Philippolis is a small town in South Africa that few locals have visited, but most recognise the name from a rusty signboard somewhere between Johannesburg to Cape Town. Philippolis was once a thriving centre of activity almost halfway between the cities, but today it's a quiet retreat from the hubbub.
Philippolis, founded in 1823, is the oldest town in the Free State, and has the most historical monuments after Bloemfontein and Bethlehem. It has a rich history, having been home to Griqua leader Adam Kok and writer Sir Laurens van der Post, as well as the location of British welfare campaigner Emily Hobhouse's first weaving and spinning school.
The rerouting of the N1 national highway in 1972 channelled traffic away from the small town and overnight this bustling halfway stopover point became a one horse town. The impressive (for those days) 3 petrol stations that the town boasted dwindled to one, and many buildings and farms were abandoned as residents left for more lucrative locations.
But the residents who stayed on are upbeat about their little town. Property prices are still affordable, national monuments remain untouched and there is no crime to speak of. Because it is so remote and quiet, Philippolis is actually a charming place to stop over on the way to Cape Town or Johannesburg. And the best kept secret of all is that the detour to the town is actually a shorter route than the N1, and has no trucks.
Accommodation in Philippolis is as quirky as the town itself, and you can stay in an old jail cell (with modern conveniences), Seebos - a lodge in the nearby bush that offers quad biking or Starry Night Cottages, a national monument. And visiting artists or writers can make use of the artist's retreat in the Laurens van der Post Memorial Centre - but they'll have to explain their intended project to the town.
Philippolis is so peaceful that it really deserves more attention than merely being used as a stopover, and those who can spare a couple of days - or weeks - to linger will truly be rewarded. Visit the Van der Post Memorial Centre, the weaving school museum, or do a town walk, birdwatching trip or safari.