a written language. It was here that a group, calling themselves Die Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (The Society of True Afrikaners), first committed the language, that had previously been referred to as ‘Kitchen Dutch’, to print in 1876.

This relationship with the Afrikaans language is commemorated in the form of the Afrikaans Language Monument and Museum that was built on the slopes of Paarl Mountain in the mid-1970s.

More recently, Paarl featured on the world stage when former president Nelson Mandela was held at the Drakenstein Prison during the last part of his 27-year incarceration. Upon his historic release in 1990, a photograph of him and his erstwhile wife Winnie Mandela on his first ‘walk to freedom’, with their hands held aloft, was flashed around the world.

The largest of the wineland towns, Paarl is well worth a visit as it offers a variety of accommodation, restaurants to dine in, wine farms to visit and scenic drives.

The famous Co-operative Wine Growers’ Association (better known by its Afrikaans initials KWV) is also located here and has an international reputation for the quality of its brandies. Here you can book a cellar tour or partake in one of several tastings on offer, including a delectable liqueur and chocolate experience.

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