Beyond the Vines, Things to Do in Stellenbosch
Featured destinations: South Africa
Published 24 June 2016
Stellenbosch was first settled in 1679, making it the second oldest town in South Africa. Situated about 50 kilometers outside Cape Town along the banks of the Eerste River, the town became fondly known as the City of Oaks, due to the large number of oak trees that grace the streets and homesteads.
Today Stellenbosch is synonymous with Cape Dutch buildings, a fine university and arguably the best of South Africa’s wine farms, with over 200 producers in the valley. Many offer tastings and tours; some have restaurants and picnic tables, accommodation, amphitheaters and even wildlife experiences.
This vibrant town has established an array of attractions that extend beyond the delicious art of food and wine appreciation. These are some that I recommend.
Walking Tours of Stellenbosch
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 countries oldest houses, dating back to the 1700s and reflecting the distinct Cape Dutch architectural style through the years. Note that the guide needs to be pre-booked.
Alternately you could opt for a Bites and Sites Food Tour with Hanli Fourie who’s tours explore the culinary history and culture of South African cuisines from Afrikaans to Cape Malay and Xhosa, with engaging conversations as you stop to eat in numerous homes along the way.
Museum Hop, whatever the interest
Start 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.
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 Africa artists such as Irma Stern, JH Pierneef, Willem Strydom and more.
Whilst seeking out the Arts
One of the things adding character to the streets of Stellenbosch is the high density of public art pieces. Curated by the non-profit Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, who are turning this charming town into an art focused destination. 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.
Take to the Side Street Café Living
One thing that will strike you as you walk or drive through the town 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.
Two must stop spots for coffee, pastry and breakfast are the M Patisserie on Andringa Street and the
Oude Bank Bakery 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.
Take a Tour of Kayamandi, the local township
It’s important to look beyond the town center and visit Kayamandi for a cultural experience with the community guide offering a whole new perspective to the area. Enjoy a walk about; drink in the vibrant atmosphere of the day, stop to meet a 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 the guide Thembi and Mama Swartbooi will bring them and the history of this area, to life. This can be arranged through the Tourism office.
Eat, drink and shop at the weekend Markets
The draw to local markets is ever on the increase and Stellenbosch certainly do this well. 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.
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.
Cycle the Land
The Adventureshop offer bicycle tours that combine the beautiful scenery and sites of historic Stellenbosch with some excellent wine tastings and some 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 chocolate pairing.
With all this on offer, you may consider basing yourself in Stellenbosch and heading in a new direction each day. It’s quieter than Cape Town and the old world charm will add a different dimension to a return visitor’s Western Cape experience.
Explore Stellenbosch on our Garden Route & Safari Journey.
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