Bustling with vineyards, heritage architecture, art and plenty of opportunities for outdoor dining, Angela Lloyd gives the low-down on why this region really is a destination for all seasons
Towering mountains linked to a chain of commanding hills; both guard an amphitheatre of undulating, vineyard-covered foothills and valleys, all leading to a vivid green-blue sea. Such is the dramatic beauty of the Stellenbosch winelands, even locals never tire of it, let alone the first-time visitor. But Stellenbosch is about much more than jaw-dropping vistas – it’s a region for all seasons, all wine styles and more besides. It’s a region that can be traversed within an hour, though incurious indeed would be the traveller who would not want to dally and explore all it has to offer.The original settlement on the banks of the Eerste river (First river) was founded by then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel in 1679. Vineyards were planted shortly after that, making Stellenbosch the second-oldest wine region in South Africa after Constantia.
Culture and wine
Nowadays, Stellenbosch is a bustling university town, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. Besides shops and restaurants aplenty, Cape Dutch national heritage houses (particularly in oaked- lined Dorp Street) are worth leisurely admiration.Those who love the arts are well catered for. Several galleries house contemporary and historic art, and several wine farms have exhibitions, too. If your interest extends to see how it’s done, visits to well-known local sculptor Dylan Lewis’ studio can be arranged. His works may be found in gardens of wine farms such as Delaire Graff.
For music enthusiasts, both classical and jazz concerts are staged throughout the year at Endler Hall. In summer, the outdoor Oude Libertas amphitheatre offers a programme of varying music genres, while in neighbouring township Kayamandi, AmaZink, a pulsating musical and dining experience, is not to be missed.
But wine is the main story here. The vineyards, fanning out from the town, are home to the greatest number of wineries of any area, currently about 160, featuring both large and small operations. The former includes the country’s largest wine and spirits producer, Distell (distell.co.za) behind such wine brands as Nederberg, Pongracz, Stellenzicht and Lomond.
Making a choice from this daunting figure is eased by the Stellenbosch wine tourism body’s informative booklet and internet guide (wineroute.co.za), where member wineries have been divided into five sub-routes to make organising cellar door visits simpler. This is all a far cry from 1971, when the Cape’s first wine route was founded in Stellenbosch with just a handful of members.
Winery architecture here is as diverse as the wines – from the whitewashed low walls and traditional gabled manor house at Rustenberg (rustenberg.co.za) to the strikingly modern cellar at Tokara (tokara.com). Both wineries produce a typical, quality range of white and red wines, including the area’s signature variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grape varieties galore
If Cabernet is acknowledged as king, home-bred Pinotage (often maligned outside South Africa) has some of its most ardent fans in Stellenbosch, with Beyers Truter leading the pack. At his Beyerskloof wine farm (beyerskloof.co.za) the grape’s versatility is demonstrated in everything from rosé to a vintage Port-style, the latter with some Touriga.
Pinotage is also indelibly linked to Truter’s previous cellar at Kanonkop (kanonkop.co.za), where fruit from a venerable 50-year-old vineyard goes into the sumptuous Black Label Pinotage.
More old-vine concentration comes with Chenin Blanc from Stellenrust (stellenrust.co.za), also from vines older than 50 years, as well as bush-vine Cinsault – an ancient Cape variety enjoying renewed interest across the country; here Tertius Boshoff gives it the care it deserves.
But it is Chenin Blanc that still holds sway as the Cape’s most planted variety. Although much remains destined for brandy, an increasing number of winemakers have shaken up the variety’s former image as a cheap and cheerful glugger and are producing wonderfully complex, concentrated and ageworthy wines. Look for some excellent Chenin- led white blends too. Ken Forrester, fondly known as Mr Chenin (kenforresterwines.com) has done much to generate this newfound interest.
A popular way to discover more about the region’s gastronomic delights, wine and food pairings are a favourite at many wineries. Try wine and chocolate matching at Waterford (waterfordestate.co.za) or pairing wine with pizzas cooked in the wood- fired oven at Mulderbosch (mulderbosch.co.za).
Stellenbosch and its numerous wineries might cover a relatively small area, but the various aspects, altitudes, soils and proximity to the sea with its cooling effects, allow for many varieties to be grown successfully beyond Chenin, Cabernet and Pinotage. At Hartenberg (hartenbergestate.com), Carl Schultz produces two Rieslings as well as five individual Shirazes.
The varietal spread has also been encouraged by foreign investors who have bought and developed farms here. Giulio Bertrand planted his favourite native Italian varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, on his Morgenster estate (morgenster.co.za), as well as olive trees too – don’t miss his award- winning extra virgin oil. And long-time Italian expat Giorgio dalla Cia and son George (dallacia.com) distil their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot into grappa-style spirits.
Summer and Autumn (between November and April) are the warmest, driest times to visit, with harvest a bonus, but winter and spring (May to October) also have their attractions. There are lots of sunny days between the rain to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, golf and visiting a few more of those 160 wine farms at this quieter time of year known as the Green Season. And if it does rain, there’s still all the shops and eateries that Stellenbosch town has to offer.
