It was Simon van der Stel who was the first settler to spot the opportunities offered by the lush area between the two branches of the Eerste Rivier for the Cape colony, setting up camp here while on a tour of inspection in 1679.The fertile valley was soon settled on by farmers who planted the region’s first vines a few short years later.
Three hundred odd years on, the valley boasts more private cellars than any other Western Cape region (with over 100 open to the public) and the country’s oldest wine route. But there’s more to Stellenbosch than wineries. This leafy student town is home to some of the country’s top restaurants and award-winning producers. Here’s our bucket list of things to sip, munch and stock up on during a gourmet holiday in Stellies.
1. Dine at an Eat Out Top 10 restaurant
No.3 Rust en Vrede (closed from 8 June to 9 July), No. 6 Jordan Restaurant and No.7 Overture (closed from 25 August to 10 September) are all located in this neck of the woods. Make the most of your visit with one really special meal. (See the rest of the 2013 Top 10 here.)
2. Visit a food market
Head to the Stellenbosch Slowmarket on Saturdays for a bustling market offering everything from stroopwaffels to free-range chicken. (That’s where we held our 2014 Eat Out Produce Awards.) Part of the international Slow Food movement, the producers featured at the market are dedicated to organic, seasonal, ethical production. On Sundays, the Blaauklippen Family Market features a diverse range of prepared foods like Greek confectionery, fresh pastries, Lebanese, Indian and Mexican foods, and of course, Blaauwklippen bubbly. For a treat that’s open on both Saturday and Sunday, head to Root 44, an upmarket family-friendly market that sells delicious food (from sushi to boeries), craft beer and fresh flowers.
3. Buy bread from an award-winning baker
Fritz Schoon of Schoon De Companje took home the 2012 Eat Out Produce Award for his insanely good ciabatta, sourdough bread (sprinkled with chocolate or cinnamon), rye and breadsticks. While you’re there, shop for wine, artisan ice cream and charcuterie.
4. Eat at the winner of our best country-style restaurant
For traditional South African, no-fuss, delicious dining, make a booking at Towerbosch on the Knorhoek Wine Farm. Meat is finished on an open braai and brought to the table on heaped platters. Melt-in-the-mouth lamb and sirloin vie for attention with roast potatoes, cinnamon butternut and French beans. Desserts are traditional and yummy: think malva pudding, rose geranium milk jelly or cheesecake. It’s no-frills fare, but you’re guaranteed freshness and a good dose of nostalgia.
5. Hit the wine route
Representing over 200 wine and grape producers, Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes are a huge draw card for the winelands. Keep up to date with the area’s events or do a tour (there’s even a bicycle tour).
6. Have a brandewyn en coke
Top wine farms may be the cultured place to be seen, but for a true feeling of the town, join the lively scene at bars like Die Mystic Boer, Bohemia and The Thirsty Scarecrow and sip the unofficial beverage of the Maties student.
7. Grab some pub grub
While you’re hanging out with the youngsters, why not sample the best youth-pleasing pizzas and burgers the village has to offer? Après Bistro and Pizzeria is a more refined student hangout with delicious pub-fare;SGT. Pepper‘s Tant Doori pizza with peri-peri chicken is a must; 5 Ryneveld has the most elaborate burger menu in town; and Basic Bistro specialises in huge gourmet burgers drenched in creative sauces (pray that the tequila burger is on the blackboard menu).
8. Go on a gourmet picnic at a wine estate (in warmer months)
Eight at Spier, Hazendal (closed from 23 June until 23 July), Longridge (closed from 22 July until 22 August) and Warwick (from September) all offer gourmet picnics in leafy vineyards and on grassy riverbanks during summer months, and Waterford offers one year-round. Hillcrest Berry Orchards also offer picnics for groups of 8 or more (from November only).
9. Try South Africa’s national wine varietal
Created in 1924 when a Stellenbosch University professor crossed hermitage with pinot noir, pinotage is a robust deep red wine with smoky flavours. Beyers Truter was the first to claim international recognition for the grape, winning the International Winemaker of the Year in 1991 with the varietal. Head to Truter’s farm, Beyerskloof, to try the varietal in every form, from the lovely liquid to the legendary pinotage burger (dripping with saucy onions cooked in pinotage), and even pinotage ice cream served with baked cheesecake.
10. Stock up on cheese at the Simonsberg factory shop
Yes, you heard right: it’s a factory shop for cheese. A wide range of delicious and affordably priced cheeses makes this a must for anyone planning a picnic or dinner party.
11. Taste traditional African cuisine
Situated in Khayamandi township just outside the town, Amazink Live is part theatre, part restaurant, part township tourism. Watch the musical production while you tuck into braaivleis, boerewors and bunny chow.
