Free State DestinationsBethulie, Xhariep Region
Bethulie, or the town of many names - from the time of its founding in 1872 it has been called Caledon, Verhuellpolis, Heidelberg and Bethulie - may lie off the beaten track and barely defie the definition of 'rustic', but it is also full of historical sites, nature reserves and some drop-dead scenery.
Bethulie lies in the southern reaches of the Free State more or less on the northern banks of the Gariep Dam, 90 minutes' drive south of Bloemfontein. It also lies on route 701, the route connecting Cape Town with Lesotho, and essentially the little village regards itself as something of a 'dorp', perfect for 'time out' away from it all with some modern twists, such as the walking route designed by Trudie Venter.
The 'dorp' hasn't become the place of choice with some artists for nothing, and already Gautengers, Capetonians, Durbanites and even visitors from further afield have begun snapping up second homes here.
Bethulie started out as a mission station in 1829 and during the Boer War was the place of one of the largest concentration camps run by the British - the site remains a a sad reinder of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Other historical sites worth taking in include the incredible sandstone bridge just outside town that spans the Orange River, connecting the Free State with the Eastern Cape. The Pellisier House Museum, the oldest settler-built building in the Free State and the original mission building is also worth a visit.
But it is the surrounds of Bethulie that are the real stars of the show. The area around Oviston Reserve, the Gariep Reserve and dam and Tussen-die-Riviere Reserve is quite beautiful, and, whilst there are no predesignated routes, following your nose along the roads around here and the nearby towns of Phillipstown, Aliwal North, Smithfield and Burgersdorp will not disappoint.