Just two kilometres from the foot of the awesome Swartberg Pass, and situated within the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site, the pretty, historic village of Prince Albert is the perfect base for exploring all the wonders of the Swartberg mountains including Gamkaskloof (The Hell) and Meiringspoort.
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Hiking, mountain biking, birding, botanical excursions and stargazing are major attractions. Aside from a superb climate and spectacular night skies, the village itself is a small gem, with beautifully preserved Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings. Of these, 19 are National Monuments.
Prince Albert is known for its sun-ripened fresh and dried fruit, especially figs and apricots. Karoo lamb, olives, olive oil and home-made cheeses are traditional local delicacies and more recently, wines from the Prince Albert Valley region.
Activities for visitors include a guided historical walk through the town, a “koppie trail” with almost 100 marked indigenous plants, fossil hunting and stargazing, traditional Karoo meals and a visit to the Karoo Art Gallery and Fransie Pienaar Museum. And there is ample guesthouse accommodation to suit all preference and pockets.
Most visitors arrive with an agenda simply to relax and browse the town’s antique, curio and craft shops, and eat fresh local Karoo lamb and garden produce at several excellent restaurants, coffee shops and the farm stall.
Prince Albert is four hours from both Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and is well situated for overnight stops from Gauteng. The Garden Route resorts and beaches are less than two hours south by road. Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves and the Karoo National Park are just an hour away. The town has a landing strip for light aircraft, a hospital, a retirement home, several schools, a pharmacy and 3 doctors.
Bushmen were the earliest inhabitants of the area and remains of their culture are still to be found in the district. In 1762 the first loanfarms were made available in this area and Kweekvallei, the farm on which Prince Albert later developed, was allocated to Zacharias de Beer. The farm proved to be very fertile, and with plentiful water from the mountain stream De Beer soon established fruit orchards, vineyards and wheat fields. He also farmed with sheep and cattle and Kweekvallei soon became well known as a stop-over for travellers and explorers, weary from the long trek across the barren Karoo, were delighted by the hospitality they received and the excellent fresh produce and wine with which they were entertained.
In 1842 a Dutch Reformed Church parish was established and in 1845 the little village was officially named Prince Albert in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort.
Gold was discovered in the area and in 1891 there was a gold-rush on the farm Spreewfontein. At the same time the ostrich feather market boomed in Europe and Prince Albert experienced great prosperity.
Copy & photos: Elaine Hurford