Home to countless stunning wineries offering much more than a few tasty tipples, Stellenbosch deserves a closer look as a standalone destination. Known as the City of Oaks, the historic university town is home to some 150 wine farms; is packed with a dizzying variety of superb restaurants; offers visitors plenty of nature and outdoor activities; and features an impressive assortment of art galleries, local crafts shops and boutique stores. If we’ve sold you on adding an extended detour in Stellenbosch to your Cape Town trip, we’ve done some of the more difficult work for you. These are our top picks for a foodie getaway to Stellenbosch.
WHERE TO STAY
Evergreen Manor & Spa – a wonderfully charming base for exploring the Winelands
For a trip to Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa, Evergreen Manor & Spa has it all. In the heart of the quaint town – it’s a stone’s throw from the bustle of downtown Stellenbosch and you’re spoilt for restaurant and sidewalk café options – check. Surrounded by whitewashed Cape Dutch-style houses lining the narrow, oak-shaded streets – check. Beautiful, comfortable, functional bedrooms – they’re equipped with antique furniture, huge beds, Victorian-style bathrooms and thick brocade curtains that block the morning sun – check. The only thing this haven doesn’t have is the Winelands’ surplus of crowds. To stay at Evergreen Manor & Spa, a member of Cape Country Routes, is to step back in time. The small and intimate hotel has every element of an elegant country house – interiors effortlessly blend the spirit of history with modern touches – but manages to never feel stuffy or unapproachable. One of the most spectacular features of the hotel are the quiet gardens. They’re especially beautiful in autumn, when the air is crisper and the trees are turning brilliant shades of bright yellow, orange and red. All rooms – where you’ll experience the sleep of the pure – are easy to navigate and are decorated in the same country-chic style as the common spaces, with upholstered cushy armchairs and the deepest of bathtubs. There’s complimentary plunger coffee and rooibos tea on offer in all rooms, while a full English breakfast that offers fruits, pastries and more is included. Walk out of the front gates and you’ll find yourself on the postcard-pretty streets. For dinner, you can stroll into nearby restaurants that surround the hotel (like The Fat Butcher or Eike by Bertus Basson) or drive a bit farther afield to wine estates with award-winning restaurants. A handful of friendly staff are on hand to provide swift assistance around the clock. And while you’ll certainly be taken care of, you won’t be bothered, which is refreshing.
11 Murray Street, Stellenbosch
021 886 6947
WHERE TO EAT
Lunch views of never-ending vineyards at Guardian Peak Winery & Grill
The Stellenbosch Wine Route is jam-packed with delicious places to eat, but even to jaded frequent visitors, Guardian Peak Winery & Grill remains a complete happy surprise. This is quietly one of the best restaurants in the area – and proof that not all great cooking happens in a hushed room with linen tablecloths and waiters in waistcoats. Tucked into the hills below the imposing Helderberg Mountain, the restaurant provides spectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains to go with lunch on the terrace. Floor-to-ceiling windows further enhance the view. But the main event here is the food, of course. Steak is a specialty, but we suggest kicking off with tasty little morsels of quick-fried salt and pepper squid served with zingy lemon aioli. Strong flavours are everywhere, from chicken breast marinated in harissa paste to roasted aubergine with a warm chickpea and feta salad and tomato ragù. For lunch, we recommend the Chalmar beef fillet with garlic and herb butter, perfectly cooked on the grill and served with a green salad and chips. The Thai fish curry – tender, flaky white fish and seasonal veggies bathed in the most fragrant coconut curry sauce infused with lemongrass and lime – provides a startling gastronomic venture. Don’t skip on pudding either … dark chocolate fondant and hazelnut ice cream or Amarula panna cotta with caramel sauce and honeycomb are dishes we’d order again. Featuring Afrikaans, Cirrus, Donkiesbaai and Stellenbosch Reserve wines, the local wine list is excellent and, delightfully, so are prices. Once pudding is done, there are a series of cosy nooks to settle into with another bottle of our favourite Guardian Peak Sauvignon Blanc. On the nose, expect pungent aromas ranging from ripe tropical fruit to fresh gooseberry. On the palate, it’s light-bodied with racy acidity. The Stellenbosch Reserve Hangbrug Chenin Blanc is a touch sweeter than expected, but stands up beautifully to the bold flavours of the food.
Annandale Road, Stellenbosch
021 881 3899
Relaxed fine dining at its South African best at Rust en Vrede Restaurant
The verdant valleys and rolling vineyards make Rust en Vrede Wine Estate a paradise worth exploring. Throw in vistas filled with a vast green lawn surrounded by soft shell-pink, sky blue and pale mauve-lilac hydrangeas, and you have yourself one seriously photogenic destination. As summer rolls out its sunniest days, there’s nowhere better to be. At Rust en Vrede Restaurant, a wine and culinary gem open for dinner only from Tuesday to Saturday, head chef Fabio Daniel has made a name for himself with his approachable cooking style and six-course tasting menu. Arrive at sunset for a well-chilled glass of Perrier-Jouët champagne on the front porch that’s seemingly built on a foundation of flowers. Then, wander up to the glamorous restaurant to dine on dishes that are expertly executed, but not in the least bit pretentious. Including the amuse-bouche, bread course and tempting treats to pair with after-dinner coffee, you’ll be eating nine manageable courses that change seasonally, with some variations for vegetarians, pescatarians or food allergies. The main themes of the menu here are light, raw seafood and heartier meat dishes: Fish of the day prepared tataki style is served with radish and silky-smooth whipped avocado, while perfectly pink local beef is paired with cassava and nutty, purple-tinged artichokes. Peas and bacon complement a standout dish of deep-fried, sunshine-yellow sous vide egg yolk. Desserts, far from an afterthought, highlight chocolate and remarkable local fruit. The artfully arranged ‘Snow White’ dessert – with white chocolate, raspberry and litchi – looks like a little sculpture and tastes like heaven. The service, which runs like a well-oiled machine, is as excellent as the food. Servers are warm, discreet, efficient and well-versed in the menu and wine-pairing option. One thing’s for sure – a meal at Rust en Vrede Restaurant isn’t easily forgotten. We recommend booking a few weeks ahead to avoid disappointment.
Annandale Road, Stellenbosch
021 881 3881