When last did you really explore Stellenbosch?
This Avios Hidden Treasures post takes us to the second oldest settlement in South Africa, best known for its Cape Dutch buildings, fine university and arguably the best of South Africa’s wine farms with over 200 producers in the valley. Many offering tastings and tours; some with restaurants and picnic facilities, accommodation, amphitheaters and even wildlife experiences.
It’s a mecca of indulgence for the food and wine lover, yet over and above this Stellenbosch has succeeded in establishing an array of attractions young and old, to complement these flavours and tastes.
Here is my long list of Hidden Treasures and must do things when visiting Stellenbosch.
– As with most places, the best way to discover historic Stellenbosch is on foot. You have the option of a local guide from the Stellenbosch tourism office, or buying a ‘Stellenbosch on Foot’ map and exploring the town at your leisure. Church, Dorp and Ryneveld Streets host some of the country’s oldest houses that date back to the 1700s and reflect the distinct Cape Dutch architectural style through the years. Note that the guide needs to be pre-booked.
Look out for the impressive Moeder Kerk, or Mother Church as well as Die Braak, a grassy town square in the heart of Stellenbosch. Around here you will find the Anglican Saint Mary’s Church, built in 1852, the VOC Powder House built in 1777 to store arms and ammunition for Boer commandos and the Rhenish Church built in 1823 by the Missionary Society of Stellenbosch as a missionary school for ‘slaves, and the coloured and black population’.
As you wander about, something that will strike you is the casual side street cafe living; coffee shops, bistros and restaurants with patrons overflowing onto the pavement, owning the space alongside their counterpart souvenir and antique sellers. It’s very atmospheric and adds a charmed dimension to the historic tree-lined center.
Must stop spots for coffee, pastry and breakfast are the M Patisserie on Andringa Street and the De Oude Bank Bakkerij on the Corner of Bird and Church Streets. Both specialise in freshly baked goods, efficient service and carefully selected ingredients. Ask about the ancient grains at Oude Bank Bakery, I did a bread-baking course there, which has given me a whole new appreciation for the craft.
– Alternately you could opt for a Bites and Sites Foodie Tour with Hanli Fourie who’s tours explore the culinary history and culture of South Africa’s cuisine with it’s Afrikaans, Cape Malay and Xhosa influences. This you will do while engaging in conversations with the makers as you stop to eat in numerous homes along the way.
– Take to the Museums starting with the Village Museum that consists of four houses ranging in eras from 1709 to 1929. They offer a glimpse of life through the ages. An onsite guide will take you through the home’s individual histories and talk about life in Stellenbosch of days gone by, why the doors are so low and the chairs and tables seem to have the shortest legs.
– Not only children will delight in the comprehensive collection of dolls, teddy bears, Dinky cars, train sets, miniature planes and other toys on display at the Toy and Miniature Museum which is located in the historic Rhenish Parsonage that dates back to the 1700s, a treat in itself.
– The Rupert Museum houses the private art collection of Anton and Huberte Rupert. Located in a Cape Dutch-style house on Stellentia Avenue, the 350 plus contemporary works date from 1940 onwards and hold the couple’s vision to share their art with the world. The focus is on South African artists such as Irma Stern, JH Pierneef, Willem Strydom and more.
– There are plenty of Fresh Food Markets with the newly established De Warenmarkt on Ryneveld and Plein Street open from Monday to Saturday. Situated in a historical building dating back to the 18th Century and offering a select range of fresh produce, including speciality meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, craft beers, coffees and other. Prepare to get stuck here as each vendor has an interesting tale of passion and providence that you will want to hear.
Spier Werf Market is hosted under ancient oaks on their newly-restored farmyard every Saturday and places emphasis on ethical producers who offer all you need from equipment to practical advice, to ensure a bountiful harvest at home.
The Root44 Market every Saturday and Sunday is very popular; drawing patrons to enjoy its great food hall, live music, tree house and craft traders.A good place to meet friends.
The Slow Market at Oude Libertas is an institution that for years has drawn visitors with more of a foodie focus. Each Saturday they offer an assortment of fresh local produce, organic treats and craft beer for the enthusiast.
The Blaauwklippen Family Market on Sunday’s focuses on family and friends with pony rides and live entertainment as well as a monthly Antique section. Best part, it’s dog friendly.
– For the Arts, look towards the high density of public art pieces on every street. Curated by the non-profit Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust who are turning this charming town into an art focused destination and encouraging public engagement. Their current theme is Reflections, which each artist has interpreted differently and has walkers by stopping in their tracks to do just that, reflect for a moment.
– Book a guided tour at the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Paradyskloof. Dylan is renowned for his spectacular and ever larger animal form sculptures that play into the relationship between man and nature. Here you can see them in a beautifully landscaped natural fynbos vegetation garden, which provides a surreal experience and is also home to his studio.
