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Stellenbosch - Old-world charm and lively atmosphere

Framed by majestic mountains and vineyards, Stellenbosch boasts a relaxed small-town feel that revolves around wine culture. It also is a renowned university town, offering a perfect balance between old-world charm and lively youthful atmosphere.

South Africa is one of the most famous producers of New World wines and most of the production takes place in the Cape Provinces. When my boyfriend and I visited Cape Town, one of our top priorities was to experience the vineyards. As we wanted to combine estate charm with vibrant street life without having to worry about transport once there, we chose Stellenbosch, located about an hour drive from Cape Town. It is the oldest wine region in South Africa and also a renowned university town, and so it offers a perfect balance between old-world charm and lively youthful atmosphere. The wine culture runs in its blood and it is visible everywhere; in the picturesque vineyards surrounded by majestic mountains, wine tasting rooms, wine festivals and jolly atmosphere.

Twice Central Guesthouse

We stayed in Twice Central Guesthouse (7 Hamman St.), a small boutique guesthouse with only seven eclectically designed rooms. It is conveniently located about five minutes from the central hub by foot, down an affluent residential street. Although so central, Twice Central felt like miles away from all the hustle and bustle, and was a perfect little epicentre for our Stellenbosch mini break.

The room had modern fixtures, beautiful fabrics and plenty of room to store the luggage and keep it out of sight. Small details, such as toiletries from a luxurious South African brand Africology and new edition glossy interior design or cycling magazines made the space welcoming, and we couldn’t help having a little break chilling on the comfy bed reading.

The design-focused downstairs lounge and reception area feel simultaneously inviting and modern with chequered black and white floor, dark teal accent wall, big communal table and black chairs. The whole guesthouse is full of interesting pieces of art. Blush velvet sofas and travel and art books encourage guests to slow down and have a break. The lounge opens to a small garden with a mini pool and sun lounges. In the morning we were offered an individually cooked breakfast with artisanal bread, fruit salad, granola and coffee. There is no buffet, everything is individually served, and superb in taste and presentation.

Wine tours

The vineyards and the wine production is the heartbeat of the region. Even if you are not into wine, the elemental beauty of the wine country alone is worth a trek. The old Cape Dutch heritage houses give the region that old world elegance. Many of these are beautifully restored and their whitewashed walls really stood out against the mountain views.

Although it is possible to do wine tours independently by renting a car, we wanted to utilise a local company. While we lost spontaneity, this way we could enjoy the scenery without having to worry about the traffic or road safety, and more importantly, enjoy copious amounts of wine. We chose Vine Hopper Tours (Markt St.) as they were all about freedom once at the vineyards, offered a convenient hotel pick up and was for small groups only. They have three different routes to choose from and as I am not great with mountain roads, we were recommended their Eastern route. It was a perfect choice as the roads were wide and far from any steep cliffs. Our local driver knew an awful lot about the area, the wineries, even the grapes. So whilst we were cruising through the breathtaking views we had a pretty good insight into Stellenbosch and its wines.

Our tour included five vineyards in total; Lanzerac, Neil Ellis, Camberley, Zorgvliet and Boschendal. While they were all excellent, they all had their own unique characteristics; some felt more luxurious, some more laidback and some very intimate. The tasting consisted of choosing four to six wines to sample. As they are very generous with each glass, it is totally acceptable to share a tasting with your friend or partner if you plan to visit a few estates. Even experienced wine drinkers like ourselves were almost beaten towards the end. It’s good to point out that most vineyards close at 5pm so it is advisable to wake up early. We were lucky that we got on so well with the two other young couples on the tour. Although everyone is free to do whatever they want, we ended up sharing a table with them in each place, changing our travel stories while sipping excellent wines.

All five vineyards offered food, either more substantial plates, or deli items such as cheese and charcuterie to accompany the wines. We ate at Boschendal as it was the most eclectic, boasting an al fresco restaurant, deli as well as a cute coffee shop. My boyfriend galloped a hearty burger to balance the copious amounts of wine and I enjoyed some cooling cold soup with fresh bread. Boschendal is also famous for their picnic hampers and there is plenty of land to lay your blanket and sit under the trees. If we’d stayed in Stellenbosch longer, we most probably would have done that one day as it looked both romantic and fun.

Stellenbosch town

Although the vineyards are the prime magnet of the region, it is easy to kill a day or two exclusively in the genteel Stellenbosch town centre. We stayed two nights and even that was not enough. It has that quaint small town feel and the ambiance is very provincial with leafy avenues, intricate wrought iron balconies and colonial Dutch heritage.

Despite the size Stellenbosch has numerous little boutiques to peruse, cafes, ice cream parlours, galleries and a pulsating food scene. The mixture of people - students, tourists, wine connoisseurs, local families of all ages - makes the town feel sophisticated and laidback at the same time. What we really liked, especially after Cape Town, was that the pedestrian-friendly town felt safe - even late at night.


Stellenbosch has earned a reputation as a new gastronomic destination and so it has become a pilgrimage for foodies and wine connoisseurs. We didn’t do much research regarding eating out as there is no shortage of restaurants and outdoor terraces. In hindsight I would have liked to try one of the renowned restaurants on the fringes of the town, as these are regarded as some of the finest. But we were equally happy to meander around the town, enjoy its pulsating evening atmosphere and sample whatever we found. We were lucky to experience a wine festival, with lots of people gathered on the street, sipping wines provided by the local vineyards, enjoying street food and music. Somehow this represented exactly what I thought about this slice of South Africa; buzzing street life circling around wine, food and good time.

Although coffee would not be the main reason to travel to Stellenbosch, we always try to experience local caffeine hangouts. As in a typical university town, the coffee scene in Stellenbosch is vibrant with cafes dotted around the central core. Our accommodation offered a great filling breakfast, and so we skipped the morning treats but for afternoon pick-me-ups there were plenty to choose from. The almond croissants at Boschendal at Oude Bank (7 Church St) were superb, just on the right side of flaky and full of tasty almond paste; so good in fact that we had to order another naughty round. We also found Bootleggers (13 Ryneveld St) we knew well from Cape Town. I recommend stopping for their excellent flat whites, banana bread as well as fresh fruit and veg juices to energise whilst exploring the town.


Stellenbosch is an ode to nature. There is so much natural beauty, open spaces and great outdoor activities just steps from all the hustle and bustle. We did a little run down a nature trail with other joggers and cyclists, but you can also embark on hours-long hikes if you’ve got more time. If not, kick back in the green parks that seemed to be coveted places among students.

Nestled at the heart of the town, Stellenbosch University Botanical Gardens (Neethling St & Van Riebeeck St) are a celebration of nature around the town and beyond. With a small nominal entrance fee the relatively small yet compact gardens and glasshouses enable visitors to rest their mind and admire native and exotic plants. The three glasshouses on the site all have different themes; tropical, succulent and karoo plants, and you can expect to find interesting varieties such as cacti, bonsai trees and carnivorous plants. Our favourite was a beautiful waterlily bond. The access to the greenhouses is limited with a key which made them even more tranquil and intimate.

As much as I like Cape Town, it can feel a bit chaotic and depending on the time of the day, even a bit unsafe, and therefore Stellenbosch felt like a proper respite. I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone visiting Cape Town; to enjoy the bucolic scenery and stately charm but also pulsating street life, gastronomy and immense outdoor activities. We tried to stay longer but unfortunately were unable to cancel our accommodation in Cape Town. We found Stellenbosch as a pure indulgence and just wish we had had more time.