Explore a different side to Stellenbosch

Posted on 30 November 2015

Stellenbosch has such a good reputation for wine it’s hard 
to get beyond it. But (helped on by a few glasses, naturally) I found there’s also quite some soul to this historic Winelands town.

Also see: Photoblog – wanderlust for Stellenbosch


There's more than wine in Stellenbosch; you can try uMqombothi (traditional beer) in Kayamandi township. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

There’s more than wine in Stellenbosch; you can try uMqombothi (traditional beer) in Kayamandi township.

‘First you’ll need two litres of water, two tablespoons of Robertson’s ginger powder, two cups of sugar, one teaspoon of cream of tartar, a handful of raisins, the skin
 of a pineapple and, finally,
 a teaspoon of yeast.’ Mamma Swartbooi (or gogo, to me) from the township of Kayamandi
 (‘a pleasurable home’, in Xhosa) was describing the process of making gemmer (ginger beer), while we sat at Hartenberg Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Meanwhile, I sipped on the estate’s Shiraz and my taste buds encountered heaven.

Recipe: how to make ginger beer


Home-made Gemmer (ginger beer). - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Home-made Gemmer (ginger beer).

It’s ironic, I think to myself, that of all places, I learn about making this popular Xhosa drink in Afrikaans Stellenbosch. Then again, the town is one of South Africa’s purest sources 
of all things infinitely quaffable. And edible. A little earlier, I was chatting to William Joubert, viticulturist at Hartenberg, over a braai. He told me the secret 
to making a perfect fire: pine.

‘Pine gives off glue, so it’s almost like an oil that helps to ignite the fire.’

And then the sandwiches came out, headed for the braai. Braaied sandwiches? I had felt very South African up until then… How could I not have known about braaibroodjies, the traditional Afrikaans speciality of toasted bread with cheese, tomato, onion and butter? And, 
of course, the sarmies were delicious – cheese melting between my fingers.


Braaibroodjies and award-winning Gravel Hill wine at Hartenberg Wine Estate. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Braaibroodjies and award-winning Gravel Hill wine at Hartenberg Wine Estate.

Shacks line the highway en route to Stellenbosch, listed as having one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the country.

I had only been to Stellenbosch twice before: first for a date, during which
 I focused on my tall, good-looking companion; and second for a festive-season family gathering where we hunkered down and caught up.

So although I’d visited the town, 
I still had no idea who she was. I’d heard stories about conservatism, students and award-winning wines. What else would I find?

Stellenbosch is pretty, the buildings old and neat, and outdoor exhibitions enhance an already handsome town. There are roughly 300 wineries along the Stellenbosch Wine Route and vineyards cover 60000 hectares of the area. There are plenty of wineries to choose from, and the tipple is good.


Sculptures and Djomo's Arts & Crafts Collection in the city centre and street art that can be found dotted throughout the town. - Photos by Vuyi Qubeka

Sculptures and Djomo’s Arts & Crafts Collection in the city centre and street art that can be found dotted throughout the town.

In the evening, I wandered through the town looking for dinner. The options are vast, and had it not been for Frank Bongoza, the affable manager at Wijnhuis Wine Bar & Grill, I might have still been wandering around today. He called out to me: ‘We’d like to give you
 a welcome cocktail.’ I got two, and my taste buds did another heavenly jig.

The next day I was over at Brampton Wine Studio, which offers well-priced options and a warm welcome. The staff beckoned me in from the pavement. ‘We spice life up in Stellenbosch. We’re not out at the farms, we’re in the life of the city,’ they said. What makes wining and dining in the town even better is that tuk-tuks are now available. It costs R50 for a trip around town, and you can also rent the vehicles – which can take up to six people – for R200 per hour.

A few days later I visited Mamma Swartbooi in Kayamandi. Townships all feel the same – there is a sense of freedom and no one passes without a friendly greeting. Mamma Swartbooi lives on Swartbooi Street, named after her father- in-law who did a lot of good for the community during the height of apartheid. Since 2005, Mamma has offered township stays through Silusapho Homestays, and a tour of Kayamandi with Bites & Sites, led by Thembi Koli, includes a Xhosa lunch at her home.

Also read: Kayamandi township tour in Stellenbosch


Mamma Swartbooi outside her home in Swartbooi Street and guide, Thembi Koli chats to a friend at a hair salon in Kayamandi. - Photos by Vuyi Qubeka

Mamma Swartbooi outside her home in Swartbooi Street and guide, Thembi Koli chats to a friend at a hair salon in Kayamandi.

‘My child, the truth is that a lot of Stellenbosch is still stuck in the old days … the old way of thinking, but you have to open up your home. Love is the only way to change hard hearts,’ she says.

Her food tastes like home. I remember my grandmother waking at 4am to knead dough to make amagwinya (vetkoek). She’d then go back to bed to let the mixture rise. Mamma serves amagwinya with chakalaka and spinach, and gemmer (ginger beer) is served chilled.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about township tours, but I do think exposure expands mindsets, changes preconceived notions and fills the vacuum that exists between the worlds outside of townships. The tour with Thembi allows you inside the lives of residents. We peeked into houses and chatted with the people we met. Naturally, there were smiles and pleased hellos.


Amagwinya (vetkoek) and spinach are served to guests by Mamma Swartbooi after a tour of Kayamandi. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Amagwinya (vetkoek) and spinach are served to guests by Mamma Swartbooi after a tour of Kayamandi.

