The town of Stellenbosch, situated on the banks of the Eerste (First) River, was founded in 1679 by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, and named after him. This university town, its historic streets lined with European oak trees and heritage buildings, is surrounded by majestic mountains, giving the impression of a giant amphitheater. Vines—part of the scenery since the 17th century—are planted across the undulating valley, on mountainsides and close to the sea. Although Stellenbosch boasts the largest number of wineries of any of the Cape’s regions, all are accessible within a day’s drive. The region offers something for everyone, whether your interest is in the arts, culture, food, wine, hiking or surfing.
Where to Dine
Spectacular views across the Stellenbosch Valley accompanied by chef George Jardine’s fine food make Jordan Restaurant hard to beat. A favorite with locals is 96 Winery Road Restaurant, which features one of the region’s best wine lists and chef Natasha Harris’s country cooking. For a true South African experience, AmaZink is a show highlighting authentic musical traditions in the townships and takes place in the suburb of Kayamandi. When exploring the town, Wild Peacock Food Emporium is conveniently situated for a quick, tasty lunch.
Where to Stay
For quiet and relaxation among the vines, L’Avenir Country Lodge offers comfortable elegance. Perched at the top of the Helshoogte Pass (also known as R310), The Lodge at Delaire Graff Estate provides luxury and privacy, with sweeping views of the Stellenbosch Valley and Table Mountain in the distance. Oak trees and the Eerste River bring a bucolic feel to Beauclair Guest Cottage, a stately manor on the outskirts of town. Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa, a beautifully restored 18th-century private residence, is situated in the heart of historic Stellenbosch, surrounded by shops, galleries and museums.
Where to Taste
Vergelegen Estate’s impressive modern hilltop winery and classic wines are contrasted by the old manor house and 300-year-old camphor trees in its lush gardens. Learn about going biodynamic at South Africa’s only certified producer, Reyneke Wines. Kanonkop Wine Estate, which produces red wines only, is considered a South African “First Growth” (an unofficial honor that indicates a consistent record of excellence). Local art is displayed in the gallery attached to the cellar. Rustenberg Wines and Muratie Wine Estate offer thoroughly modern wines served in Old World settings with beautiful surroundings. The Stellenbosch Wine Festival, to be held this year from Jan. 25–Feb. 3, 2013, will offer tastings of the best wines from the area.
When to Go
October and November offer cool, fine days in early summer. Harvest time is January to March.
Among red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. From the warm inland slopes of the Simonsberg, the wines are muscular and rich; grapes grown closer to the sea make for fresh, tight wines. Cabernet also features in top Bordeaux-style blends. But the area’s varied soils, aspects and altitudes allow for much more: vibrant Sauvig-non Blanc, rich Chardonnay, elegant white blends and full-bodied Shiraz, plus a stylistic rainbow of Chenin Blanc and the country’s signature Pinot Noir-Cinsault cross, Pinotage. All are book-ended by Cap Classique (South Africa’s rendition of sparkling wine) and botrytized dessert styles.
Expand your knowledge of wine and food at the many farms offering wine with specific food pairings, everything from biltong (cured spiced meat) to chocolate.
Ken Forrester, owner of Ken Forrester Vineyards and chairman of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, says, “Visitors shouldn’t miss going to the fantastic open-air Amphitheatre at Oude Libertas, where both local and international artists perform. A picnic on the lawns before the show perfectly sets the scene. At the same venue, the Saturday morning Slowmarket, where everything has been made by the producers themselves, is also a must.”
This is an area for the great outdoors. Golf, horse riding and mountain bike trails, the Villiera Wildlife Sanctuary—where you might spot red hartebeest, bontebok and grysbok—a moonlight hike in the Klapmutskop Renosterveld Conservancy and guided walking tours of the town are some of the activities available.