The tiny Karoo town of Prince Albert (a five-hour drive from Cape Town) is one of my favorite country destinations in South Africa: it has bucketloads of charm, gorgeous Victorian architecture, fabulous restaurants and fresh produce, eccentric and friendly locals and wonderful accommodation options, from stylish cottages to quirky guesthouses.
For a small place, there’s a surprising amount of things to do, from botany walks to ghost tours, cooking classes to wine tasting – you really are spoiled for choice.
Cooking course at African Relish
Taking a cooking course at Prince Albert’s famous cooking school, African Relish, is the reason many people visit the town. Throughout the year the school (located on the main road in town) offers a wide variety of courses lasting from an afternoon to several days. Many of the courses focus on food from the Karoo region, from tapas with a Karoo twist to classic Karoo cooking, while there are other courses on charcuterie, vegetarian cooking, Italian food and cooking with spices. Well-known chefs, such as British television chef Reza Mahammad (who I was lucky enough to do a wonderful Indian cooking weekend with) often headline the courses, which are all fun, hands-on and sociable. If you come for a weekend or longer, the school offers accommodation in one of its stylishly renovated Victorian cottages, spread throughout town.
For such a small town, Prince Albert certainly has a lot of ghosts and paranomal occurences. Set off at dusk to explore the town on foot with entertaining guide Ailsa Tudhope, who’ll lead you through graveyards and past haunted houses and bring the creepier side of Prince Albert’s history to life with her intriguing tales.
Eat your way through the Saturday food market
Every Saturday morning the town congregates at the lovely little market on the main road. It’s a great place to sample some traditional South Africa favorites (don’t come expecting kale juices and fusion street food). Chattering aunties make cinnamon-sugar pancakes, moer koffie (traditional farm coffee) and sell homemade jams, lamb soutertjies (savoury pies) and sweet baked treats, and you can buy boerewors rolls (thick sausage) and roosterkoek (bread cooked on a grill eating with butter, cheese and jam) straight off the braai (barbecue). There’s also loads of fresh produce, from the beautiful heirloom vegetables out of the local GP’s garden to boxes of fruit from neighboring farms. Go with an empty stomach and a big basket.
While the Karoo is not well known for its wine farms, Prince Albert has two vineyards that are well worth a tasting visit.
The second smallest wine estate in the country, SoetKaroo has just one hectare of vines, right in the center of town where retired couple Susan and Herman Perold make a couple of thousand bottles of delicious dessert wine each year. The Red Muscat d’Alexandrie is their flagship wine, while their other varietals sell out before they’ve even produced them. When you visit, Susan or Herman will take you through the whole production cycle. Just don’t leave without buying a few bottles!
A few miles outside of town, Bergwater is the largest winery in the Great Karoo region and produces a range of award-winning wines, from Sauvignon Blanc and rosé to Merlot and sparkling wine. If you swallow rather than spit out your wine at the tasting, you could always spend a night in one of the two guesthouses on the property.