As a village, Paarl is the least picturesque of the three. Occupying an important trade route along the river valley, Paarl is strung out along the valley and has always been a centre of industry. At the time of the gold-rush, it was the centre of the cart-building industry – you can visit the oldest cooperage in South Africa. Later, it became a textile town. When that industry collapsed, Paarl refocused on agriculture and tourism.
As a wine producer, Paarl also veers toward large-scale production. It is the home of South Africa’s two biggest producers, Neederburg, which produces close to a million cases a year, and KWV, South Africa’s premier wine co-op, which for many years was the face of South African wines abroad.
Paarl lies at the foot of a bare, granite dome-like mountain, the second largest granite outcrop in the world and the origin of the town’s name. When one of the first European settlers saw this rock, glistening in the sunshine after rain, he said it was like a pearl. The name stuck and the area became know as Paarlvallei.
A stretch of Paarl’s 12-kilometre long Main Road is lined with fine examples of Cape Dutch, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco architecture, largely occupied by restaurants, coffee shops and crafts shops. The Strooidak Kerk (Thatched Roof Church) is the oldest Dutch Reforemed Church in the country.
Paarl is less perfect than Stellenbosch and Franschoek, but also less of a tourist honey pot. It earns its money from servicing agriculture: in addition to the famous vineyards, oranges, guavas, maize and many other crops are grown in the vicinity.
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