Quaint coastal villages offer a laid-back, authentically Eastern Cape experience.
Nestled at the Eastern Cape’s southernmost point, surrounded by the Baviaanskloof on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, are the three picturesque St Francis neighbourhoods – St Francis Bay, Port St Francis and Cape St Francis.
While they have a part of their name in common, the three – which fall under the Kouga municipality – are distinct in look and feel.
St Francis Bay
Originally established as a small fishing camp by the late Leighton Hulett in 1954, St Francis Bay, accessed via a bridge across the Sand River, is known for its pretty canals and white thatched-roof houses.
Hulett’s son Nevil was born in St Francis Bay, has lived there all his life and even has a road named after him – as do his mother Anne and sisters Philippa and Diana. The idyllic village has his father to thank for its look.
“My father went to other holiday towns like Jeffreys Bay, Plett and Gordon’s Bay and saw all the face brick and different colours. Then he saw Arniston – a Western Cape fishing community where all the houses are white with black roofs,” he says. “What was available in the 1960s, when the closest hardware store was in Port Elizabeth, was locals who could thatch. So he decided to paint the houses white and thatch the roofs.” Many of the homes have canal access via private jetties.
The village theme continues with two or three smallish shopping centres and privately owned businesses such as tea gardens instead of big malls and major retailers.
There’s just one school, St Francis Bay College, in the area but there are schools in surrounding towns, including Woodridge College and Preparatory School near Van Stadens.
Greek restaurant Big Time Taverna on the canals offers an experience and atmosphere that would make most jet-setters accustomed to la dolce vita feel right at home. If parking at the popular establishment is a problem, patrons can dock their boats at the restaurant’s jetty.
Apart from that, what makes St Francis Bay unique? “The outdoor natural beauty of the area, whether you’re fishing, surfing or on a booze cruise through the canals,” Nevil says.
“We can’t compare with Sandton,” he adds. “Our attractions aren’t Imax and restaurants, but another one of our biggest attractions is that we don’t have traffic jams and we have lovely golf courses.”
St Francis Bay has risen from the ashes following a devastating fire in 2012 which gutted almost 80 homes. Today there is no sign of the “war zone” the canals resembled after the fire: the rubble has been cleared, most homes have been rebuilt and their roofs have been replaced with fire-retardant shingles.
Residents are mostly retirees but, “come season, we are the place to be for every teen and varsity student in the country”, Nevil says.
Many homes are owned by families who take turns holidaying there. Then there are residents who work internationally but use St Francis Bay as a base.
Port St Francis
Nearby Port St Francis, with its Spanish influence and within view of St Francis Bay, is based around South Africa’s only privately owned port, which cost R25m to build back in the day and was officially opened in 1996.
The fishing industry, particularly chokka, drives the economy, but other activities, including whale watching and a tour offering insight into the lives of fishermen, also operate from the port. There’s a mini waterfront where you can dine at one of several restaurants with views of the little harbour or over the sea.
Janet Harrison, who runs the Port St Francis information kiosk, has lived there for eight years. “People who don’t know the area are surprised, and I was one of those people who came from Joburg and was wowed. I came for a holiday, someone offered me a job and I stayed,” she says.
“Besides the natural beauty of the area, we have a close-knit community. There are times, like with the fire, where the whole town comes together.”
Cape St Francis
Farther along the coast, water lover Haydn Holmes, who represented South Africa in Surf LifeSaving, and his Bulgarian-born wife, Maria, a national swimming champion who qualified for the Olympic Games in 1996, have made laid-back Cape St Francis home after 15 years in Dubai.
The couple were working as executives at water parks in Dubai but it was their dream to move to Cape St Francis – where Haydn spent his happiest times growing up – to open an aquatic facility.
“We worked every day in Dubai with the sole goal of moving back to try our hand as small-business owners,” he says. Two years ago, they achieved this and opened Liquid Lines, a state-of-the-art aquatic centre.
Cape St Francis and St Francis Bay are, in our opinion, the most beautiful towns in the country. There’s something to do every day. We often joke that despite having lived in one of the world’s largest cities, we seem to have more to do in this small village,
“What made us choose Cape St Francis has to do with nostalgia and a desire to make a difference to a small community that has played such an important part in our family’s lives.”
Downtime in St Francis
- Hit a few rounds at the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed St Francis Links.
- Visit the SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), which helps get birds back on their feet.
- Get up close and personal with nature and enjoy four days of stunning coastline, sand dunes, tidal rivers, nature reserves and wetlands as part of the Chokka Trail, a 56km hike with overnight accommodation.
- Enjoy the surf at either St Francis Bay or Cape St Francis.
- Try out craft beers at St Francis Brewing Co. & Grill House.
Property prices in St Francis
Average asking price for a typical (four-bedroom house) property for sale in St Francis R3,288m
19% Percentage of properties for sale that are flats
Average asking price for a flat for sale R1,6m
1% Percentage of properties that are in complexes
Average asking price for a house in a complex R2,8m
Property demand in St Francis
- Percentage of properties for sale in the Jefferys Bay to Tsitsikamma area that are in St Francis 15%
- 14% Percentage of the interest in properties for sale for the area
Rentals in the St Francis area
All rental listings in St Francis are daily rentals.
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.