by Inge Triegaardt
The Great Karoo with its vast openness and many tumbleweeds, offers beautiful gems in between the hard rocks and dry veld. Prince Albert is certainly one of these diamonds in the making. Prince Albert was established in 1842 with town layout on the De Queekvaleij farm. The farm was granted to Zacharias de Beer as a loan farm and the town was initially called Albertsbrug. It was renamed in 1845 to its current name of prince Albert, after the husband of Queen Victoria.
Spending a weekend in the town at the foot of the Heritage Site, which is the Swartberg Mountains, recharges the soul. The many accommodation options, such as Skrywerskop, offer a country feel stay and the opportunity to stroll through the town from wherever you lay your head down at night. Nothing is too far from the main road in this little town. Referring to a little town will probably not stick for much longer. The town is growing, that is for sure. With the Zoom town concept taking flight with people streaming in from elsewhere to put down their roots and work remotely, this gem is not exclusive to non-South Africans anymore. Where you used to mostly hear French, German, Italian and British accents to name a few, you will now hear more Cape Townian, Gauteng, Free State and Natal accents (if you can distinguish between them) while sitting at one of the eateries. We replenished our hungry souls at African Relish for the night and while the venue seems like it was fully booked with reserved tables everywhere, we still had some of the best pizzas that I have had in a while. Not your ordinary fast food restaurant pizzas, but flavours so unique to the Karoo. This Cooking School is going the extra mile when it comes to quality.
Saturday morning is the perfect time to take a walk through the open Karoo plains. While the breeze is still cool and the sun is starting to show its rays, the area around Gordon’s Koppie with its multiple zigzag trails is bound to get the blood flowing while pure air is filtering through your lungs. Being very fond of anything rocky, we soon found ourselves dwindling off the paths after the most interesting rock formations. The Saturday Market where locals offer anything from good old-fashioned jaffels and pannekoek to artisanal fudge, preserves and fresh produces, makes for a good start to your day. Nothing is rushed and a day’s planning will soon happen when you sip on your morning coffee while locals greet each other and strike up a conversation or two.
A good place to start is the Fransie Pienaar Museum. Here you need a clear mind as there are so much information to process. The ladies at the museum are so knowledgeable and will take you back all the way from where the town originated, and how the museum came into existence, up until the goldmining stint (yes, it seems like goldminers where everywhere) and the local rugby team. We even found some articles in the museum that we still have in the house and some familiar surnames popped up of the role-players in the area. The most interesting pieces for us, was some of the weaponry display behind bars in one of the rooms. We could just imagine carry some of those rifles on horseback, it must’ve been challenging. Right next door is the Prince Albert Tourism Info Centre and, which houses some leaflets of the activities and venues in the area.
A lot of time needs to be spent walking through town, admiring the different styles of gables. Before doing this though, we would recommend you pay your R20 entrance fee to the Museum and get some more information on how the gables came about and which style suits which architect. Suddenly, the Prince Albert Town has new meaning, and the old buildings are not only the restaurant that serves the nicest coffee or the one with the best ice-cream. It gives another dimension to the history of the town.
A weekend is just a little to short to do everything in town. You would think that a small gem like this can be covered in two days, but you will only be scratching the surface. Although we did pop in at Kevin de Klerk’s studio and were treated by a personal tour from him through town, we left the Gallery visits for next time. The amazing bin project that Kevin is doing needed our attention and the level of art that he’s doing for worthy causes in town is incredible. These bins are just bringing colour to the town and uplifting the community through awareness. The Showroom theatre is another must-do. If you are ever lucky enough to schedule your visit around a show in this little theatre, you will be treated to an intimate, small theatre vibe. Here you can dress-up or dress-down and sit back while sipping on a glass of wine and be entertained by a local top-class act.
The Swartberg Mountains are the perfect opportunity for an early breakfast while the sun finds it’s way through the mountains onto the snaky road. It was time to head home, but not without the last stop at the top of the Heritage Site. It was a freezing 7 degrees with a chilly wind that almost blew the Jimny over. We came to recharge in the royal Karoo Town, but left feeling that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Our advice is to not rush your visit. This is a place where you need to return to, multiple times. Don’t try and fit too much in at once, you will be overwhelmed. The tumbleweed in the Great Karoo that is Prince Albert, is not blowing anywhere. It is growing and it is waiting for you!