Tulbagh’s Church Street must be the most beautiful street in South Africa. Devastated by an earthquake in 1969, it was painstakingly restored and the 32 buildings comprise the largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street in South Africa, all of which are in daily use for you to enjoy. You can stay, dine or shop in them and experience life in a bygone era.
Walking down this spell-binding road, I wondered why Tulbagh hadn’t become nearly as popular as Franschhoek, for example. It’s not that much further from Cape Town — 120km (124km if you go via Riebeek Kasteel) vs Franschhoek’s 80km. (It is the exactly same distance from Cape Town as Hermanus.) Both towns are, to most intents and purposes, at the end of a road. Tulbagh has the edge when it comes to heritage architecture and was already home to premier wine brands when Franschhoek was still a sleepy fruit-growing village 30 years ago.
Well Tulbagh didn’t have an Arthur McWilliam Smith and a municipality which grew the attraction and the town’s brand like Franschhoek did. Yes, the number of really great accommodation establishments in the Tulbagh area has grown (click here for more) and it is a very popular wedding location, but many visitors will spend their entire stay at their farm accommodation because the attraction of the town has not kept pace with what tourists want.
The main road, Van der Stel Street, doesn’t cut it. It’s far wider than it need be and the lower side — which has some fine old buildings and several eating establishments — has no sidewalk whatsoever! To walk along this side of the road, you need to zig-zag between parked and parking cars. It is a lousy pedestrian environment and not at all conducive to retail and hospitality activities. Witzenberg Municipality gets a #Fail for commonsense and pedestrian safety.
Imagine widening the pavement so that eateries could spill out, creating more buzz, while still allowing pedestrians to walk up and down deciding where to stop next. How long will it be before the number of eateries along that side of the road will double? How long before the town of Tulbagh becomes known as a nice place to be, in addition to the attraction of heritage architecture? This is not rocket science!
For a long time, Tulbagh has focused on the legacy of the earthquake and the restored buildings… but that’s not what people want. They want food and wine destinations; they want scenic beauty and quality pedestrian environments.
More recently, the area has been branded as the Witzenberg Valley — encouraged by Witzenberg Municipality which comprises the towns of Tulbagh, Wolseley and Ceres — which is not a valley at all since it has the stunning beautiful Michells Pass between Wolseley and Ceres! The actual Witzenberg Valley stretches north from Ceres.
Wolseley and Ceres are not tourist towns and are not likely to become ones for a long time, although their surrounding areas do have a number of tourist attractions. Ceres is best known as the Western Cape town to visit to see the snow after heavy snowfalls.
Tulbagh is best placed to become the main tourist town for this region and has the strongest brand by far: it just needs to be developed. Take a leaf from other areas — Constantia once only included a few estates but Constantia Valley now includes Tokai and rural Bergvliet. The Franschhoek tourism area now includes estates and tourism businesses which are actually in Groot Drakenstein, Simondium, Paarl and Stellenbosch.
CapeInfo believes it makes more sense to market Tulbagh and Wolseley together — it is a contiguous wine-growing area and offer synergistic and complimentary tourism products. Yes, they are close to other attractions at Riebeek Kasteel (38km away and en route to Cape Town) and Ceres is a 12km drive over Michells Pass from the Wolseley side of the valley.
What do you think? What destination branding will benefit this area the most? (Municipal areas are not destinations — click here for more on that.) What does the town and region need to do to become an aspirational tourism brand?
Let’s start the debate!