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25 Things about George

  1. FynbosThe city of George sits upon a 10km plateau between the impressive Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the South, halfway between Cape Town, 431kms by car, and Port Elizabeth 335km along the N2 highway, and is the heart of the Garden Route. With Mossel Bay to the West and Knysna to the East, the entire region is a visual paradise.
  2. Hieronymus Cruse was the first European explorer to traverse the rugged Outeniqua Mountains in 1668 - even today the forests are dense. The highest point is Cradock Peak at 1578 m, with prominent George Peak nearby at 1337m. Possibly, 'Outeniqua' stems from a Khoi word meaning 'people carrying bags of honey'.
  3. With its Mediterranean Maritime climate, George is quite literally the perfect year-round holiday destination.
  4. George itself, the sixth-oldest town in South Africa, was built on the site of a Dutch East India Company woodcutters’ outpost in the Outeniqua forests. It was laid out in the early 1800s by the magistrate, (a Landdrost), Adrianus van Kervel, who initially named it Georgetown after the current British monarch. The original town plan decreed that ‘streets be 91m wide and lined with trees to protect pedestrians from the scorching sun’.
  5. Don’t miss the Slave Tree 100m from the museum on York Street, an ancient English Oak planted by van Kervel, with a very large chain and lock embedded in the trunk. Legend has it that slaves were chained to this tree to await auction, but there are doubts as to whether or not this was the case.
  6. The George Museum is housed in the old Drostdy, the court buildings that also formed a part of the original Landdrost’s home, and has a fascinating collection of Victorian bric-a-brac with items from the private collection of Charles Sayer, long time editor of the George & Knysna Herald, a newspaper established in 1881.
    Phone: (044) 873 0703 for information or details
  7. Other highlights include The Dutch Reformed Mother Church on Courtenay Street, which was consecrated in 1842 and took 12 years to build by a number of skilled slaves who continued to work on the project as 'apprentices' even after the emancipation of slaves in 1834. It has a 23m domed tower and 1m-thick walls.
  8. Completed in 1843, St Peter & St Paul Catholic Church in Meade Street is the oldest Catholic Church in South Africa. St Mark's Cathedral, built in 1850 is known as the smallest cathedral in the southern hemisphere, its most distinctive feature being the number of stained glass windows in relation to its size.
  9. Pop into Meade House, one of George's oldest and most beautiful houses. Highly rated, The Conservatory there serves breakfasts, lunches, teas and coffees, and boasts a wine collection amongst the best in the country.
  10. Then of course, there’s nearby Fancourt Hotel & Country Club Estate, that has transformed George into a golfing Mecca. With two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Gary Player and a new third course – the Links, Fancourt is a proud member of the renowned 'Great Golf Resorts of the World'.
  11. Fancourt’s origins flow back to the 1850s when Sir Henry Fancourt White built a country house, 'Blanco' at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. After his death, his son Ernest Montagu White, later re-named the house Fancourt in memory of his father and made substantial improvements. In1994 the German IT billionaire and his wife, Hasso and Sabine Plattner bought the estate, effectively giving birth to the new style Fancourt as we know it today. Built on the origins and history of the past, according to the Fancourt website, 'the heart of Fancourt is now the modern clubhouse, but the old Manor House will always hold its soul'.
  12. Fancourt hosted the globally prestigious golfing Presidents Cup in 2003, watched by some 800 million viewers, and was more recently the setting of the international Mandela 46664 Aids Benefit Concert.
  13. George is nestled deep in the Cape Floral kingdom, the smallest but ecologically richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, home to some 8 000 plant species, with approximately 70% being unique to this area. It is dominated by fynbos such as the King Protea, South Africa's national flower, and the beautiful Red Disa, the floral symbol of the Cape Province.
  14. The Garden Route is also the largest natural forest area in South Africa. Forestry operations inside the 65 000 hectares carefully conserve, manage and harvest the sought-after stinkwood, ironwood and the highly prized yellow-wood trees.
  15. Look out for the centrally situated Garden Route Botanical Gardens with plants that are indigenous to the Southern Cape region. Guided tours can be arranged and entrance is free. The Garden is open daily.
  16. Driving along and through the nearby mountain passes is a must. The Montagu Pass completed in 1857, was built by convicts under the stewardship of Sir Henry Fancourt-White. With distinctive low stone retaining walls edging its serpentine gravel curves, plenty of view sites, restaurants, galleries and shopping opportunities, this drive is a delight. It cost £35,799 and £1,753 was spent on gunpowder to blast 5½ miles out of solid rock. Look out for the stone-walled Old Hotel where the original Wagon and Montagu Passes converge. Near the summit, the road meets with the Railway Pass, an extremely challenging mountain steam rail pass.
  17. One of South Africa’s first toll gates was also set up here, proclaimed in the Government Gazette of 24 February 1848. The first toll-keeper, John Smith, collected an amount of £400.13s.8d in its first year of operation.
  18. Hiking trails abound, such as the Keur River Bridge nature trail, with its starting point at the Montagu Pass picnic spot; an easy 1km trail with fabulous views that should take a gentle 30 minutes, to more the difficult 4.7km 'Pass to Pass' trail which requires a fair degree of stamina and a self-issued permit at Montagu Pass. Call 044 801 9295 for information on these and other trails.
  19. The town is also home to the western terminal of the Outeniqua ‘Choo-Tjoe’, a vintage steam train that runs daily (except for Sundays and certain holidays) between George and Knysna, an absolutely essential element of any visit to George or the area.
  20. Another phenomenal trip running on Wednesdays and Saturdays through the summer months is a 35-minute journey by train from nearby Wilderness, along one of the most scenic railway lines in the world, past the beaches of Victoria Bay and Wilderness, through pristine indigenous forest areas, through two tunnels and over the famous Kaaimans River Bridge to Kaaimans Grotto, a huge, natural cave with spectacular views. This unique venue, which can only be reached by train is lit by lanterns and candles and has a relaxing, informal atmosphere. The delicious menu, prepared by Fancourt's Banqueting division includes a sumptuous carvery buffet and a selection of home baked desserts.
  21. Beyond Wilderness, just 15km east of George, between the Kaaimans River and the Wilderness National Park towards Kynsna, is the Seven Passes route which took 15 years to build in the 1880s, now proclaimed a National Monument. You’ll find yourself winding through forests, steep ravines and farmlands with many beauty and picnic spot opportunities along the way, and it is a highly pleasant 2½hour journey.
  22. Once in Kynsna by the way – don’t miss the newest sensational Bed & Breakfast: Birds of a Feather. As a South African magazine ‘hot tip’ I predict that it will become of the most highly sought-after places to be seen at in the area. It’s one of the best I have ever stayed in.
    Phone: (044) 384 0668
  23. Although not on the seaside, glorious beaches and bays are literally moments away from the centre of George. Check out the ‘perfect’ surfing waves at nearby Victoria Bay, 9km from the centre of town and watch dolphins and whales aplenty, particularly between June and November. The angling is pretty good too.
  24. Don’t miss Herold’s Bay, again just outside town, which is the most popular bathing beach with its tidal swimming and rock pools.
  25. There really is so much to do in George; you’d best plan for as long a trip as possible. My best advice? Just go. And call the George Tourism Bureau first at 124 York Street, George
    Phone: (044) 801 9295
    Fax: (044) 873 5228
    Open Mondays to Fridays between 8am and 5pm and on Saturdays between 9am and 1pm.
    Visit the George Tourism Bureau Site
  26. They, like everyone else in George, are fabulous and friendly people.

Article courtesy of Avis South African Magazine.

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