Less than an hour's drive from Cape Town and its golden beaches, lies another one of the Cape's gems … or rather, pearls.
In 1657 Abraham Gabemma set out inland to search for new meat resources. It was after a rainstorm when he saw a mountain in the distance, with a giant granite rock which glistened like a wet pearl in the sun. He named the mountain "Peerleberg" (Pearl Mountain), which later became Paarl Mountain and the town that evolved at its base was named Paarl.
It was 30 years after the discovery of this fertile valley that farms were given to pioneers, shortly before the arrival of the Huguenots in 1688. The pioneers started with their work and in 1699 the first water mill was put to use. The first church, the "Strooidak Kerk" (Thatch Roof Church) was consecrated in 1805, and today it is the oldest church building still in use. The gables are regarded as the most attractive of their kind to have survived.
The Old Parsonage "De Oude Pastorie" was built in 1787 and is one of the most precious architectural treasures of Paarl, situated below the impressive "Toringkerk" (Tower Church). It was bought by the municipality in 1937 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Huguenots, and today houses the Oude Pastorie Museum, which displays an interesting collection of Cape Dutch furniture and silver and copperware.
Another museum well worth a visit is the Paarl Museum. The original building was used to accommodate eleven ministers from the Strooidak Kerk between 1715 and 1872. In 1872 the property was sold to the Thom family and remained in their possession until 1924. It was then used as a boys' hostel by Paarl Gymnasium High School, until it was purchased by the Paarl Town Council. The building was renovated in 1939 and opened as the Huguenot Museum. The name changed in 1969 to the Old Parsonage Museum, and again on March 1st, 1995 to its present name, the Paarl Museum.
The museum focuses on the history of Paarl and displays a fascinating collection of Cape Antiques, artefacts, documents and photographs, which reflect the cultural diversity and development of the town.
Although Paarl is not the oldest town after Cape Town, it did have a significant influence on South Africa's history. In 1840 it became the first town to have a municipality. Paarl was the major supplier of wagons and played an important role in the Great Trek, which led to the discovery of the rest of the country. The intriguing Afrikaans Language Monument was inaugurated on the 10th of October 1975, to represent the influence that the residents of Paarl had on the development of the Afrikaans Language.
Paarl is surrounded by a naturally beautiful countryside, dotted with many farms and smallholdings. Few towns are blessed with a landscape this dramatic, where the massive granite mountain contrasts with its picturesque fynbos vegetation, the famous Paarl Rock set among ancient wild olives, rock candle woods and wagon trees. Paarl Mountain offers several viewpoints, from where you have a panoramic view towards Table Mountain and the sea in the west, and the Boland Mountain ranges in the east.
Visitors to Paarl are presented with a vast variety of attractions, scenic drives and hiking trails, wine tasting opportunities and outstanding dining possibilities. Outdoor entertainment includes daring 4x4 trails, mountain-biking through the hills, invigorating hikes through the mountains followed by picnics at a sparkling mountain stream, or trout or bass catching to provide a fantastically fresh dinner. Experience the vastness of the vineyards and fynbos on horseback, or enjoy a birds-eye-view of Paarl Mountains granite pearls from a hot-air balloon. Paarl boasts its own exquisite golf course, and a really special treat is the amazing world of butterflies, crocodiles and snakes which awaits you just outside this lovely town.
Paarl proudly accommodates the Headquarters of the South African wine industry, the Co-operative Wine Grower's Association, better known as the KWV. The KWV is a South African institution whose unique achievements and top quality wines and spirits have earned it an outstanding international reputation.
Paarl Vintners is an all-encompassing organisation that has established Paarl as one of the leading wine regions in the world. Since its inception, the organisation has made a significant impact, not only in the Paarl region, but also in the broader wine world. Some achievements are the first Braille Wine Route guide to assist blind wine lovers, the establishment of a wine-tasting competition for cellar workers and the arrangement of educational and specialist wine seminars.
Paarl and its immediate vicinity boast enough wine cellars and estates to justify its own wine route. Wine cellars on the Paarl Wine Route include:
The wine estates that belong to the wine route arrange tours for visitors and provide an opportunity to meet the wine makers in person, to sample their produce and to purchase these excellent, nationally and internationally acclaimed red and white wines.
Other attractions in Paarl
Paarl has so much to offer - a magnificent countryside, five mountain passes, a bounty of fruit orchards and beautiful vineyards, with the Berg River winding its way through and giving life to this fertile valley. Add to this a rich cultural heritage and diversity of historic buildings throughout the town, balanced by top-modern architecture and amenities. Excellent dining and exquisite wines, friendly people and a transcending feeling of tranquillity - be sure to experience all this for yourself!