Framed by mountains and beach, this trio of small towns has a laid-back but dynamic vibe and an irresistible outdoor lifestyle.
Beaches, mountains, historic wine estates and nature reserves: a quick description of Somerset West and its adjoining towns of Strand and Gordon’s Bay reads like the brochure for an ideal holiday destination – and indeed visitors flock here, but for residents, it is so much more than the sum of its tourist attractions.
The once sleepy town of Somerset West is expanding rapidly, its borders now reaching Strand, as new residents arrive from all over South Africa. But it retains its small-town community feel, with excellent schools, sports clubs, a theatre and shopping rendering it independent of the big city, at the same time being conveniently close for those who choose to commute daily to Cape Town.
The town’s immediate appeal is its dramatic natural setting. “Somerset West is a beautiful town,” says resident Megan Cooper, “framed by the Helderberg and Hottentots-Holland mountain range, and big, blue False Bay with views of the coastline, all the way to Cape Point and its winking lighthouse. Orchards, farmlands and vineyards crisscross all around us here. It truly is the best little secret spot with beauty surrounding us. I love the laid-back lifestyle.”
While Somerset West is snugly tucked into a green landscape of mountains and vineyards, with the elegant wine estates of Vergelegen and Lourensford practically within the town, neighbouring Strand is all about the beach. Its 5km-long sandy expanse is a favourite for families – with a surf school, tidal pool, dive centre, kayaking and all forms of water sports – and it’s the local seafront spot for Somerset West residents, only 10 minutes’ drive away.
Next to it is Gordon’s Bay, with a smaller seaside-village feel, gathered around the curve of False Bay below the craggy Hottentots-Holland mountains, its blue-flag Bikini Beach sheltered by the harbour, and the longer main beach just as popular.
“When the weather is perfect, there is no better place to live,” says Tandy Sinclair, who has lived in Gordon’s Bay for 14 years. “The beach is fantastic, and for us, a short walk away. The people are friendly and there is a sense of community within Gordon’s Bay. I feel safe walking around, and love that I can see the sea and the mountains from my home.”
For residents of all three towns, the surrounding wine estates (and those stretching towards neighbouring Stellenbosch) provide a leisure playground – whether they’re after fine dining at The Restaurant at Waterkloof, Camphors at Vergelegen, or Overture at Hidden Valley; regular markets at Lourensford, Route 44, Blaauwklippen and the Slowmarket at Oude Libertas; or mountain-biking trails such as the Helderberg Farm MTB Trail.
With the mountains a constant backdrop, hiking, nature walks and picnics are a natural part of the outdoor lifestyle. The easiest place to start is Helderberg Nature Reserve (which dips right down into the town), with its slopes of unspoilt fynbos to hike through, as well as lawns that accommodate sunset concerts in summer.
For more organised sport, Radloff Park is home to several established clubs and also serves as a community focus for dog-walking and play along the tree-lined banks of the Lourens River. Then there are ASLA indoor sports club, for hockey, soccer and netball events, and multiple gyms including West Workout Gym, home to many power-lifting champs. Golfers are spoilt for choice, with Erinvale, Somerset West and Strand golf clubs all in beautiful settings with interesting layouts and excellent facilities.
Whether you are a fitness freak, a shopaholic or simply laid back, Somerset West really is dynamic and caters for every lifestyle
says Chaz Malan, who has lived in Somerset West most of his life.
While shopaholics revel in the 3km length of Somerset Mall, boasting every store imaginable, foodies head to the smaller Waterstone Mall for its irresistible flagship Woolworths food store, and stock up on organic treats and wild mushrooms at the Lourensford Harvest Market every weekend.
In fact, the hardest part of living in the Somerset West area is deciding what to do each weekend: there are so many enticing leisure activities on your doorstep, as well as the appeal of simply kicking back to watch the sun set across the ocean behind Table Mountain with a glass of excellent local wine in hand.
Eat like a local
- The Restaurant at Waterkloof for fine dining
- Old Bridge Tavern for a casual pub atmosphere with burgers and chicken baskets
- TRE Eatery Bakery Bar for steampunk style with healthy fare, including Banting dishes
- Buena Vista Social Café for nachos and chilli poppers and a great vibe
- Moksh Indian Restaurant for a superb curry
- De Brasserie on Strand beachfront for French food, sundowners and sushi
- Triggerfish Brewery in Paardevlei for lunchtime meze platters
- The Thirsty Oyster Tavern for mussels
Take a journey through Somerset West:
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.