It was Simon van der Stel who was the first settler to spot the opportunities offered by the lush area between the two branches of the Eerste Rivier for the Cape colony, setting up camp here while on a tour of inspection in 1679. The fertile valley was soon settled on by farmers who planted the region’s first vines a few short years later.
Three hundred odd years on, the valley boasts more private cellars than any other Western Cape region (with over 100 open to the public) and the country’s oldest wine route. But there’s more to Stellenbosch than wineries. This leafy student town is home to some of the country’s top restaurants and award-winning producers. Here’s our bucket list of things to sip, munch and stock up on during a gourmet holiday in Stellies.
1. Dine at an Eat Out Top 10 restaurant
No.3 Rust en Vrede (closed from 8 June to 9 July), No. 6 Jordan Restaurant and No.7 Overture (closed from 25 August to 10 September) are all located in this neck of the woods. Make the most of your visit with one really special meal. (See the rest of the 2013 Top 10 here.)
2. Visit a food market
Head to the Stellenbosch Slowmarket on Saturdays for a bustling market offering everything from stroopwaffels to free-range chicken. (That’s where we held our 2014 Eat Out Produce Awards.) Part of the international Slow Food movement, the producers featured at the market are dedicated to organic, seasonal, ethical production. On Sundays, the Blaauklippen Family Market features a diverse range of prepared foods like Greek confectionery, fresh pastries, Lebanese, Indian and Mexican foods, and of course, Blaauwklippen bubbly. For a treat that’s open on both Saturday and Sunday, head to Root 44, an upmarket family-friendly market that sells delicious food (from sushi to boeries), craft beer and fresh flowers.
3. Buy bread from an award-winning baker
Fritz Schoon of Schoon De Companje took home the 2012 Eat Out Produce Award for his insanely good ciabatta, sourdough bread (sprinkled with chocolate or cinnamon), rye and breadsticks. While you’re there, shop for wine, artisan ice cream and charcuterie.
4. Eat at the winner of our best country-style restaurant
For traditional South African, no-fuss, delicious dining, make a booking at Towerbosch on the Knorhoek Wine Farm. Meat is finished on an open braai and brought to the table on heaped platters. Melt-in-the-mouth lamb and sirloin vie for attention with roast potatoes, cinnamon butternut and French beans. Desserts are traditional and yummy: think malva pudding, rose geranium milk jelly or cheesecake. It’s no-frills fare, but you’re guaranteed freshness and a good dose of nostalgia.
5. Hit the wine route
Representing over 200 wine and grape producers, Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes are a huge draw card for the winelands. Keep up to date with the area’s events or do a tour (there’s even a bicycle tour).
6. Have a brandewyn en coke
Top wine farms may be the cultured place to be seen, but for a true feeling of the town, join the lively scene at bars like Die Mystic Boer, Bohemia and The Thirsty Scarecrow and sip the unofficial beverage of the Maties student.
7. Grab some pub grub
While you’re hanging out with the youngsters, why not sample the best youth-pleasing pizzas and burgers the village has to offer? Après Bistro and Pizzeria is a more refined student hangout with delicious pub-fare; SGT. Pepper‘s Tant Doori pizza with peri-peri chicken is a must; 5 Ryneveld has the most elaborate burger menu in town; and Basic Bistro specialises in huge gourmet burgers drenched in creative sauces (pray that the tequila burger is on the blackboard menu).
8. Go on a gourmet picnic at a wine estate (in warmer months)
Eight at Spier, Hazendal (closed from 23 June until 23 July), Longridge (closed from 22 July until 22 August) and Warwick (from September) all offer gourmet picnics in leafy vineyards and on grassy riverbanks during summer months, and Waterford offers one year-round. Hillcrest Berry Orchards also offer picnics for groups of 8 or more (from November only).
9. Try South Africa’s national wine varietal
Created in 1924 when a Stellenbosch University professor crossed hermitage with pinot noir, pinotage is a robust deep red wine with smoky flavours. Beyers Truter was the first to claim international recognition for the grape, winning the International Winemaker of the Year in 1991 with the varietal. Head to Truter’s farm, Beyerskloof, to try the varietal in every form, from the lovely liquid to the legendary pinotage burger (dripping with saucy onions cooked in pinotage), and even pinotage ice cream served with baked cheesecake.
10. Stock up on cheese at the Simonsberg factory shop
Yes, you heard right: it’s a factory shop for cheese. A wide range of delicious and affordably priced cheeses makes this a must for anyone planning a picnic or dinner party.
11. Taste traditional African cuisine
Situated in Khayamandi township just outside the town, Amazink Live is part theatre, part restaurant, part township tourism. Watch the musical production while you tuck into braaivleis, boerewors and bunny chow.
12. Go on a deli-crawl
Stellenbosch locals are spoilt for choice with top quality delis. At Wild Peacock, you can pick up everything from truffle oil and quail eggs to Valrhona couverture. Pop into Joostenberg Deli for organic free-range meat and eggs, speciality cheese and killer pork pies; and Oom Samie se Winkel, an old-style trading store, has some interesting preserves and a good spice selection. The Stellenbosch branch of Melissa’s next door should be on your hit-list too.
13. Sample roosterkoek
With an entire menu constructed out of the yeasty, braaied breads, De Stomme Jonge is the perfect place to try the traditional Afrikaans bread. They’re baked fresh twice a day on a shining red braai on the restaurant’s stoep.
14. Spend a whole day at a single wine farm
Home to the restaurant Eight at Spier, art events, a bird of prey centre, a spa and a hotel, Spier is more than just a winery. You can also enjoy a picnic beside the dam, tour the vineyard on a segway (yes, a segway), or take one of the planned walks (one of which has a soundtrack, written by playwright Brett Bailey). Don’t miss their annual Spier Secret Festival, a weekend event with food, wine and art presentations, workshops and tastings.
15. Do a wine and dessert pairing
Kill two vices with one stone at Waterford Estate, which offers a tasting of dark and milk chocolates paired with the winery’s shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and natural sweet wines. Lourensford Wine Estate also pairs handmade 60% cocoa chocolate with their wine, and Uitkyk does a wine and pancakes tasting on the last Saturday of every month from May to August. (Booking is essential for all.)
16. Pick your own berries
Pick your own strawberries in summer at Mooiberge farm on the R44 and refuel at the farm’s restaurant, The Farmer’s Kitchen afterwards. If you’re after youngberries, blackberries, cherries, English gooseberries, cranberries and plumcot, then head to the Hillcrest Berry Orchard farm stall where all these and more are on sale.
17. Do a brandy and chocolate tasting
Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery offers brandy, coffee and chocolate pairings (12, 15 and 20 year-old reserves with Belgian chocolates and single plantation Honduran coffee) and brandy and florentine pairings.
19. Train as a chef or winemaker
What better setting to train in all things foodie than Stellies. Top cooking school The Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) offers 18-month to three-year diplomas, while the Elsenburg Agricultural College offers courses in Viticulture.
20. Have a feast at breakfast
If you’re after a quieter morning, take your special someone to Café Crème, a French-style café in Ryneveld Street, for divine French toast with crispy bacon. Cyclers and outdoorsy types love to stop at the Postcard Café (closed from 29 june to 22 July) in Jonkershoek for a healthy (or hearty) breakfast on the riverbank. Have a glass of bubbly with brunch at Tokara Delicatessen overlooking the ever-changing and ever-beautiful vineyards.