By James Fouche
Over the years, George has become one of South Africa’s prime holiday destination. While most vacation spots have specific attractions, George’s diverse offering sets it apart. It welcomes wayward travellers, adventure seekers, romantic couples, city dwellers looking for an escape, and busy families with little ones.
Visitors are spoilt for choice, with an abundance of activities to fill up any itinerary, regardless of age, travel preferences, or dietary requirements. With kilometres of spectacular coastline, George pulls people from afar.
Wilderness Beach, Herold’s Bay, and Victoria Bay already hold Blue Flag status, with Leentjiesklip Beach on pilot Blue Flag status, which makes the region’s pristine beaches an obvious attraction. However, if sand castles and waves are not your thing, then head inland to the Klein Karoo.
Take in the views of George from the dizzying heights of the Outeniqua Mountain Pass viewpoint, then head to the sculpture garden of eccentric local artist, Sheena Ridley, in the Langkloof Valley, to view her stunning selection of sculptures, pastels, and oil paintings.
Further into the Klein Karoo lies Uniondale, which has most recently become the starting point of the Pilgrimage of Hope. Hop on a tuk-tuk to explore the rich history of this quaint town. Remember to view the chilling sculpture of the famous Uniondale ghost before you leave.
Between Uniondale and Oudtshoorn, in the town of Herold, lies Louvain Guest Farm. With accommodation options for families of all shapes and sizes, Louvain boasts old homestead cottages, campsites, and modern glamping spots. Enjoy poolside drinks by day, the sound of meat sizzling over the fire at night, and late-night stargazing.
This working farm not only doubles as a wedding venue and plays host to national horse-riding events, but also offers numerous 4×4, hiking, biking, and horse trails. Finish off the stay with an early morning microlight flight, followed by a hike to cave systems with paintings by Indigenous peoples dating back thousands of years.
Kayaking along the Kaaiman’s River to a secluded waterfall is an intensely romantic outing for young lovers, as well as a fun-filled family activity that encourages teamwork. For the more adventurous traveller, take a drive up to the Map of Africa viewpoint for a paragliding flight. With a team of professional instructors, FlyTime Paragliding has pilots who have been paragliding for more than 40 years, which is why my 8-year-old daughter was able to take to the skies without breaking a sweat.
Few things can top the feeling of soaring above the beach, the winding freeway, the mouth of the Kaaiman’s River, and the railway bridge over which the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train once proudly rattled. The majestic views and the exhilaration will settle anyone into holiday mode.
Arrange for The Wilderness Picnic Company to drop off one of their bountiful picnic baskets at the Ebb and Flow Rest Camp inside the Wilderness National Park. The Waterfall Picnic-for-2 includes mozzarella and rocket paninis, sorghum and Mediterranean salads (with the best olives I’ve ever tasted), sweet potato and chickpea hummus, seed crisps, delectable chocolate brownies, trail mix snack packs, biltong, and more. A gentle hike along the beautiful Kingfisher Trail will draw hikers into the magical fantasy world of the surrounding forests, which seem to roll on without end.
Accommodation can be found in the park, ranging from riverside caravan or camping sites with ablution blocks, and secluded forest cabins, to self-catering and wheelchair-friendly family cottages.
After checking in, book a boat cruise on the Touws River, a shallow body of water that curls around the national park and the greater Wilderness area like a brown snake. Be on the lookout for Egyptian geese with goslings in tow, novice fishermen draped over skiffs while angling for steenbras or other saltwater fish that swim up from the river mouth, and the 400-year-old Yellowwood trees looming over the river like tall green giants.
For supper, visit Salinas Beach Restaurant just down the road. Expect a warm Italian reception, with ample seating spread across two floors and a large play ship for kids to explore.
With a varied cuisine that includes burgers, beer-battered fish and chips, butter chicken, and sushi, they cater for everyone. The seafood platter for two and an espresso crème brûlée ticked all our boxes. Time it right and you can sip on cocktails while overlooking the blue expanse of the Indian Ocean and the white stretch of Wilderness Beach as the sun melts away behind Dolphin Point.
Located near the base of the Outeniqua mountain range, the Hawthorn Hotel was established in the 1940s and has since become a landmark in George. However, after a period of neglect, the hotel, under new ownership, launched a mammoth renovation project that would see the Hawthorn reclaim its landmark status.
From reception to room service to restaurant, there is an immaculate attention to detail throughout. A friendly staff member is always available and willing to assist. The variety of rooms includes garden studios, manor suites, and deluxe rooms. With an onsite restaurant, a pool, and colourful (and loud) peacocks about, the kids also loved their stay at the Hawthorn.
To tickle our taste buds, we visited Donegal Wine Estate and enjoyed a surprisingly light Chardonnay and a fun Grenache. In 2018 Donegal bottled a complex Shiraz that earned them a Veritas Gold, but in 2022 they secured the elusive Veritas Double Gold for their Vic Bay red blend.
While in Victoria Bay, grab an ice cream and take a stroll on the beach before heading back to the Outeniqua Transport Museum. Here visitors will find steam locomotives and coaches dating back to 1889, as well as a selection of vintage cars stored on the premises by local classic car enthusiasts. Switch out the trip to the museum for a round of golf at the George Golf Club, ranked one of the country’s best courses, or a quick coffee at local bistros in the heart of town.
The Redberry Farm is a strawberry farm located near the George airport. As an events venue and popular Garden Route tourist attraction, the Redberry Farm boasts multiple restaurants, a Boplaas wine tasting room, and accommodation, which means it is best experienced during a full-day visit.
Activities include pedal go-carts, bumper boats, playgrounds, pony rides, a hedge maze with a secret tunnel, a Redberry Express train, an expansive curio shop, and a giant strawberry that leads up to a lookout point from which visitors can see the surrounding strawberry fields and the mesmerizing mountains.
Finish off the day in style with a meal at The Apprentice, a deluxe eatery and culinary school, which is the legacy of celebrity chef, Francois Ferreira, who passed away earlier this year. The menu is a gastronomic masterpiece, with meals prepared by apprentice chefs enrolled at the Francois Ferreira Academy.
A crumbed, baked Camembert starter that starts melting once cutting into the heart of it, a lamb shank that slides off the bone at the slightest touch, kiddies milkshakes textured to perfection, and a chocolate panna cotta that screams of unquestionable consistency, are examples of the delicacies on offer.
With such a varied offering and a flourishing hospitality-minded tourism industry, it’s no coincidence that George has been dubbed the city for all reasons. So, whatever the reason for visiting George, let the inviting nature of the locals and the scenic beauty of the Garden Route whisk you away on a memorable holiday.