If ever there was a town hiding spectacular secrets, then Worcester in the Western Cape Province of South Africa is it. Travellers passing on the N1 national highway between Cape Town and Johannesburg do themselves an injustice by not taking the time to stop and explore this remarkable town.
Nestled within a series of 4 mountain ranges, Worcester lies in a sunny valley with an exceptional wine, brandy and olive route. Much of the historic buildings have been retained and the eye-catching white Dutch Reformed Church is prominent on the landscape.
Thanks to a decision by the Cape government to route a railway line through Worcester way back in the 1870s, Worcester grew in importance and is today the largest commercial centre in the region. The town was named after the Marquis of Worcester.
A unique feature of the town is the number of care centres, museums and education facilities located here. The town supports the Deaf Institution, Pioneer School for the Blind and New Hope Centre for the Hearing-Impaired. There are 5 interesting museums situated in and around the town centre.
Top 8 reasons to visit Worcester
1. The Golden Valley Casino has over 200 slot machines and 6 tables to win a fortune. Stop in at the Winners Sports Bar for a pre-dinner drink before enjoying a South African-style meal at Kuipers Restaurant.
2. Visitors to the 18-hole Worcester Golf Club are given special rates. Hire clubs at the venue. Over 50% of the green at the par-4 6th hole is surrounded by water and is one of the many challenging holes on this course.
3. Collect a route map from the Info Centre and discover the town on foot. The Heritage Walk passes fine examples of Gothic, Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the town. Of the buildings, some were originally stables, a gaol, doctor’s surgery and old homesteads. Stop in at the Blindiana museum to view their fossil collection and appreciate a coffee made by the country’s first blind barista.
4. The sprawling Kleinplasie living open air museum accurately depicts South African life over the centuries, with 26 buildings of different eras and live demonstrations that include candle and soap making, butter churning and bread baking in clay ovens by staff dressed in period costumes.
5. Enjoy a meal at the Mountain Mill Shopping Centre food court with views overlooking the Worcester Dam. The centre has over 100 stores and movie theatres to entertain the family. Be sure to check out the working mill during your visit.
6. Travel the road out of town to the Nuy Valley to visit the picturesque wine and olive route, the roads lined with brightly coloured bougainvillea and canna plants. Stop at Willow Creek Olive Estate for an olive tasting and the Nuy Winery to sip on good wines over stunning valley and mountain views.
7. The Karoo Botanical Gardens has pleasant paths to stroll through the beds planted with indigenous stone plants, succulents, aloes and cycads. The gardens, established in 1948, attract many species of bird and small herbivores.
8. Arrange to be collected from your accommodation to visit the Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve for an exciting 2-3 hour game drive. The drive, accompanied by a ranger, takes visitors through the park to view the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) along with many other mammals. The area is malaria-free.
The nearest airport is Cape Town International Airport, 112km away. Car rental agencies are located in Worcester and at the airport or order a rental online and collect at a convenient location. Shuttle service companies, tour operators and metered taxis offer drives between Worcester, the airport and wine farms but a rental is the most practical option.
Did you know?
Roughly a quarter of all vineyards planted in South Africa are located in the Worcester region and, depending on the grape type, farmers either sell their grapes directly to large co-operative cellars for wine production or retail outlets for table grapes.
Gliding is popular in Worcester, pilots are drawn to the area for the thermals generated by high winds that pour down over the surrounding mountains to meet the warm valley floor. The Cape Gliding Club is situated at the Worcester Airfield.