– The newly launched self-guided Stellenbosch Art Tour provides art lovers the opportunity to explore on foot and features 11 stops including the D-Street Gallery, US Art Gallery and the SMAC Art Gallery. Best part is that you can take as long as you want at each spot. If this feels too formal, just wonder around downtown, stopping in at every gallery you see. More at the Info Centre.
– The it’s important to look beyond the town center to the communities who drive it. Take a cultural tour of Kayamandi with the renowned local guide Thembi, which will offer a whole new perspective to the area. Enjoy a walk about; drink in the vibrant atmosphere of the day, stop to meet a local potter, visit a local jewellery shop and taste Umqombothi – a local beer that is not for the faint-hearted.
There is such a sense of community here and stories from Thembi will bring them and the history of this area, to life. I’d recommend including dinner at Mama Swartbooi’s home, absolutely delicious!
The hands of Jimmy the Potter at work moulding a bowl.
– Connect with Adventureshop who offer bicycle tours that combine the magical scenery and sites of historic Stellenbosch with some excellent wine tastings and healthy outdoor exercise.
Their full day tour starts at 9am and takes you through the town and around the Stellenbosch University Campus, before heading into the scenic Jonkershoek Valley, where you follow a winding road through oak and poplar forests which lead to wine tasting and even a chocolate pairing.
– Popular attractions include Oom Samie Se Winkel, or directly translated Uncle Sam’s Store is an institution. Found on Dorp Street, the shop dates back to 1904 and literally sells everything from books, honey, jam, rice, rooibos, coffee mugs, dolls, t-shirts and more. It warrants a look even if you aren’t buying.
– Spend time in the Botanical Garden, a somewhat hidden gem in the heart of the town. The greenway boasts a lily pond with giant water-lilies, a large bonsai collection, four greenhouses and some of the tallest tree species in the world, like the California redwood and the giant sequoia. There’s a small nursery and a restaurant too. Perfect for a tranquil stop in the middle of day.
– Pick your own strawberries at the Mooiberge Farm Stall where you are greeted by the friendliest scarecrows this side of anywhere, depicting rugby teams, celebrities and local politicians. A fun day out with the family and the shop has a wide selection of wine, nuts, fruit and sweet treats for sale.
– Visit Eagle Encounters who receive and rehabilitates birds of prey that have been injured, poisoned, abused or hand-reared. Where possible they are rehabilitated and released into the wild, although some hand-reared birds are kept for education purposes. It’s a fascinating tour and opportunity to get up close and personal with these precious animals.
– There are two nature reserves right on the edge of Stellenbosch to enjoy. The first is Cape Nature’s Jonkershoek Nature Reserve which lies just 8km east in the Jonkershoek Valley and is a favourite with hikers, mountain bikers, birders and general nature lovers.
– The other is the Jan Marais Nature Reserve which offers wide-open spaces to walk in and many indigenous trees and fynbos plants to enjoy, as well as a recently opened natural history library. This town reserve has picnic sites, a labyrinth and entry is free.
– For a closer look at biodiversity in farming, visit the historic Delheim Wine Estate for an environmental walk, followed by a wine tasting and light lunch at their Garden Restaurant. Home to the legendary Spatz Sperling, his family and a tribe of Jack Russells, this charming property regularly wins green awards, practices responsible farming and is committed to nature conservation, even driving the Simonsberg Conservancy project.
They also offer excellent mountain biking trails high up on the property, with spectacular views towards the Stellenbosch valley.
– Spier wine farm is one of the oldest farms in the region and is recognised for its cultural and historical significance as well as architectural worth. Today it leads the way with its ongoing evolution into Eco Tourism and sustainability. Enjoy walks on the property, see where Farm Angus keeps his cattle and mobile egg-mobile. They subscribe to the Farm-To-Table philosophy with most produce served in their EIGHT restaurant grown on the farm.
– For a change from wine to something unique, visit the organic family farm Rozendal to taste their balsamic vinegar. Nectar of the gods in a variety of infusions from Fynbos, Green Tea, Lavender to Hibiscus. They also have lovely accommodation, gorgeous dogs, farm animals and charming stories to share.
Situated just 50 kilometers outside Cape Town along the banks of the Eerste River, it is easy to see why the City of Oaks is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. What a treat for the senses.
For more information have a look at the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Stellenbosch 360 websites, also follow them on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube and look out for the #VisitStellenbosch hashtag.
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Thank you Avios for sponsoring these posts and inspiring me to think about the Hidden Treasures that I love exploring in and around Cape Town. How lucky I am to call this area home.
Top photo taken from high up on Delheim Estate where I took a walk with owner Victor Sperling to learn about their conservancy project during a recent visit hosted and coordinated by Stellenbosch Travel.