Text and Photography by Chris Murphy
When an expedition set out under instructions from Jan van Riebeeck in 1655 and led by Jan Wintervogel they encountered a sheltered, shallow valley fed by a stream amongst ‘het Zwarteland’, the indigenous renosterbos that appears black at certain times. The slow stream, rather optimistically called the Diep River, is still a feature of the town today.
A small village evolved around the church, which was established nearly a century later and the town slowly grew until a growth spurt in the 19th century, resulting in a large amount of Victorian style buildings. It was early in that century that the town received the name we know today, given by the governor Sir Lowry Cole in honor of his father-in-law.
Visually Malmesbury is dominated by grain silos which state its modern reason to exist. After a number of serious economic setbacks in the wheat industry in the 1870s, local farmers banded together to create a co-operative. This ultimately lead to the construction of the silos which stand prominently on the appropriately labelled Bokomo Road.
But it is a town sitting on the cusp of further development. With progress on the upgrade of the N7 from Cape Town well underway, this augers a time when travel time between Cape Town and this satellite is going to be greatly reduced, with the inevitable inducement of businesses and residents to link. It will also enable visitors to quickly and easily travel to this destination. Already it is a great place to pause on the well established Cape to Namibia Route.
Today Malmesbury considers itself to be the ‘heart of the Swartland’, and is certainly a great base to explore this part of the west coast region. A good place to start is the Swartland Wine and Olive Route, which will lead to a fascinating tour of the cellars in the region.
Starting just outside the town limits is the Swartland Winery, the gateway to this region now famous for its quality product. The co-operative was formed in 1948 with fifteen member, and is today one of the leading producers, of approximately two million nine litre cases a year.
In thown is the more intimate Hofstraat ‘Garagiste’ Kelder, home of Wim Smit’s Renosterbos award winning wines. Wim is also a participant of the annual Swartland Revolution which highlights this eclectic group of producers.
The town and surrounds host a number of restaurants, guest houses, self-catering facilities and farm stays. A new eatery is located behind an old façade; it is the deceptively trendy Bill & Co with a wine bar, deli, bakery, kids play area, and which also hosts functions, wine pairings and a monthly market with musical accompaniment.
Or try Cherry Lane deli and gift shop, with its veranda permitting watching the passing world that is this vibrant town. A courtyard at the back provides a quieter experience.
Malmesbury today is a modern, thriving town with ample retail facilities, including a shopping mall, De Bron, where the original hot water spring that drew visitors from far and wide, may still be seen.
If you need to escape, then the town has a history route which includes a museum located in the old synagogue and provides a base for mountain bike trails, 4 x 4 routes, hiking trails, sky diving and a birding route. Truly Malmesbury is the beating heart of the Swartland.