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Philippolis, Xhariep Region, Free State

Philippolis is the oldest town in the Free State. This small historical gem is situated in the south-western Free State Xhariep Region near the Gariep Dam, also called the Free State ‘Karoo’ region, and is surrounded by the sheep farms that do well in the semi-arid grassland and scrub terrain dotted with ironstone hillocks (or ‘koppies’).

Founded in 1822, Philippolis boasts a rich Griqua history from the 1820 – 1860 period when the Griqua people of South Africa controlled much of the Free State. They left the area in 1862 for another part of South Africa after the newly formed ‘Republic of the Free State’ bought their land, but left behind one of the country’s richest repositories of Griqua history in Philippolis. The town’s centrality in the Boer War is also on display in monuments and buildings.

Besides sheep, the area outside Philippolis is known for game-hunting, horse-breeding and John Varty’s tiger sanctuary, Tiger Canyons.

Philippolis is also the venue for the annual Witblits (White Lightning Moonshine) Festival. Also known by its Afrikaans name ‘Witblits Fees’ or ‘Stookfees’, the Philippolis Witblits Festival is held annually at the Philippolis Distillery and celebrates the distillation of South Africa’s very own ‘legal’ grape-based Moonshine. Witblits (‘White Lightning’ – also called ‘Fire Water’ and ‘White Dog’) has been a South African traditional ‘drankie’ since 1659, and thanks to its long history and legal manufacture, it’s very pure. With a 43% alcohol content, this hooch is not to be taken lightly, so indulge heavily in the ‘Boerekos’ (Farmer Food) on sale at the Festival if you are determined to sample the featured product more than once. Better still, take a bottle home with you as a souvenir – Witblits is about as authentically South African as you can get, and you can always take it out at parties to liven things up or frighten off boring guests.

For dates and information call Pierre on 082 770 0101 (no website for the Distillery)

Getting there: The R717 turn off to Philippolis is off the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Take the N1 south from Bloemfontein toward Colesburg, turning off on at Exit 75 for Tromsburg/Philippolis/Smithfield. This will take you on to the R704. At Trompsburg turn on to the R717 for Philippolis.

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