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About Stellenbosch

The town of Stellenbosch lies in the green and fertile fertile valley of the Eerste (“first”) River and is the heart of the South African Winelands – and starting point of the Stellenbosch Wine Route. It is the second oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and was founded by Governor Simon van der Stel in 1679, who named it after himself.

Stellenbosch has become known as ‘the town of oaks’. These trees being abundant. Some of the oaks have been proclaimed national monuments. When Governor Simon van der Stel first visited the area in November 1679 he was much taken by its beauty. The name Stellenbosch (‘Van der Stel’s bush’) was given to the site of the governor’s camp, and by the following year the first settlers had arrived from Cape Town. There was ample water from the river and the streets were lined with furrows, which brought the water to every house. Oak trees were planted and houses built of locally available material, with thick walls, doors and windows made of local woods such as yellow-wood and stinkwood, and roofing of black thatch. The houses were finished with white-lime wash. The handmade furniture of these early settlers has become much sought after by collectors.

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Simonsberg Mountain

One cannot help but stand in awe of the magnificent countryside surrounding the town of Stellenbosch. Nestled in one of the world’s most beautiful valleys, it is overlooked by the forested heights of Papegaaiberg (Parrot Mountain). A drive around Stellenbosch offers some of the best views of South Africa’s stunning Winelands. Situated about 40km from Cape Town, 10 km from the coast with an elevation of 300m above sea level, the Stellenbosch area includes various meso-climates, aspects, elevations and soil types. To many this intensely farmed district is the wine capital of South Africa.

Key contributors to the quality of the wines are the cooler mountain slopes, varied soil types and it also has the advantage of frontage onto False Bay. The prevailing south-easterly wind, known as The Cape Doctor works its magic here keeping vines cool and helping to control diseases by reducing the relative humidity. Almost all classic varietals are represented here with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most widely planted varietal in the area.

The town itself is just as charming as its setting with furrows and oak trees, some dating from the 19th century, lining the streets. Thick-walled, limewashed buildings with thatched roofs and timberwork of stinkwood and yellowwood, dating from the same era, have been wonderfully preserved. Dorp Street, the main road through town, has the longest row of historic buildings in the country and Die Braak, the village green was once used for military parades and festivals, and is still marked by old churches and momuments.

The Village Museum in Reyneveld Street is a collection of historic houses dating from a number of eras, meticulously restored and furnished in period style, the gardens are planted with the flowers, shrubs and trees that would have graced the original homes.

  • The Schreuderhuis is the oldest resorted townhouse in South Africa
  • No. 18 Ryneveld Street serves as the entrance to this collection of restored buildings.

In Dorp Street is one of the longest rows of old buildings surviving in any major town in Southern Africa. Most of the buildings date from the 19th century.

  • No. 116, Voorgelegen contains some of its original Batavian tiles in the parlour
  • Tthe old Lutheran Church, built in 1851 by Carl Otto Hager, is used by the university as an art gallery.
  • Nearby is the old home of the Reverand Meent Borcherds
  • La Gratitiude, on the gable of which the original owner modelled the ‘all-seeing eye of God’ to look down on townsfolk. La Gratitude is now home to the Ernie Els restaurant, The Big Easy
  • The Libertas Pavia is on the corner of Old Strand Road and Dorp Street. It’s an elegant, gabled mansion incorporating both the Rembrandt van Rijn art gallery (with works by leading 20-th century artists, including Pierneef, Van Wouw and Irma Stern) and, in its cellar, the Stellenryk Wine Museum (huge old vats, Cape furniture and brassware).
  • A military museum is housed in the Kruithuis (‘powder house’) on the west side of the town square. This was built in 1777.
  • A perfect example of an H-shaped Cape Dutch dwelling is the Burgher House, a national monument. Built in 1797, it has been restored and is now an office building, furnished with 18th century antiques.
  • For something totally unique, Oom Samie se Winkel in Dorp Street is a must. This shop, which is crammed with traditional homemade preserves, South African sweets and other bric-a-brac, is the oldest of Stellenbosch’s shops.
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Renish Mission Church, Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch boasts a number of fine old churches and religious institutions of a variety of denominations. These include the first Dutch Reformed church consecrated in 1687, the St Mary’s Anglican Church (built in 1852), the old Lutheran church in Dorp Street, and the Renish Mission church on the Braak.

The 25 ha Jan Marrais Nature Reserve within the municipal boundaries is a wild flower sanctuary of the first order.

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Ou Hoofgebou, Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch University is one of the largest residential universities in South Africa. The Ou Hoofgebou (“old main building”), which is still in use, dates back to 1881 and is an example of the fine old buildings found within the university campus. It also owns two art galleries and a botanical garden. The university’s sports fields at Coetzenburg are legendary for the many Springboks it has produced.

Just outside of Stellenbosch one can find some of the most attractive vineyards, estates and homesteads of the Western Cape. More than 20 of them are situated along the Stellenbosch wine route and each is worth visiting for its cellar tours and wine tastings; for the sustaining lunches provided by many of them, and for the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

Stellenbosch is a town worth visiting, not only for its fine wines, but also for its well-preserved Cape Dutch architecture, museums, magnificent surroundings and the restaurants and coffee shops that line the streets. In fact, Stellenbosch currently boasts three of the top ten restaurants in South Africa!