With beautiful scenery, plenty of sunshine, and internationally-renowned restaurants, it’s no wonder that Cape Town is such a popular destination for a luxurious, relaxing break. But perhaps nowhere embodies what’s on offer more than Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s premier wine-producing areas which is just a half hour drive from Cape Town. The natural beauty of the area is simply jaw-dropping and worth the trip alone, with a new mountain seemingly rising past every bend in the road and golden vines perched on slopes ripening in the sun.
Wine has been made here since Dutch settlers first established farms in the area in the seventeenth century and many vineyards are still centred around these original buildings. One of the oldest is Boschendal – founded in 1685 – where we spent a couple of nights in a luxurious, beautifully restored Werf cottage, with its own private terrace that looks out on to a small lake, woodland and a stunning mountain peak – a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening or to start the day with breakfast which you can have delivered right to your door. The rest of the farm is just as beautiful, with a deli, restaurant (also recently restored), and bakery from which you can buy gourmet picnic baskets to enjoy in the peaceful gardens. It really is an idyllic, relaxing place to stay.
Spectacular views, food, and wine are to be found everywhere in the Stellenbosch area and if you can combine all three, you’re on to a winner. One unmissable spot is Tokara, which has an outdoor terrace that looks down into the valley below and out across the country – our tip is to arrive an hour before your dinner reservation to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun goes down. On the Japanese-inspired menu you’ll find beautiful dishes to match the views and we particularly loved Ponzu-glazed line fish with avocado, braised lettuce, sushi rice, wasabi & spiced lemon emulsion.
Our first stop in Stellenbosch was actually the Spier Wine Estate, one of the closest to Cape Town and one of the largest producers. Here we explored the vegetable gardens, sampled the produce in the farm restaurant and tried many of the estate wines including the signature Pinotage (a variety created in South Africa).
With so many fantastic restaurants on offer, you’d need a few weeks to do it all justice but if you’re short on time, make sure you visit Terroirs, one of the restaurants that truly put the Cape Winelands on the culinary map since its opening in 2004. Located at the Kleine Zalze estate, it was here we found the best wine and food of the trip: confit pork belly; garden salad; and braised beef cheeks all stood out from the seasonal menu as did the stunning Kleine Salze Shiraz – so good that we immediately bought a few bottles to take home.
Stellenbosch itself is pretty university town and is well worth spending a morning exploring. If you do, check out Adventure Tours who do guided cycle rides around the town and to a couple of local vineyards. We had a great guide who told us all about the history of the town and then took us out to the Lanzerac Estate for a chocolate and wine tasting which we can highly recommend.
There are so many great wine estates and restaurants to visit (Babylonstoren and Jordan were other highlights) you could easily make Stellenbosch a dedicated trip in itself, though most will visit for a couple of days from Cape Town which makes for a nice escape from the city. Our recommendation is to stay for as long as you can but even if it’s just for a day, Stellenbosch should be an essential part of any South Africa itinerary.
Joel Porter is a London based food writer and PR. He is tweeting @joelwporter