The town of Paarl is literally on my doorstep. I’ve driven past it on the N1 numerous times and yet not visited. But this weekend was an exception. I needed to right a wrong and take a look at a town that more than met my expectations and, in fact, left me spellbound by its gorgeous architecture, history, perpetual vistas of vineyards, and quaintness.
Paarl is but 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, yet it might as well be miles away (aside from the fact that you can see Table Mountain on a clear day). It’s the largest town in the Cape winelands, the third oldest European settlement in South Africa, boasts the longest main street in the country – all 12 kilometres of it – littered with buildings of historical note, boasts its own wine route, and has a huge granite outcrop that glistens just like a pearl, hence the town’s name, in the sunlight after a downpour. Not only that, but it’s also full of vineyards …
The name of the town is something of an idiosyncrasy. Despite being spelt ‘Paarl’ in both English and Afrikaans, it is pronounced ‘Pêrel’ in Afrikaans, and people are often heard to say ‘in die Pêrel’. And all of this superfluous information pertains to the huge rock, which is actually three rounded outcrops that make up Paarl Mountain – the largest such protrusion in the southern hemisphere, which despite being compared with Uluru, doesn’t really come close, yet definitely has something special about it.
Paarl is also just about the only town in the Western Cape to have its tourist information office open on a Sunday, even if the rest of Paarl at 10am is otherwise occupied in activities of a more celestial nature. And there’s the Afrikaanse Taalmonument, standing on the slopes of Paarl Mountain, the most famous Afrikaans icon commemorating the Afrikaans language as an official language, separate from Dutch; something of an icon but interesting nonetheless – pick up a pamphlet explaining the symbolism behind the structure from the tourist info … continued at: Paarl, overlooked jewel of the Western Cape.