Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Did you know?
British soldiers who failed to show valour on the battlefield during the Anglo-Boer War (also called the South African War) were sent to Stellenbosch. This led to the use of the town's name as a verb: to be 'Stellenbosch-ed'.
Stellenbosch owes its existence and name to the former governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, who established this settlement on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679, making it the second-oldest formal settlement in South Africa.
Today, it's a beautiful town, characterised by oak-lined streets and whitewashed buildings, many of Cape Dutch origin (although most of the town burnt down in 1710 and was rebuilt after that date), and lies between the imposing Simonsberg and more modest Papegaaiberg ('Parrot Mountain').
Visit on any given day, and you will immediately realise that this is a university town, with students whizzing by on bicycles and many sidewalk cafés and restaurants. It's an idyllic setting to explore on foot.
The town is centred around the university, which is primarily an Afrikaans-language institution and one of the leading universities in the country, renowned for its law and engineering faculties. It also offers courses in viticulture, the primary agricultural industry in the area, as it lies in the heart of the Cape winelands.
Many leading wine estates are located here and are home to some of the best restaurants in the country. Look out for Rust en Vrede, Jordan and Terroir, all of which have made it on to the Eat Out award list for the top 10 restaurants in the country.
Among the oldest and most developed wine estates close to town (about 10km away) is Spier, which was originally established in 1692. Today it offers a host of activities for visitors, from Segway tours to wine tasting, picnics and a bird of prey exhibition (called Eagle Encounters). There's also a conference centre, hotel and several restaurants from which to choose, as well as an amphitheatre that plays host to the annual Spier Performing Arts Festival. Other estates to consider visiting include Delheim, Thelema, Tokara and Blaauwklippen.
For a more contemporary experience, book a table for the dinner/show known as AmaZink, which tells the story of the Kayamandi township through dance and music. It's a popular seasonal event that takes place in Kayamandi, to rave reviews.
The town also hosts regular festivals, among them the Woordfees (Word Festival), an Afrikaans-language event focusing on the written word and attracting leading writers and poets.
In summer the Oude Libertas, an outdoor amphitheatre located on a wine farm on the edge of town, has regular performances and patrons are encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine and a picnic before the show.
Art lovers are also well-catered for here with several collections of note. Among them is the Rupert Museum, showcasing the private collection of the Rupert family and featuring some 350 artworks of famous South African artists, among them Pierneef and Irma Stern.
On the outskirts of Stellenbosch is a beautiful valley called Jonkershoek, which leads to a nature reserve of the same name located in a cul-de-sac in the mountains. This area is popular with hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers, and is well worth the detour as the scenery here is nothing short of breathtaking.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)21 883 3584
How to get here
Stellenbosch town is 50km to the east of Cape Town. There are daily international flights to Cape Town International Airport. From the airport, take the N2 towards Somerset West. Turn left onto the R310 and follow the road into Stellenbosch. Alternatively, there are national bus routes and daily train stops to the university town of Stellenbosch.
Best time to visit
Any time of the year, although it rains in winter.
Around the area
The Franschhoek and Paarl wine routes are also worth exploring.
Tours to do
The full-day Vineyard Hiking Trail is best enjoyed in autumn or spring. It´s 24km long and starts above the Oude Libertas Centre, then moves through the forest plantations, vineyards, olive groves and coastal renosterveld.
Car rentals are available for a more scenic drive to the town via the N1 national route.
Length of stay
A long-weekend stay is preferable but to get the most out of your trip to Stellenbosch, a five-day break is best.
Where to stay
A wide selection of accommodation is offered, including categories such as backpackers, guesthouses, hotels, self-catering units and B&Bs in Stellenbosch and surrounding areas.
What to eat
There is no shortage of dining opportunities in and around Stellenbosch. Book a table at one of the estate restaurants, and enjoy a leisurely lunch in an idyllic setting.
The annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival usually takes place in July. The Spier Performing Arts Festival occurs annually in February or March.
Stock up at one of the wine estates.