On the fringes of South Africa’s Karoo in the malaria-free Eastern Cape lies an interesting, attractive and historic little town, which invariably charms all who visit it. Located as it is, a short distance from the N10 main highway between Port Elizabeth and South Africa's interior as well as being on one of the main routes to Graaff-Reinet, Somerset East is both a convenient and a natural place to stop over.
The town is picturesque, friendly and, being also quiet with little traffic, is easy to walk around. For those who are interested in history, the town owes much of its early years to the British military and settlers as well as the Afrikaners who were farming the area prior to the arrival of the British.
This history can be explored both in the town and the surrounding area. (The controversial Slagtersnek rebellion took place in the district). Many of the town's houses and buildings reflect this heritage with lots of houses still standing which date from the early 1800's.
A walk down Paulet Street alone is almost like a trip into the past. The countryside around the town is quite varied with impressive mountains, rich farmland, forest and open Karoo veld, all within a short drive of the town. There is a variety of accommodation in Somerset East and its surrounds, ranging from the luxurious to budget. Visitors can choose among hotels, guest-houses, B&Bs and self catering establishments.
Somerset East is most known as the birthplace of the critically acclaimed 20th century artist, Walter Battiss. He enjoyed a long career as an artist devoted to the study of man in his environment, first in the context of Africa and Rock Art, later, in the interpretation of his this concept in its broadest sense. His versatility and influence as an innovator and the incentive he provided many aspiring artists secured him a special place among leading South African artists. His influence is still felt in Somerset East, and many of his artworks are displayed in the Walter Battiss Museum.