Somerset East is a charming small town. A green oasis on the edge of the Karoo, sheltering under the wooded slopes of the Boschberg Mountain. It is surrounded by four different biomes and has many heritage buildings dating back to the early 1800s.
It beguiles visitors with its blend of history, culture, and stunning mountain scenery. Outdoor adventures include fly-fishing, mountain biking, birding and tree spotting.
Somerset East was previously called Agter Bruintjieshoogte. In 1814 it was chosen by the Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, to be the location for Somerset Farm. Its role was to grow crops to supply British troops serving on the frontier. Many gracious heritage buildings in Paulet Street were built at the time when Somerset Farm was closed and Somerset (later East) was declared a ‘drostdy’ in 1825.
The old Officer’s Mess (dating from 1818) now houses the Walter Battiss Art Museum.
Somerset East has much to offer the visitor. There is a wide range of accommodation options, from budget self-catering to luxury 4-star guest houses.
Several farm-stay options cater for those wishing to experience Eastern Cape farm life up close. Five restaurants give a choice of dining options, covering gourmet deli, coffee shop, and pub and grill. Guests at Somerset House have the option of dinners cooked by renowned chef, Janet Telian.
Look out for
The Boschberg was described by an early explorer as ‘the most beautiful mountain in southern Africa’. It has a myriad of tree species and exciting flora, some of which are endemic to the area. There are at least 325 bird species to be spotted. Excellent mountain biking trails are available, and the Boschberg Trail offers a challenging two-day hike. Fly-fishing is also popular - trout and several other fish species can be caught.
Glen Avon Falls is a pleasant walk away, but the land owners must be consulted and there is a small fee to visit the falls.
Hunting and game viewing are offered on outlying farms.
Gyms, spinning classes, yoga and beauty spas cater for the body and three libraries cater for the enquiring mind.
The Old Pastorie Museum has relics of bygone ages. Its Slachtersnek Exhibition houses the original beam from which five rebels were hanged in 1816.
Art buffs from far and wide visit Somerset East to see the Walter Battiss Art Museum. It houses an extensive exhibition of the work of this grand old man of South African art – and son of Somerset East.
The Tourism Office is housed in the Walter Battiss Art Museum, which can be visited by appointment.