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Somerset West | Absolute Bed & Breakfast

Somerset West

(Afrikaans Somerset-Wes)

Somerset West is a town in the Western Cape Province in the Republic of South Africa. It is situated in the Helderberg area (formerly called Hottentots Holland), about 50 km (30 mi) southeast of Cape Town and 10 km from Strand.

Somerset West lies within easy reach of several beaches bordering the Atlantic Ocean and lying within False Bay. The nearest, the beach at Strand, approximately 6 km from the centre of the town, is popular with those having young children and holidaymakers, as is Gordons Bay, a quaint village complete with harbour and other innocent attractions.

The town is overlooked by the imposing Helderberg (meaning "clear mountain"), a part of the Hottentots-Holland range of mountains but clearly distinct from the continuous aspect of its contemporaries.

History

The land was initially bought from local tribes and a cattle post was established here by Dutch soldiers in 1672.

A town developed around the Lourens River and the farm of Vergelegen (Dutch: "remotely situated"), an 18th century farmhouse built in the historic Cape Dutch style by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, governor of the Cape and son of Simon van der Stel, who gave his name to the nearby town of Stellenbosch. Willem Adriaan was later sent back to Holland after being charged with corruption and cruelty towards local farmers. The farm is now owned by a subsidiary of the large mining company Anglo American, who have restored the farmhouse to its original magnificence and continue to produce some of South Africa's best wines there. The farm is open to tourists.

The town was named Somerset after an English governor of the Cape Colony during the 1800s, Lord Charles Henry Somerset, with the suffix 'West' being added after 1825 to differentiate it from Somerset East, another South African town in the Eastern Cape. In the 1830s, Sir Lowry's Pass, named after later governor Sir Lowry Cole, was constructed to link the town with outposts further east over the Hottentots-Holland mountains.

In the 1960s, the AECI factory between Somerset West and Strand was the second largest dynamite factory in the world. Today the town boasts the largest concentration of millionaire residents in the country.

Local Attractions

Somerset West is renowned for its annual display of Christmas lights erected atop the street lights of the Main Road. [citation needed] Each year people the Main Road is decorated with an array of flashing bells, angels, palm trees and camels, reindeer, candles and even squirrels(?). The display started in the late 1970s as a low key affair with only a few lights, but has since grown into a major tourist attraction. The Helderberg Lights Festival (aka the Strawberry Festival) traditionally complements these lights when the Main Road is closed off in the evening and floats, parades and flea market stalls are lined up under the lights.

Another popular Christmas tradition that has been held annually for the past 20 years at Vergelegen is Carols by Candlelight. Visitors are invited to bring a picnic basket, blanket and torch and celebrate the joy of Christmas with family and friends on the sprawling lawns amongst the historic camphor trees of this world-class wine farm.

The area also has its own community radio station, Radio Helderberg, broadcasting community notices and playing adult orientated English and Afrikaans pop music.

The Helderberg Nature Reserve, a 363 hectare natural wildlife preserve opened in 1964, contains a wide variety of smaller fauna (buck, tortoises and other reptiles) and outstanding specimens of indigenous flora such as protea and fynbos. The reserve also offers a variety of nature walks for ramblers. Entry fee as of August 2007 is around R11.

The historic town of Stellenbosch, founded by the Dutch settlers in the 17th century is reachable from Somerset West via the R44 road that takes the traveller through the magnificent scenery of this part of the world. Wine farms dot the route as well as vegetable and fruit growing fields and mountains drowse in the background.