12. Go on a deli-crawl
Stellenbosch locals are spoilt for choice with top quality delis. At Wild Peacock, you can pick up everything from truffle oil and quail eggs to Valrhona couverture. Pop into Joostenberg Deli for organic free-range meat and eggs, speciality cheese and killer pork pies; and Oom Samie se Winkel, an old-style trading store, has some interesting preserves and a good spice selection. The Stellenbosch branch of Melissa’s next door should be on your hit-list too.
13. Sample roosterkoek
With an entire menu constructed out of the yeasty, braaied breads, De Stomme Jonge is the perfect place to try the traditional Afrikaans bread. They’re baked fresh twice a day on a shining red braai on the restaurant’s stoep.
14. Spend a whole day at a single wine farm
Home to the restaurant Eight at Spier, art events, a bird of prey centre, a spa and a hotel, Spier is more than just a winery. You can also enjoy a picnic beside the dam, tour the vineyard on a segway (yes, a segway), or take one of the planned walks (one of which has a soundtrack, written by playwright Brett Bailey). Don’t miss their annual Spier Secret Festival, a weekend event with food, wine and art presentations, workshops and tastings.
15. Do a wine and dessert pairing
Kill two vices with one stone at Waterford Estate, which offers a tasting of dark and milk chocolates paired with the winery’s shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and natural sweet wines. Lourensford Wine Estate also pairs handmade 60% cocoa chocolate with their wine, and Uitkyk does a wine and pancakes tasting on the last Saturday of every month from May to August. (Booking is essential for all.)
16. Pick your own berries
Pick your own strawberries in summer at Mooiberge farm on the R44 and refuel at the farm’s restaurant, The Farmer’s Kitchen afterwards. If you’re after youngberries, blackberries, cherries, English gooseberries, cranberries and plumcot, then head to the Hillcrest Berry Orchard farm stall where all these and more are on sale.
17. Do a brandy and chocolate tasting
Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery offers brandy, coffee and chocolate pairings (12, 15 and 20 year-old reserves with Belgian chocolates and single plantation Honduran coffee) and brandy and florentine pairings.
19. Train as a chef or winemaker
What better setting to train in all things foodie than Stellies. Top cooking school The Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) offers 18-month to three-year diplomas, while the Elsenburg Agricultural College offers courses in Viticulture.
20. Have a feast at breakfast
If you’re after a quieter morning, take your special someone to Café Crème, a French-style café in Ryneveld Street, for divine French toast with crispy bacon. Cyclers and outdoorsy types love to stop at the Postcard Café (closed from 29 june to 22 July) in Jonkershoek for a healthy (or hearty) breakfast on the riverbank. Have a glass of bubbly with brunch at Tokara Delicatessen overlooking the ever-changing and ever-beautiful vineyards.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picnicking at Spier. You can sit around the lake or meander down the banks of the Eerste River. Choose your picnic box online or visit the takeaway picnic deli Eight to Go. Online you have the following choices: gourmet picnic (R298 a couple), relaxed picnic (R220 a couple), raw picnic (R320 a couple), vegetarian picnic (R270 a couple), heritage picnic (R300 a couple) and a kids picnic (R70 a child). At Eight to Go, situated close to the tasting room, you can fill your basket with fresh breads and sandwiches, roast chicken and much more as you make your way through the deli. Spier is spacious and comfortable and you can choose to take a seat at the picnic benches or lounge on the lawns. Picnic bookings must be made two days in advance.
Contact: Tel 021-809-1153 or visit www.spier.co.za
For Cape specialties with a German touch, try the ‘picnic barrel platters’ at Blaauwklippen. In addition to pâtés and cheeses, the standard option includes a selection of cold meats, wienerwurst, oriental spring rolls, chicken samoosa and berry cheesecakes (R165 or R210 a person including a bottle of Landau Red, White or Rosé and a bottle of Aqua-Bella water per couple). The ‘exclusive’ option also includes delicacies like homemade melba toast, fried haloumi, pastrami and traditional pickled fish (R200 or R245 a person with wine and water). Kids can enjoy toffee apples, yoghurt, chocolate chip cookies and fruit skewers at R55 a person.
Contact: Tel 021-880-8222 or visit www.blaauwklippen.com
At Zorgvliet, you can create your own basket at the deli, or order the ‘Banhoek basket’ which includes sandwich ham and roast beef, blue cheese and cheddar with figs, olives and biscuits, salads, a beef, chicken or vegetarian wrap and something sweet (R395 a couple including wine). Grab a family basket with two salads, a whole roasted chicken, four baguettes and flavoured cream cheese (R375 including wine). A special occasion? Upgrade to the Silver Myn basket where the cold meats include parma ham, salami, pancetta and smoked chicken, and a selection of gourmet cheeses (R485 a couple including wine). For children there’s a jungle gym and a choice of two R55 or R65 picnics, one with a cheddar and ham roll and muffin, the other with a chicken burger and brownie (plus sweets, chips and a ‘squirrel’s beverage’).
