Where to experience 'old Europe' in South Africa's towns

With a history marked by an influx of immigrants and settlers from all corners of the world, South Africa certainly does not lack in the diversity department. If you’re looking to enjoy a European experience but lack the budget to head off to Paris or London, then why not settle for a taste of Europe in Africa?

If that doesn’t sound like much of a sell to you, consider this - much of Europe itself no longer retains the same historical charm that made it unique - choosing instead to embrace modernity with high-rises over ornate architecture and contemporary, trendy gastronomic offerings instead of traditional fare. Well, not so in South Africa where you can see and taste ‘old Europe’ all over the country.

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The towns below are some of the best places to do exactly that so read on and start planning your next local trip.

Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape

Donkey carts, quirky little stores and a tiny population could leave you feeling you’d stepped back in time when checking out Nieu-Bethesda and that’s not a bad thing. Water rises up from the village to flow downhill and through the village’s network of furrows, one of the last working furrow systems still operating daily. This small town with no streetlights in the Eastern Cape is a great place to slow down and unwind for a bit on a tour of the country.

Genadendal: Herrnhut House in Genadendal, built 18(Photo: iStock)

Beaufort West, Western Cape

The oldest town in the Karoo, dating back to 1818, is an absolute gem with streets awash in history and tradition. Quaint and charming, the nearby Karoo National Park which serves as a backdrop to Beaufort West making this destination even more attractive. The ‘Capital of the Karoo’ has many Cape Dutch style and cast iron architecture buildings, including the Dutch Reformed Church and old Town Hall Building to name but a few.  

Genadendal: Herrnhut House in Genadendal, built 18(Photo: iStock)

Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga

It’s all in the name with this one, founded during the gold rush of the late 19th century, the town was home to many a miner for almost a century. As the second of the Transvaal gold fields, this town is a piece of history with its white wooden buildings and red gabled roofs that hark back to the old days. Today the town is a cultural heritage site with a variety of museums and attractions for travellers to enjoy.

Genadendal: Herrnhut House in Genadendal, built 18(Photo: iStock)

Genadendal, Western Cape

Genadendal was founded when German missionary Georg Schmidt came to evangelise the Khoi. The town itself was established around the oldest mission station in Africa dating back to 1737. There is almost no better place to get a feel for what life looked like during the colonial period than Genadendal with its Cape Dutch Revivalism style architecture buildings with whitewashed cottages topped with thatched roofs. A water mill, old church and weaving station really take you back into the past.

Genadendal: Herrnhut House in Genadendal, built 18(Photo: iStock)

George, Western Cape

Head out to George in the Western Cape and take in the splendour of this town set on a plateau. The town is filled with old buildings that really do evoke a sense of a different time. Established as an outpost for timber industry for the growing needs of the Dutch East India Company, it’s history is evident in much of the architecture.

The King Edward VII Library building is said to be the best example of Edwardian architecture in George. Make sure to check out the Outeniqua Transport Museum with its steam trains and vintage cars. Here you will also find the steam engine railway, which passes over the iconic Outeniqua Preserved Railway bridge from George to Mossel Bay.

Genadendal: Herrnhut House in Genadendal, built 18(Photo: iStock)

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