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June 20, 2013

Four things you didn’t know about Somerset West

Long before the Dutch East India Company landed at the Cape to set up a refreshment station, the Helderberg region provided grazing for the animals of the indigenous Khoisan people, and wildlife such as eland.

Vergelegen wine estate is one of Somerset West's best-known landmarks. Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism

Where it all began

The town of Somerset West started with a cattle post for Dutch soldiers in 1672, and a farm called Vergelegen. Somerset West was officially established in 1822.

Even until quite recently, Somerset West was considered a small town just outside of Cape Town; today it is a thriving community and part of the greater Cape Town metropole. The town lies on the coast at the foot of the Helderberg Mountains, and is surrounded by farmlands and vineyards.

What’s in a name?

The town was named Somerset after then-governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset. The suffix "West" was added after 1825, to differentiate it from Somerset East in the Eastern Cape.

What to see and do

Visit the historic Vergelegen estate. One of the oldest remaining vineyards in South Africa, it’s been voted best winery by numerous publications. Its exquisite gardens are absolutely perfect for picnics (but you cannot bring your own, pre-order from the estate), and lazy days in the sun.

Visit the Helderberg Nature Reserve, a 363-hectare wildlife sanctuary showcasing remarkable flora and fauna.

Visit the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum located in Lwandle township, dedicated to the history of black migrant workers in the area during apartheid.

Unwind and play golf – there are a number of world-class golf courses in and around Somerset West.

Shop ‘til you drop at Somerset Mall – you will find everything you need here. Somerset Mall boasts 197 shops, including regular grocery and retail stores, small art shops and galleries, as well as restaurants, movie theatres and games for kids.

Wend your way around the Helderberg Wine Route, encompassing over 20 wine estates in Somerset West, Gordon’s Bay and Strand, where visitors can taste and buy wines. From there you can also make your way to Stellenbosch for the afternoon, to experience more superb Cape wines.

Did you know?

In the 1960s, the AECI (African Explosives and Chemical Industries) factory in Somerset West was the second-largest dynamite factory in the world, although today it is no longer in operation. The factory was opened in 1903.

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