George, Western Cape

The English novelist Anthony Trollope praised George in 1877 as ‘the prettiest village on the face of the earth. Overlooked by the George Peak, and Cradock Peak of the Outeniqua Mountains, George nestles on a coastal plateau in a setting of parkland and garden. Flowers seem to bubble over the walls of every garden and trees grow wherever man has failed to cut them down. Only 8 kilometres from the sea and with an adequate rainfall, balmy climate and altitude of 226 metres, George has the best of several worlds. It is the principal town of the Garden Route.

Founded in 1811, it was named after George III. It grew as an administrative, communications and timber centre. One of the oak trees which were planted along the streets during these early years has been proclaimed a national monument. A chain, to which slaves are said to have been fastened and sold at auction, is embedded in the trunk of the tree.

Because of the widespread destruction of George’s wealth of indigenous forest, in 1936 the government prohibited the felling of trees in the town for 200 years. The decision has ensured the preservation of stinkwood and yellow-wood trees.

George became a municipality in 1837 and in 1850 Bishop Robert Gray, founder of the Diocesan College for Boys in Cape Town, consecrated the town’s St. Mark’s Cathedral. George’s Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1842, is the town’s oldest church. The Church of St Peter and St. Paul, built the following year, is the oldest Roman Catholic church in South Africa. Among other old buildings here is the Town House, built in 1847 at a cost of £478.

The George Museum has South Africa’s largest collection of old gramophones, all in working order. Other displays include the skeleton of a whale stranded on Buffalo Bay and 75 mounted horns of the antelopes of South Africa.

This is the only region of South Africa which produces hops – imported varieties have been successfully transplanted in recent years.

George has a flying club, 18-hole championship golf course, several hotels and caravan parks.

From the town tow dramatic steam train journeys can be taken. The main railway line from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth crosses the Outeniqua Mountains through what is widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful railway passes. In 25 kilometres the railway climbs by means of zigzags, tunnels and cuttings to an altitude of 715 metres before descending into the Little Karoo. The second railway journey from George is along the branch line to Knysna, through tunnels and forests, across lakes and cliffs overlooking the sea. The climax of the arrival in Knysna, with a long approach by bridge over the lagoon, is unforgettable!