Next up on our great South African adventure, wine country! There is an airport near Kruger, so we caught a flight out to Cape Town, then made the drive up to Stellenbosch, a small university and wine town about forty-five minutes outside of the city.
Stellenbosch itself is charming, with oak-lined streets, tons of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes on every corner. But, beyond its cozy charm is a town with a history that hits at the heart of South Africa. Nestled in between two mountain ranges, with easy access to fresh water, the region was the perfect place for people to settle, including the Dutch, who claimed the space shortly after arriving and brought their Malay and African slaves with them. Huguenot refugees also settled in the region and brought winemaking with them when they fled France.
The town often built with thatched rooves, which was a pretty obvious fire hazard. More than once, slaves set fire to their master’s and/or abusers homes and managed to take out large swaths of the town. The result is a wide array of architectural styles on display. The variety of peoples who made Stellenbosch their home also means that the food, art, and language has a diasporic feel to it.
Pro Tip: The galleries and shops close earlier than you would expect. If you want to do some shopping, plan to make it a daytime activity and save your leisurely meals for dinner time.
South Africa is known for their wines for a reason. While the wine isn’t the only reason to make the trek away from Cape Town, it is a pretty darn good one. Many of the wine estates do have tasting rooms in town, however, I highly recommend visiting the estates, which tend to be old, magnificent houses that rest on the vineyards. The whole vibe is very historic chic and not to be missed.
We took a full day and hired a guide/driver to take us to four different wine estate in and around Stellenbosch and the neighboring Franschhoek, including:
Zorgvliet – Good solid reds.
Anthonij Rupert – Visit L’Onmanns. We had so much fun with the bubbles tasting and wound up getting a solid half case. Don’t be afraid of their pink sparkling. It is dry and delightful.
Haute Cabrière – Besides feeling like you are tasting on the set of the Hobbit, they have a delightful brandy that will give you a sweet kick in the pants.
Kanonkop – We were there for the pinotage (a varietal rarely found in the states) and it didn’t disappoint. We bought (and eventually lost) a half case of it, plus two bottles of 2013 after trying how the wine aged in ten years. If I can fight the urge to drink that bottle for five years, I’d be shocked. It was that good!
Pro Tip: Shipping your wine can be a tricky business (as we soon learned). Be sure to research how much you are allowed to bring back in your suitcase, and if you can ship home from the wineries before you buy (take it from a broken heart).
We gave ourselves about two days to explore Stellenbosch and the surrounding environs, and that was perfect. Outside of tasting, there are several historical walking tours of the area run through the local tourist bureau and other travel companies. Fortunately for the region, and unfortunately for us, it was pouring rain, so we skipped the walking tour. However, we did have a chance to visit the Village Museum, which is a little gem. The museum is a collection of four historic homes in Stellenbosch that have been restored. A guide is stationed at each home to answer any questions you may have about the town’s history and the objects within the home as you wander through.
Pro Tip: You should have your hotel call you a driver, or take an uber if you want to visit anywhere not within walking distance, as the cab system in South Africa is complex, involves hand signals, and not for the faint of heart.
And now, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the best meal in the world. You read that right. This sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you, it is not. Rust En Vrede is possibly some of the best fine dining I have ever experienced. And the wine pairings! I think both the chef and the som were embarrassed by how much we were gushing. But, if ever food and wine were worthy of deity level praise, this place is it.
To top it all off, the restaurant is situated in an old wine estate. The atmosphere alone just screams fabulous. From the host, that walks out to greet you to the little treat for the car that they give you when you leave. It is gorgeous. We did the six-course tasting menu with wine pairs and it was gluttony. I was in heaven. It took every ounce of strength in me not to abandon my manners and just start licking the plate.
Pro Tip: Make a reservation well in advance. Come hungry. Don’t rush. GET YOUR LIFE!