I picked up a flyer while I was waiting at a counter. It said Keep calm and drink wine. Personally, I think the whole keep calm trend is overrated and outdated but I do like wine and after all, wine is one of the things to do in Stellenbosch.
Wine tasting or going to university are Stellenbosch’s main attraction, sometimes it is a combination of both. Mind you, I also have family there and just a deep appreciation for this little historic town in the Winelands. Stellenbosch has been overrun by tourists and chain restaurants in recent years but that doesn’t really diminish its charm. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Stellenbosch.
Things to do in Stellenbosch
Take a walk down memory lane
What to do in Stellenbosch first? Start with a walk through the historic town center. Start at Dorp Street and just explore the little side streets lined with cute shops and galleries. Stellenbosch is proudly showing its heritage as the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. Cape Dutch houses, tree-lined streets, and unbeatable mountain views all around – Stellenbosch is pretty picture perfect.
Have a boozy lunch at Babylonstoren
Stellenbosch is perfect for a mini, romantic mid-week getaway (it tends to get quite busy on the weekends) and to check how much wine one can sample drink in 24 hours. Start your trip at one of my favorite Stellenbosch wine farms and great summer day’s lunch option: Babylonstoren.
Here you dine color-coordinated in their beautiful restaurant, Babel, before taking a stroll in their infamous gardens.
Wine tasting in Stellenbosch
As we enjoyed our wine pairings we decided to go for wine tasting as well and I was pleasantly surprised by the setup. Usually, wine tasting is done either outside – often too hot because Stellenbosch gets toasty – or in a cellar where you see none of the surrounding glory that is the Winelands.
Babylonstoren combines the best of both worlds – you sit in a climatized glasshouse with a mountain view.
While I think their bubbly was overpriced we both loved the rose and the viognier and took a few bottles for the road.
From one glorious place to the next move on to Spier, one of the oldest wine farms in Stellenbosch and of the Western Cape.
Wine & Chocolate Tasting at Spier
Next to regular wine tasting, Spier also offers a wine and chocolate pairing which is meant to bring out the best in both sinful worlds – the wine and the chocolate. While I am usually not a chocolate fan this quickly became one of my favorite things to do in Stellenbosch.
Spier has their own chocolatier who came up with perfect combinations to go with their wines. You start with two reds accompanied by a slab of malted dark chocolate.
From red, you move on to white and rose – the intensity of the chocolates dictates the order you drink. White was combined with white chocolate infused with star anise and passionfruit and the roses with a fiery white chocolate with pepper. For the first time in my life, I preferred chocolate over wine and I am not ashamed to admit that I bought a whole lot and ate most of it in record time.
Where to sleep in Stellenbosch
In my eyes, Stellenbosch has two suitable options when it comes to sleeping. And one, you may have guessed, involves a family member of mine. Unlike all the other times when I tell you great things, I do with my family in South Africa only to crush you and say “sorry, but you cannot just come to my cousin’s deck and hang out with Archie the bulldog” this time is different. My aunt and uncle live in a beautiful historic house on Dorp Street (the main road in Stellenbosch) and have turned some of their rooms into an Airbnb. So while there is plenty of guest houses in Stellenbosch I would highly recommend you stay here.
I might be biased but they are lovely as is their house and the very enchanted garden. Also, my aunt makes mean breakfast eggs, is full of stories and has just taken in three kittens which makes the whole experience even better in my books.
If you want all the bells and whistles of a hotel, I can recommend Majeka House, the best Stellenbosch hotel there is especially if you are a design lover.
Majeka House is option number two if you are looking for a great place to stay in Stellenbosch. Just a few kilometers away from the center you are greeted by green and a whole lot of Majorelle Blue. Yves Saint Laurent has inspired the outside area while the inside is dominated by pigs. Gold pigs, ceramic pigs, big pigs and small pigs – it is obvious what the owner’s favorite animal is.
The bed is cloud-like and moved to the top of my ‘top beds around the world’-list – thanks to palm trees on the ceiling!
Where to eat in Stellenbosch
For dinner, I recommend their in-house restaurant Makaron. To be honest I am usually not a fan of hotel restaurants. They are mostly a letdown, even in the fanciest places. However, Makaron is supposed to be one of the best Stellenbosch restaurants according to people who know such things and with many great options this is no small task.
While the setting and the acoustics at Makaron are not really cozy nor made for easy conversation, the food is excellent. Start with a box of bread (they do have gluten-free options) followed by several courses of deliciousness highlighting local specialties like springbok and ostrich. While most dishes are amazing, a highlight is the pre-dessert of carrots and white chocolate. The menu is seasonal so you will probably find other delights on your plate.
For a nightcap, one can either go to the piano bar covered in more pigs or retire to the room for a sneaky glass of wine. Sneaky that is if you have snuck any in, of course (Babylonstoren’s Viognier is excellent for sneaking in…just saying).
How to get to Stellenbosch?
From Cape Town it will take you a quick and easy 40 minutes drive to get to Stellenbosch via the N2 and from the airport it is even closer. I don’t recommend taking the N2 on your own if you are driving at night but during the day it is perfectly safe. If you don’t want to drive on your own, you can book a transfer or ask your hotel to organize. Some Ubers may take you to Stellenbosch but it might be a bit of a hit or miss finding one.
If you plan on extensive wine tasting I recommend you hire a driver for the day or join an organized tour.
Disclaimer: Thank you Majeka House for hosting us and for Spier for helping me discover my inner chocolate lover!
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