Twenty years ago, we crossed this region in short-haul, but this time the wine region was an important reason for traveling to South Africa. We stayed the first five nights of our trip in Stellenbosch. From here we visited Cape Town (read more about this in the post over here) and, of course, the Cape Winelands were explored extensively.
Stellenbosch is a cozy university town and the center of the wine region. White Cape homes, ancient trees, cozy restaurants and cafés make Stellenbosch the perfect place to store your tent for a few days.
In the past there have been three big fires, destroying large parts of the city. However, many buildings were rebuilt in the original style.
Hotels in Stellenbosch
We stayed at Wedgeview Country House & Spa. The hotel is located just outside Stellenbosch in the middle of the vineyards. The rooms are huge, beautifully decorated and the beds are comfortable. The bathrooms are pearls. For families with children there are connecting rooms. The hotel owner, and some employees, are Dutch. In the beautifully landscaped garden you will find a swimming pool with comfortable sunbeds where you can sleep off your hangover after tasting too many wines. Breakfast consists of an extensive buffet with your omelette, French toast or full English Breakfast prepared on request. Even during lunch you can go here, but for dinner you must book in advance.
We arrived at the hotel very late in the evening and were welcomed with a delicious cheese and charcuterie dish and freshly baked bread. Just what we needed after such a long trip.
If you prefer to stay in a larger hotel, Asara Wine Estate is highly recommended. My father-in-law stayed there recently and was really enthusiastic. Here you can go for dinner every evening and that is absolutely an advantage. Although South Africa is a safe holiday destination, it is not so wise to drive in the dark.
Restaurants in Stellenbosch
As we never knew in advance what time we were in the hotel, we could not have dinner. We were therefore forced to search for it outside the door. Luckily we discovered across the hotel Restaurant Skilpadvlei. The hotel takes its name from the giant colony of turtles that housed here in the 19th century. Nowadays it is a wine estate and olive grove. They rent cottages with one, two and three bedrooms, and they also rent three rooms in the B & B. The accompanying restaurant is very cozy and serves a fair and tasty cuisine. Skildpadvlei has grown into one of the most popular child-friendly destinations in recent years. The ribs are absolutely recommended and our children are still dreaming of the banana milkshake.
In the center of Stellenbosch there are plenty of restaurants, but most are quite noisy. If you want a tasty burger, you must be at Hudsons, The Burgerjoint. They have an extensive menu and if you still can’t find it, just put your own burger together.
In the afternoon you have to take part in a boerebraai, a South African BBQ. We did that at Wine Estate Middelvlei. My mouth still waters when I think of the braai bread (bread baked on the BBQ) with homemade pate and the pumpkin fries of Ouma Annie. For the children there is a custom menu and after dinner they can make their own marshmallows. Wooden picnic tables and red parasols provide a relaxed atmosphere. The children run around in the garden, hug the dogs or play in the sandbox. Middelvlei is an address that makes everyone happy.
What to do in Stellenbosch?
At the tourist office at Market Street you can get the brochure 'Stellenbosch on Foot'. There you will find a route along all the sights.
Some important sights are:
- Oom Samie se Winkel: this old-fashioned village shop has been in this beautifully restored Victorian building since 1904. The first owner was called Samie. The store sells all kinds of prularia. Take a biltong bag with you. The South Africans love this dried meat.
- The Burgher House from 1797.
- The VOC Kruithuis was built by the VOC in 1777 and is now a small military museum.
- Dorpstreet is the main street (where Oom Samie's shop is also located). The houses have beautiful façades and the road is bordered by ancient oak trees.
- Village museum: The museum consists of four restored houses. In the oldest house you can see how the early settlers lived. In one of the other houses you see how the rich 'burghers' lived in the mid-19th century.
- Slave houses: built in 1834 for the housekeepers.
A great trip for young and old: driving a segway through the vineyards. Our children have been dreaming of a segway tour for years. During the past two years I searched the internet to see if we could arrange such a thing during our holidays. The problem was that the kids were still too young or too light (what European 10-year-old weighs 45 kg?). However, this time we got lucky. At Spier Wine Estate they offer several round trips and for the shortest tour (1 hour) you only have to be 10 years old. Of course, you also had to weigh 45 kg. Our youngest son is 10, but does not weigh 45 kg. So I informed the organization if it really was a must. Fortunately, that proved to be no problem. He had to show beforehand whether he was handy enough and that was of course no point. Grandma needed some more exercise before we could get along.
