Eyewitness Lavinia Engelbrecht talks about Pretoria

Pretoria, in the north of Gauteng Province, once the capital of Apartheid is today better known as the city of purple jacaranda trees. When a Voortrekker (a Boer pioneer) founded the town in 1855, he named it after his father, who was a national hero for his victory over the Zulus in the Battle of Blood River at that time. A proposal to rename the town into Tshwane was made years ago, talks are ongoing. As the administrative capital of South Africa, the town is the place to be for foreign diplomats. It is the gateway to the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and Johannesburg is only a 45-minute drive away.

Lavinia Engelbrecht loves photography, writing and her garden. She is passionate about nature and committed to preserving South Africa’s natural heritage. Each year the Mail & Guardian profiles fascinating young people who have stood out and who show what to look forward to in South Africa's future. Lavinia was chosen as one of 200 young South Africans for their feats of brilliance as individuals in the environment sector. She is the director of corporate communication at the department of environmental affairs and editor-in-chief of Environment Quarterly, its official magazine. Now Lavinia tells us about her hometown Pretoria.

Lavinia Engelbrecht

The Touristin: Three words that characterize Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: Friendly, Historic and Changing.

The Touristin: How do you get around Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: I drive mostly. Sometimes I use Uber or Taxify, but not very often. I wish we had more integrated, safe public transport across the residential areas, city and places of interest. The city centre is pretty walkable, but most suburbs are not. People drive everywhere, even a short distance to the shops. However, this is changing. More places are getting bike lanes and people spend afternoons walking their dogs or jogging around their residential areas. This was not common a few years ago.

The Touristin: What is the best kept secret about Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: It is less of a secret now, but many people outside of our city are not aware of the fast developing modern arts and culture scene with craft markets, craft beer places and music. People think of Pretoria as a place where not much exciting happens but, this is definitely not the case. Places like 012 Central and Market at the Sheds are revitalising the inner city by bringing artists, chefs and creatives to the public, in spaces that were previously standing empty. Friends of mine even had a rooftop wedding at 012 Central, which is an old government office block that is repurposed into a multi-use space. We have so much development and options for leisure and business. It is a great place to live and work.

The Touristin: What is your favourite borough/suburb/area in Pretoria and why?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: I live in Centurion to the south, which is a great mix of nature, cosmopolitan, suburban and country-style living and so many different facilities for every type of interest and hobby. We have Supersport Park stadium for cricket and performances, Rietvlei and Hennops nature reserves for nature lovers and photographers, venues for motorsport like Zwartkops, tons of parks for kids and families, and so many spas. My favourite is Velmore spa more in the countryside, but at home, I am within walking distance of many spas, which is awesome. We are considering a move out of the suburbs to the countryside of Centurion so I can raise alpacas and grow more organic fruit and vegetables.

The Touristin: The best place for a hot chocolate or coffee in Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: I love Tribeca, a truly Pretoria institution. They have several branches in the city centre, at Pretoria University and in the Brooklyn Design Square. The decor is contemporary with a bit of nostalgia. The coffee is fantastic. They also sell coffee beans and grounds so you can enjoy it at home too. Besides the coffee, their food is great for breakfast and brunch.

The Touristin: What is one restaurant we must try out while in Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: There are too many great restaurants to choose from. For absolute haute cuisine, I recommend La Madeleine, in Lynnwood. My friend used to be a sous chef there and it is phenomenal. For a more urban, hip vibe I recommend the newly opened CowFish restaurant in Hazelwood. They serve a fusion of gourmet burgers and sushi. The drinks selection includes many craft beers on tap and they have my favourite Rekorderlig! The design of the place is like something out of a movie about trendy Millennials living their best lives.

The Touristin: Where would we meet you on weekends?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: I would usually be at a garden centre or botanical garden. I love doing macro-photography and I am always looking for new things to grow, especially herbs, fruit and vegetables. I also love orchids. The national botanical gardens in Pretoria and Walter Sisulu gardens in Krugersdorp (just to the south west of Pretoria) are wonderful for families. Both have great restaurants, picnic areas and of course beautiful scenery. I buy many orchids at Sawasdee Orchids and Bonsai in Kyalami, Johannesburg which is very close to Centurion Pretoria. Orchid lovers in Pretoria can also visit MarvellousOrchids and the Safari Garden centre on Lynnwood Road in Pretoria East.

The Touristin: Do you have a favourite museum/gallery we all have to visit when in Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: I love the museum of natural history in the city centre. A trip there is a great outing for kids and nature lovers. For art, Pretoria Art Gallery and the Tina Skukan Gallery are wonderful. The Tina Skukan Gallery is on a large property in the suburb of Faerie Glen in Pretoria east and includes a sculpture garden.

The Touristin: What are some of your favourite places to shop for

A) groceries and B) clothes in Pretoria?

For groceries I like Woolworths. I am always happy with the quality and variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as the availability of ingredients like organic flours, adzuki beans, chia seeds, quinoa etc. that are usually not carried by general grocery stores, only specialists. For clothes, I don't have a specific place.

The Touristin: What souvenir shall we bring back from Pretoria?

Lavinia Engelbrecht: It is difficult to say what the typical souvenir from Pretoria would be. I would say visit a place like the Hazelwood food and craft market and take home one of the speciality jams and preserves, or visit the market outside of Pretoria Zoological Gardens and choose from the vibrant wares on offer, that include beautiful bead-work, wooden bowls and carvings of African animals.

The Touristin: Thank you so very much for the wonderful insight Lavinia, you showed us a truly exciting Pretoria. All the very best to you.

Meet Lavinia Engelbrecht on Twitter. Here you can meet more locals from all around the world in the Eyewitness - City Guides series.