South Africa – Stellenbosch

The Cape Winelands region of South Africa surrounding Cape Town boasts charming small towns, gorgeous mountain landscapes, and thriving farms and vineyards producing some of the world’s best wine.  Just a short drive outside the city center and you’ll be breathing fresh air and taking in spectacular views.

Located in the region, the town of Stellenbosch, the second oldest settlement in all of South Africa is rich with history and alive with youthful dynamism thanks to its world-class Stellenbosch University.  It’s a place of respite for many people seeking holiday, whether a short distance from their homes or halfway round the world.  A nod to the past – beautifully preserved Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian buildings juxtapose with the modern architecture that points metaphorically to the country’s promising future.

Some people come here to golf, others to pursue academic study, still others to relax in the town’s no fuss atmosphere while enjoying farm to table cuisine.  I came with friends to soak in the sun and to learn about and drink wine.  It should go without saying that our merry band of three accomplished our goal with ease and had a marvelous time doing so.  There’s far more to see and do than I had time in two days, which only means I’d welcome a return visit.  Preferably soon.

If you go, I can recommend staying at the Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel on Church Street.  The rooms are very well appointed, the staff incredibly hospitable, the pool (albeit small) refreshing and the breakfast is also divine.  The hotel is well situated in the heart of town within walking distance of many things you’ll want to do, especially if it’s your first visit.

The food, atmosphere and service at The Big Easy, are noteworthy.  If you like ostrich, or would like to try it, do it here; it’s lean and flavorful.  The Stellenbosch Village Museum is well worth the 30 Rand price of admission; the perfect way to begin to learn the town’s history.

We ended our visit driving along the Stellenbosch Wine Route, enjoying tastings at five of the over 200 wineries along the Route.  The best wine tasting was at Stellenrust, for three reasons.  The first is Ilse.  Ilse conducted our tasting.  She’s smart, jovial and has mad people skills.  She’s full of funny stories and full of life.  I was hooked on Ilse before I was hooked on the wine.  Which brings us to…the wine.

You must try the oak aged Chenin Blanc and the late harvest Riesling.  Both are delicious and quite unlike many of the other varietals we tasted.  The third reason to love Stellenrust, is its successful participation in the Black Economic Empowerment program.  The farm employees are now the majority shareholders and have access to financial services previously denied them.

If you meet Ilse, tell her Helen Hunt sent you and that you want to taste the wine that will put you “on the table.”

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