Stellenbosch sticks to you like a burr. Unnoticed, it clings to you as you stroll along the quaint restaurant-lined streets, quietly taking residence in the part of your brain that hoards special places.
Perhaps it is because of the old Cape Dutch houses that beckon silently from across the leiwater channel, inviting you to explore their history. Perhaps it is the collection of charming stores, art galleries and restaurants that spill out onto the pavements. Perhaps it is the energy and vibrancy lent to the town by the endless stream of students. Perhaps it is simply the wine.
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that it is the people. I first noticed the genuine friendliness and approachability of those who dwell in Stellenbosch when we checked into the Stellenbosch Hotel. Sure, porters and receptionists are supposed to be friendly, but the staff who welcomed us exuded such warmth that made us feel as if we had arrived home after a long and tiring journey.
Situated in the heart of town, the 27-room three-star hotel occupies a building that dates back to 1701. Originally the home of a long-serving employee of the Dutch East India Company that was built on land granted by governor Simon van der Stel, the building was restored in 1987 and has been declared a national monument. The rooms, which are simply yet tastefully decorated, offer all the comforts of home. The walls in the room and corridor are splashed with bright Portchie prints – given that the artist now resides in Stellenbosch it is, perhaps, not surprising that his cheerful work pops up all over town.
The staff at the hotel’s Jan Cats Restaurant are equally attentive. While the fare is largely variations on the hamburger – not the best spot for vegetarians – the careful ministrations of the restaurant manager made it seem as if we were dining at a far more sophisticated establishment.
The Rivierbos Guesthouse, which is situated on the bank of the Eerste Rivier but is still within easy walking distance of the busy part of town, has a slightly more homely feel than the Stellenbosch Hotel. This may well be because it is, essentially, a large home which has been turned into a guesthouse. From the cosy communal lounge to the convivial but unobtrusive service, Rivierbos offers a comfortable home away from home.
Don’t be surprised, however, if you end up spending very little time at your temporary home. Once you are done with the wines farms, the art galleries, and the restaurants, there will be little left to do but sleep.
Next time you are in Stellenbosch be sure to check out…
The Stellenbosch Fresh Goods Market: Open every Saturday from 9am to 2pm at Oude Libertas, the Stellenbosch market offers everything from jewellery to picture frames to champagne. And, of course, food. Lots of it! In fact, if you have a craving for something – anything – you will probably find it here. Busy, but not particularly overcrowded, the market is best enjoyed at leisure. Whatever you do, don’t overlook the fresh waffles topped with cherries and cream – for R35, the cost:joy ratio is hard to beat.
Apprentice Restaurant: As the name suggests, this elegant restaurant is filled with apprentices. However, these are not just any old apprentices – they are secondyear students from the Institute of Culinary Arts who spend a portion of their training working in the restaurant. And the training’s not exactly simple. With starters such as beetroot tart with dukkah goats’ cheese and honeycomb crumble or ostrich ravioli with apricot and sherry jus, the menu will have even the most seasoned foodie salivating. The service is fantastic, the food delicious and, for what you are getting, the prices reasonable.