To most South Africans, Grahamstown, just off the N2 between Port Elizabeth and Port Alfred, is the home of Rhodes University, and the host of one of the country’s longest running and major arts festivals - the National Arts Festival.
Regarded as the heart of the tourist route known as 'Frontier Country', Grahamstown, along with towns like Alicedale, Sidbury, Riebeeck East, Hogsback and Alice, is part of one of the most diverse ecological regions in South Africa, with thousands of hectares devoted to nature and game conservation, and a history seeped in forts, conflict and strife.
Grahamstown lies at the intersection of four very different climatic zones and its unpredictable weather is part of the excitement of the annual arts festival, which takes place in the middle of winter and sees thousands of people bundled in coats, gloves and scarves, descend on the city, whose broad tree-lined streets, gorgeous historical buildings, museums and plethora of churches - responsible for its ‘City of Saints’ label - are a throw-back to the time when Grahamstown was the second largest city in the Cape.
The Grahamstown Arts Festival, which during apartheid was a hive of political and protest theatre that never closed its doors to any race, colour, sex or creed, and imposes no censorship or artistic restraint on works presented at the festival, continues as a platform for experimentation.
The Fringe still serves as a great place to spot talent as theatre is not subject to a selection committee, as is the main festival. Grahamstown maintains its small-town Victorian charm, its over 100 schools and university earning it a reputation as an academic city. grahamstown is also a bird watchers delight. The Thomas Baines Nature Reserve, which lies just outside the city, and the Great Fish River Reserve, about 35 kilometres away, both provide a wide variety of bird life.
The Oldenburgia hiking trail, Grahamstown’s own hiking trail, is a two-day circular trail starting and ending in the city, and there are another two shorter walking trails in town - the Dassie Krantz and Gowie Kloof.