Bethlehem in the north-eastern Free State was founded in 1860, and named after its biblical counterpart “house of bread” in Hebrew, due to the abundance of wheat that grows and thrives in the region. In line with its namesake in Palestine, the river that flows through the town and that is the water source for the recently-formed Loch Athlone, is aptly named the River Jordaan.
Loch Athlone, a well-equipped leisure resort in Bethlehem hosts regular regattas attracting boating and water sports enthusiasts from all around the country. One of the attractions includes The Athlone Castle, a floating restaurant. Built as a replica of the Union Castle Royal Mail Vessel, the restaurant features many of the original pieces of furniture that once graced this legendary vessel.
Standing amidst the picture-postcard backdrop of the majestic Maloti Mountains, the area is steeped in history. One of the most frequently visited sites by tourists to this historic region is the cairn of stones that is situated just eight kilometres outside of the town. The tradition began when many Sotho residents would drop a stone on the mound when passing through on their way to the Witwatersrand gold mines, thus asking the ancestors to grant them safe passage. Upon their return journey home, the incumbents would return to the cairn and drop another stone offering thanks to the ancestors for their protection. This large pile of small rocks continues to grow as tourists visiting the region leave their mark behind.
The area is often a welcome stopover for motorists en-route to the Golden Gate National Park and the Drakensberg Mountain regions. A well-established farming community gives the area a “country bumpkin” appeal, and produces approximately 65% of South Africa’s wheat as well as being notable for wool and cattle production.
Bethlehem is a major administrative, agricultural and educational centre in the Free State and the bustling town boasts commercial property as well as a host of modern amenities. In recent years the town has gone through a transformation, improving infrastructure and employment opportunities, whilst still managing to retain its old world charm.
Its close proximity to popular towns such as Clarens which, according to recent property reports, is one of the fastest growing towns in terms of property investment, has helped place Bethlehem firmly on the map. According to recent statistics released by Lightstone, the average price paid for a freehold property in central Bethlehem was R650 000 and the average for sectional title units came in at R454 000. The figures reflect a healthy influx of buyers aged between 36-49 years of age, representing 53.33% of the recent buyers who fell within this age category.
With a magnificent 18-hole golf course, a plethora of attractions and accommodation to tantalise visitors coupled with some of the most picturesque scenery in the Province, Bethlehem is not to be missed for those venturing into the hinterland.