We went with a guide to the vineyards, stopped at a few photogenic places and passed a chicken farm. Here they still know what "free range" means.
So whether you are traveling with or without children, a ride with a segway is highly recommended.
Spier Wine Estate also makes a delicious wine that you can taste in the degustation room. For children they have a grape juice tasting. Young learned was done old! They also have a luxury hotel, a good restaurant and a nice shop. You can order a picnic or visit the bird sanctuary. Horse lovers can explore the fields on the back of a horse.
If you are in this region, a wine tasting is of course a must. In South Africa, wine producers are not châteaux, but wine estates. At most wineries you have to make an appointment in advance. The estates where you make an appointment for a tour often do not count on the tasting. Please note that many Estates are closed on Sundays.
My husband has been drinking De Toren for years, so we organized a tour. It was fantastic. We were given a tour of almost two hours. First through the vineyards, afterwards they showed us the whole production process and eventually we had to taste it. They produce great wines over here.
Below are some other estates available for tasting:
- Waterford Wine Estate (here you can also taste chocolate)
- Glenelly Wine Estate
If you travel with children and still want to go winetasting, I can recommend one of these estates:
- Peter Falke (the man of the socks). Open till 19:00 while most other estates close at 16 or 17h.
- Warwick: Great tour and possibility to picnic.
- Saxenburg: There are also wild animals and they also have a terrace with free WIFI. Drop your kids with the Ipad on the terrace while enjoying a wine.
- Tokara: Top wine and child friendly.
You want to taste something else? Then a visit to Van Ryn's Brandewijn is a good alternative. Here they produce brandy since 1845. During the tour you will learn everything about the production process and of course a tasting is included. They combine the brandy tasting here with handmade Belgian chocolate and Brazilian coffee. You can also see how to make wooden barrels.
No idea how to plan it all in advance? Then I will give you an example of a perfectly planned day in Stellenbosch:
- 10.30 - Spier Wine Estate for a Segway tour. If you are an early bird, you can go somewhere before and taste a wine. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! In addition, you are more relaxed on the segway.
- 12.30 - Middelvlei Wine Estate for the Boerebraai. Delicious lunch with a nice glass again.
- 15:00 - De Toren for a great tour with, guess what, another glass of wine.
- Get back to your hotel to unwind and get ready for a delicious dinner, with a glass to flush through the day.
Stellenbosch is not big. To give you an idea: all estates we visited were in a radius of up to 10 km around our hotel.
About 30 km past Stellenbosch, you arrive in Franschhoek. At the end of the 17th century, the VOC allowed some French hugs families to settle here. These French roots are still noticeable in names like Haute Cabrière and Malherbe. You also notice the French influence in the restaurants. Here they serve typical provencal dishes and escargots.
Stroll through the cozy town, swoop in the nice shops and enjoy a terrace. At the center, at Huguenot Road, you can book tickets for the Franschhoek Wine Tram. This tram makes a trip through the vineyards and regularly stops for a tasting.
If you would rather visit some estates on your own, then I would recommend the following:
- Boschendal: Historic estate with several restaurants and a museum. Here you can also arrange a picnic basket.
- Haut Cabrière: One of the best South African wines.
- Leopard's Leap: Very fun for kids.
- Babylon Tower: Also has a great hotel and restaurant.
We bought this hilarious souvenir in one of the little shops (unfortunately it's only funny if you speak Dutch).
If you can not get enough of this region, you can also go to Paarl. Near the main street you will find Wijnhuis Laborie where they produce Vonkelwijn (South African champagne).
The vineyards in Paarl account for 20% of total South African wine production. You can follow the Paarlwineroute here. Most estates along this route can be visited without appointment. If you have a particular winery on your wish list, check their website before your departure.
Some toppers from this region are:
- Nederburg: Famous for its annual wine auction.
- Fairview: The goats that live here can climb the tower via a spiral staircase. They also sell delicious goat cheese.
- Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons: A collaboration with the French Rotschilds guarantees top wines.
After this overdose of alcohol, there is a good ride of about 450 km on the program. The next stop is Oudtshoorn, the ostrich city. More about that in the next blog post.
Do you want to read about South African wines? Here are some suggestions: