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  • Writer's pictureSafari Sam

Exploring Stellenbosch

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The stunning vineyards of Stellenbosch

Located about an hour from downtown Cape Town is Stellenbosch, a favourite day trip of wine lovers everywhere. While the region does have plenty of red wine (more on that soon), there is much more to do than simply sip Pinotage. So, while you should certainly indulge in some delicious wine during your South Africa holiday, there are also amazing eateries, local shops and more for you to explore.

The Wine

The Western Cape of South Africa is widely considered one of the best wine regions in the world, and Stellenbosch is responsible for the vast majority of Western Cape wines. Wine has been produced here since 1659, so it’s safe to say the winemakers in Stellenbosch know a thing or two about vino.

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The two most popular varieties in Stellenbosch are the white Chenin Blanc and the red Pinotage. The Chenin Blanc is a fresh, fruity wine which is perfect for enjoying during a warm South African afternoon (bonus points if you’re taking in the view of Stellenbosch’s gorgeous vineyards while you sip it). The Pinotage is a heavier red, which was created by crossing the delicious (but delicate) Pinot Noir grape with the hardy (but less delicious) Cinsaut or Hermitage. The result was the Pinotage which, when made skillfully, as it is in Stellenbosch, combines the best of both worlds.

Now - if you can’t tell your Pinot Noir from your Cinsaut or even your Chenin Blanc, do not worry! Wine tasting in Stellenbosch is approachable, fun, and never pretentious. It’s about discovering what you like and learning more about the process for winemaking. Plus, if you really hate it, you can always spit it out (that’s considered fancy in wine tasting circles!). In order to make sure our guests have the best experience and hopefully enjoy the wine on offer, we’ve paired up with Wine Flies, one of Stellenbosch’s best loved tour operators. With our very own ‘Wine Lord’ in tow to help guide you through the tastings, we aim to introduce everybody to the delicious wine of Stellenbosch.

So, whether you’re an expert sommelier or a total wine novice, you’re bound to have an amazing time getting to know the wine on offer while holidaying in South Africa.

Stellenbosch offers a range of cellar doors from small, family run establishments such as the picturesque De Meye Vineyard – which has been in the same family for five generations - through to some of the country’s largest wine producers such as Dornier Wines. Amongst the most picturesque to visit includes the Jordan Wine Estate, which has been producing wine for more than 300 years.

Although many of Stellenbosch’s wineries employ traditional techniques for wine making, there are others where you can experience a more modern approach. At Demorgenzon, for example, baroque music is played to the grapes all day and all night, as it is believed to make them grow better. At the cellar door, you can try the wine and decide for yourself whether this tactic has paid off.

Dinner & Cocktails

While Stellenbosch’s reputation as a wine hotspot is well-deserved, it does sometimes tend to overshadow the many other attractions that are in the area. Often, visitors will only do a wine tour before returning back to Cape Town for other activities. We recommend staying an extra day or two to discover more of what’s on offer in the region.

Firstly, Stellenbosch is a foodie paradise, with a fantastic selection of eateries as well as markets where you can pick up fresh produce. Some of the best restaurants are located within wineries, such as the warm and welcoming eatery at Rust En Vrede with its delicious French cuisine or Overture which serves modern South African. Still others are standalone restaurants, such as the carnivore-friendly Spek & Bone which serves a good variety of hearty meat dishes, or the ever-popular Helena’s, which offers many good vegetarian options.

Spek & Bone - Peppermint Crisp King Cones - recommended by 9 Lives and we agree!

Once the sun goes down, Stellenbosch (like its big sister Cape Town) gets ready to continue well into the night, with a spattering of excellent cocktail and (of course) wine bars. We love Balboa Balcony Bar, which has a great atmosphere and delicious drinks to match or Cubana, with its fancy cocktails (predominantly rum based, as the name would suggest) and cigars. Stellenbosch also has a strong student population so there’s a host of bars and pubs that are aimed towards the fun-loving younger crowd. To join in on the student fun and enjoy the cheap drinks and good vibes, head for beloved venues such as Bohemia or Aandklass. Throughout the week these venues often hold activities like theme nights or trivia evenings, which can also be fun.

Where to Stay

If you are looking for somewhere to rest your head after a day in the vineyards sampling the best of the wines in the region, look no further than our favourite place to stay, The Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa. With it's unique rooms, great breakfast and central location, we simply couldn't think of a better place to spend a night or two!

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The Town

Once you’ve sampled Stellenbosch’s famous food and drink, there’s a few other unique offerings in Stellenbosch, a town of beautiful Cape Dutch architecture and pretty streets. There are several theatres where you can watch productions featuring local writers, actors and directors. The Klein Libertas Theatre hosts frequent theatre productions as well as live music shows that have featured famous South African bands such as Die Antwood. Many of the shows focus on modern life in South Africa and are a great way to explore the country’s culture and history.

The area also has some great shopping opportunities if you wish to pick up some souvenirs from your South African holiday, or perhaps just sample some delicious fresh produce. On the weekends, there are numerous markets including the Slow Food Market, Root 44 Market and Blaauwklippen Family Market. As its name suggests, the Blaaauwklippen market is great for families, with a host of carnival-esque rides and activities, although everybody is welcome. Another popular hot spot is the De Warenmarkt, an expansive food market set in an 18th century building and featuring various restaurants, cafes and shops. Foodies in particular are sure to love sampling all that is available within the market.

For those that love gardens, a visit to Stellenbosch's Botanical Gardens will not disappoint. Smaller than the neighbouring Kirstenbosch, it is the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa and houses an enormous variety of plants - it's a great way to spend an hour if you have one to spare.

Of course, with so much to do and see, it's important not to forget perhaps the most important souvenir of all - a bottle (or two) of your favourite Pinotage or Chenin Blanc for you to enjoy and to remind you of your visit to gorgeous Stellenbosch!

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The happy faces of our last tour group in Stellenbosch


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