At the end of your trip, you’ll realise that one visit to this beautiful region is never enough.
How to get there
Direct flights via British Airways and Virgin Atlantic take about 11.5 hours to Cape Town International Airport. Stellenbosch is a 35km drive away.
Written by Angela Lloyd
A perfect day in Stellenbosch
Start the day with breakfast and an inspirational view at The Bakery on Jordan Wine Estate (jordanwines.com). Stop by the tasting room to try Gary and Kathy Jordan’s fine range of wines. At neighbouring DeMorgenzon (demorgenzon.co.za), the beautiful gardens and baroque music played in the vineyards are as much attractions as the wines. Take the 10-minute drive to Spier (spier.co.za), where local crafts and a wildlife outreach programme are among the features at this multi-faceted estate.
You can remain at Spier for lunch and enjoy a pre-booked picnic on the lawns by the dam or river, tucking into organic, home-grown produce and a bottle of wine. Or opt for a bistro-style lunch in Stellenbosch at Wild Peacock (wildpeacock.co.za) (pictured above). There’s a wide array of delicacies in the food emporium, as well as plenty of tempting dishes made from local and imported ingredients. A wide selection of wines are all available by the glass.
Park your car behind Wild Peacock and take a five-minute walk to Stellenbosch 360 Information Bureau ( stellenbosch.travel) where registered guide Sandra Krige can take you on a 90-minute walking tour – an exceptional opportunity to hear about the 300 year-plus history and people of this beautiful town.
Evening & overnight
It’s about a 30-minute drive to your overnight lodgings at The Country Guesthouse (thecountryguesthouse.co.za), a gracious old Cape house set in lush gardens, with views of Table Mountain from one side, vineyards the other. Make your choice from cottages or family suites. The same owners run 96 Winery Road restaurant (96wineryroad.co.za), a favourite with locals, where Natasha Hughes’ country cooking is geared towards South African dishes and the wine list is acknowledged as one of the best in the region.
Stellenbosch: Where to stay, eat, shop and relax
Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa
The beautifully restored Coopmanhuijs, a national monument, dates from the early 18th century with further additions in the late 19th century. The ambience takes you back in time – even the lift travels at a genteel pace– while the rooms with their modern comforts have a Victorian feel. Although situated in the middle of town, surrounded by shops and cafes, a central courtyard with swimming pool provides a quiet retreat. coopmanhuijs.co.za
L’Avenir Country Lodge
Surrounded by vineyards, this well-appointed, 11-room B&B is located on a working wine farm in the foothills of the Simonsberg, 5km from Stellenbosch. Guests may wander through the vineyards, play boules, take a cellar tour and a wine tasting or laze by the outdoor swimming pool. lavenir-lodge.com
Delaire Graff Estate
No expense is spared at this hilltop winery with its 10 luxury lodges, all enjoying sweeping views across Stellenbosch to Table Mountain. Contemporary art, sculpture, a Laurence Graff Diamond store and a boutique impress, as do chef Christiaan Campbell’s dishes at both the farm’s restaurants. delaire.co.za
A stylish, owner-managed small hotel in an off-the-main road position just outside Stellenbosch. Coolly modern with touches of the traditional and the ubiquitous view of vineyards and mountains, it offers a spa, swimming pool and 16-seater boardroom for guests’ meetings. Chef Tanja Kruger brings visual as well as flavour appeal to her French-influenced dishes; the comprehensive wine list is overseen by a trained sommelier. majekahouse.co.za
Named for the majestic 300 -year-old camphor trees in the spacious gardens of Vergelegen’s winery, the restaurant is modern yet relaxing in its black and white theme. Both chef PJ Vadas’ dishes and winemaker André van Rensburg’s wines offer a much-acclaimed modern take on the classics. vergelegen.co.za
The Restaurant at Waterkloof
Difficult to decide which is the more spectacular here – the vistas of sea and mountains from the glass promontory, or French chef Grégory Czarnecki’s seasonal menu, focusing on local ingredients. His eco-conscious approach echoes the farm’s biodynamic viticultural practices. waterkloofwines.co.za
Family-owned, in a casual and child-friendly setting. Enjoy the terrace and green lawns in summer, a blazing fire inside in winter. French chef and family member Christophe de Hosse prepares traditional bistro-style dishes, with pork a speciality from the family piggery. Explore the deli for a wide selection of other, home-made produce as well as Joostenberg wines. joostenberg.co.za
Great service and selection of more than 200 wines at this shop in the DelVera complex on the R44, about 15 minutes’ drive outside Stellenbosch. Delivery to destinations worldwide is also offered. vineyardconnection.co.za
Oom Samie se Winkel
Modelled on an old rural trading post, Uncle Samie’s store is a must-visit dip into yesteryear. Browse traditional handicrafts and fresh produce or sit on the veranda and watch the world go by. 88 Dorp St, Stellenbosch, +27 (0)21 887 0797