Contact: Tel 021-885-1399 or visit www.zorgvliet.co.za
Long known for its unpretentious hospitality, Hartenberg offers a country picnic hamper packed to the brim with Eleanor’s snoek pate, beetroot and cumin pate, homemade lamb and pork terrine, tomato and basil salad, potato salad, chicken and thyme tart, farm bread, rosemary foccacia, cheeses and a chocolate brownie. (R145pp including juice or a half bottle of wine!). Focusing on sustainability, the ingredients are sourced locally and the picnic containers are made of biodegradable materials. Enjoy it on the lawns, or take it with you along the estate’s popular wetland walk.
Contact: Tel (021) 865-2541 or visit www.hartenbergestate.com
Warwick is the first estate in Stellenbosch to open 365 days of the year, where you can picnic and go on a ‘Big 5 Wine Safari’ (a guided 4×4 tour through the vineyards for R50 a person, R85 a person with wine tasting, free for children under 12). You can sit on the lawns spilling out onto the dam, where you can relax under umbrellas on scatter cushions and beanbags while being served by your own picnic butler; in ‘The Forest Courtyard’ a gravelled area with tables and chairs adjacent to the water feature and a jungle gym; or in ‘The Pods’, designer-rustic wooden shelters flanking the dam. Served in zero-carbon-footprint packaging, acclaimed chef Bruce Robertson’s menus change regularly but the promise is “to satisfy the most discerning palate and most sophisticated gourmand” (R299 for two, R49 for the kiddies’ picnic).
Contact: Tel 021-884-4410 or visit www.warwickwine.com
Hermitage restaurant at Hazendal offers a picnic (R130pp, R35 per child) comprising homemade bread, chicken liver paté, spinach and feta quiche, Greek salad with fresh homemade rolls, crispy chicken pieces, sliced ham, cheese and biscuits, chocolate brownies and fresh fruit salad. On Sunday afternoons you can also enjoy live music/theatre in the Plaasteater.
Contact: Tel (021) 903-5034 or visit www.hazendal.co.za
Morgenhof offers two meat picnics as well as a vegetarian option, all include a Greek salad, potato and spring onion salad, ciabatta, vanilla cupcakes and a selection of cheeses (R150 a person). Kiddies get a choice of a hot dog, beef burger or chicken strips with potato wedges, a juice and vanilla cupcake (R60 a person) Bring your own blanket and sit anywhere on the beautiful lawns.
Contact: Tel 021-889-2024. www.morgenhof.co.za.
Remhoogte’s picnic basket (R250 for two adults sharing) contains french bread, a tub of olives and pickles, platter of cold meats and salads, cheese platter, a dessert and a bottle of wine (Remhoogte Chenin Blanc or Aigle Noir Red Blend). Enjoy while watching zebra, wildebeest and springbok graze metres away against a breathtaking Simonsberg, Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountain backdrop.
Contact: Tel (021) 889-5005 or visit www.remhoogte.co.za.
Now also home to a lion park, this estate has huge gardens dotted with gazebos and benches and there are many shady spots for spreading your own picnic blanket. Hudson’s restaurant offers deluxe picnic baskets containing a selection of cold meats and salads, fresh bread, a platter of cheeses, biscuits and preserves, fresh fruit and homemade muffins (R280 for two people). Bunny buckets for small children include a hot dog, cheese, crisps, juice and sweets (R48 a child).
Contact: Tel 021-881-3590 or visit www.visithudsons.co.za, www.vredenheim.co.za.
On tree-shaded lawns sloping down to the lake, enjoy freshly baked French loaf with snoek pate and chicken liver pate, rare roast beef sirloin with homemade mustard, grilled chicken fillet with a sweet chilli sauce, garden greens and baby tomatoes, potato salad, homemade spinach and feta quiche, selection of cheeses, biscuits and preserves, mini milk tart, koeksister and fresh fruit (R290 per basket for two; R390 for Halaal). The kids’ basket includes a chicken drumstick and cheese roll, chips, lollipop and fruit juice (R60 a child). You can also pre-book a choice of two braai baskets with the standard garlic bread, Greek salad, potato, chive and bacon salad, boerewors, a selection of cheeses, biscuits and preserves, mini milk tarts, koeksisters, fresh fruit and different meats depending on the basket (R290 or R360 for two; Halaal R450 or R475 for two; minimum two baskets to be ordered, wood, firelighters and grid provided). Order to be made 72 hours in advance.
Contact: Tel 021-900-5700 or visit www.zevenwacht.co.za