Our first trip to South Africa started in the leafy suburbs of the university town of Stellenbosch. We purposely avoided the hustle and bustle of Cape Town as our starter, so that we could properly orientate ourselves.
Stellenbosch is only a short drive to the east of Cape Town, and we followed an easy route from the airport. On route we saw our first glimpse of grazing zebras and fields of ostriches and took in the magnificent views of the Stellenbosh mountain range. Mountains we intended to explore, as hidden here are the delights of the South African Viticulturist. It is in heart of the wine country, first successfully cultivated following the arrival of the Dutch, and is the second oldest town in South Africa, being established in 1679. We reckon it’s been incredibly well preserved and a walk down Dorp Street will go towards proving that fact. One of the residents told me that this street has been declared a national monument as it has the longest row of old buildings in South Africa. I’m not sure, but it certainly is well worth a walk, as you’ll observe tiny terraced houses, large and luxurious residences, and several old emporiums. Oom Samie se Winkel’s is one and this is well worth popping into. Be careful as you try to maneuver your way around this shop – it is crammed with all manners of bric-a-brac, traditional South African goods, and, of course, souvenirs. This street seems to be the heart and soul of the town and is, like many other streets in Stellenbosch, framed by arrows of majestic oak trees. Indeed Stellenbosch is also known as Eikestad - town of oaks. The shady streets of Stellenbosch are lined with open-air restaurants and coffee shops that entice you to enter with the wafts of freshly ground coffee.
The Stellenbosch Village Museum, on Ryneveld Street, provides you with a chance to visit a superb group of historic houses ranging in periods from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s. Each one has been tastefully restored and furnished in the style of its particular period. The great added value is the presence of a supervising expert who overlooks the property, is not intrusive, but will tell you about the house if you ask.
Stellenbosch proved to be a very relaxed and gentle place to start our holiday. It feels so fresh and colourful and is free of any tension. We could walk the streets day and night without feeling any threat; indeed there was only the suggestion that there were any no-go areas. This was a recommendation that we should avoid the river walk at night – an extremely sensible suggestion, as it was unlit and unpaved – and something that we would not even consider if we were back home. However, a walk down the river, during daylight, was undertaken – that was fun, not eventful – and gave the chance to walk "off-piste" and away from the hustle and bustle of central Stellenbosh.
The staff at the tourist office was really helpful and was able to advise on the Wine Route and places to see in the town. Most of the interesting sites are close by, as indeed are the main shops (you are on Market Street). Places to visit are the Toy Museum; Die Braak (the Town Square) where you’ll see a number of interesting buildings; The Old Powder House) (1777); the Church of St Mary (1852); the Coachman's Cottage; and the old Burgerhuis (1797).
From here we were able to have a couple of days exploring on the wine route, and, of all the towns we saw, I would recommend Stellenbosch as your base. It is a town you can easily walk around, has plenty to see, and is crammed with decent restaurants.