‘People often associate townships with crime and it shouldn’t be like that. Townships are attractive,’ says Pietman Retief, counsellor for Cultural Affairs, Heritage, Environment, Sports and Facilities. ‘I believe in what tourism can do in bringing people together and making them understand one another.’

Stellenbosch seems to tick many boxes for the experiential traveller. Pietman tells me about The Brandy Route, as well as Route 62, also focused on the spirit.


Babakar Diop wears on of his made-to-order shirts while silk is spun into beautiful goods by staff at African Silks. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Babakar Diop wears one of his made-to-order shirts while silk is spun into beautiful goods by staff at African Silks.

And there’s a growing alternative and conscious living movement in the town. The Lynedoch Eco Village is an amazing place with a great guest house and is where the Sustainability Institute is based. ‘[It] was started in 1999 and is a space for people to explore an approach to creating a more equitable society that lives in a way that sustains the ecosystem,’ the institute’s Tanya Ward tells me.

Then there’s also Spier, whose vineyards and pastures, as well as the cellar, are organically certified. The farm is currently in the process of biodynamic conversion. Pop into the cafe for delicious foods or arrange a tour.

What surprised me is that Stellenbosch is so much more than the standard wine-and-dine experience I thought it had been all about. Here is where I learnt to make two totally different recipes that are popular in two totally different cultures.

There’s no doubt that Stellies has some soul, and there’s plenty more to explore… and I live only 45 minutes away.


A pot of water boils in Mamma Swartbooi's kitchen in Kayamandi. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

A pot of water boils in Mamma Swartbooi’s kitchen in Kayamandi.


Getting to Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is an easy drive east from Cape Town along the N2. Take exit 33 for Baden Powell Drive, and then the R310/Stellenbosch/Macassar. Take a right at Old Polkadraai Road and continue onto Adam Tas Road. Turn right into Merriman Avenue and start exploring.


Getting around Stellenbosch

Don’t have a car? Stellenbosch is still worth visiting on foot, even to just explore the city centre. Some of the wine farms have brought their offerings to the city and you can get a wine-tasting experience right in town.


Things to do in Stellenbosch

1. Take a township tour

Kayamandi Township Tour with Bites & Sites is a great way to experience other elements of Stellenbosch. Tours are offered Monday to Saturday from 10:00 and range from two hours to five hours. From R395 per person.


2. Bicycle tours

Guided bicycle tours through Stellenbosch and the Winelands are offered by Adventure Shop. See the town’s historic spots, ride to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve and indulge in some wine and chocolate pairing. R580 per person including a drink and snack pack.


3. The Devon Valley hike

Devon Valley hike is a guided walk for groups with Adventure Shop. From R595 per person including lunch and wine tasting.


4. Visit Jonkershoek

Hike the Swartboskloof-Sosyskloof trail at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve (about nine kilometres east of Stellenbosch). Walk four or six kilometres. Permits are R40 for adults and R20 for under 12s, available at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. Tel 0218661560.


Craft shopping in Stellenbosch

1. Jewellery and jewellery-making

Portia’s Paradise in Kayamandi sells handmade jewellery 
and offers jewellery-making classes with Portia Mpangwa whose career started at Beads
‘n Things in Cape Town. Tel 0718310741.


2. Die Braak market

Die Braak market has an array
 of African arts and crafts.
 Chat to Sidy Niang about custom-made African garments. Tel 0837344090, stellenbosch.travel


Handmade sandals at the African Market at Die Braak. - Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Handmade sandals at the African Market at Die Braak.


Where to eat and drink in Stellenbosch

1. The Wijnhuis Wine Bar & Grill

Wijnhuis Wine Bar & Grill has
 20 wines available by the glass and 500 wines available by the bottle ‒ how’s that for a selection! Tel 0218875844.


2. Hartenberg Wine Estate

Hartenberg Wine Estate is set on a beautiful farm well suited for warm or colder months. There’s
a fireplace in the restaurant, which is intimate yet roomy. Tel 0218652541.


3. Dorp Street Deli

Dorp Street Deli and Mila – The Cake Shop is for the very hungry foodie. I’d skip breakfast completely to make certain you have room. Tel 0218868807.


4. Brampton Wine Studio

Brampton Wine Studio is decorated in bright colours with chandeliers made from wine bottles. It’s happy-making and fun! Tel 0218839097.


Stellenbosch accommodation

1. Oude Werf Hotel

Oude Werf Hotel was recently refurbished and here contemporary meets yesteryear. The huge ornate mirror that separates the bathroom and the bedroom in my room was a highlight. From R1060 per person including breakfast.


2. Jordan Wine Estate

Jordan Wine Estate is majestic, and its vines stretch out into the distance. Each morning, breakfast is accompanied with a note detailing the day’s temperatures and sunset times. From R1700 (for a classic room without a fireplace), including breakfast, a bottle of Jordan wine 
and complimentary wine tasting.


3. Zorgvliet Wines

Zorgvliet Wines is small
and charming. The bedrooms are large and warm, and the shutters in the bathroom above the bathtub overlook the bedroom and the outside garden. From R850 per person including breakfast.


4. Bergplaas Resort

Bergplaas Resort is for the family. The scenery is great and the accommodation affordable. You can camp, caravan, or stay in one of the cottages. From R100 per person, plus a car fee of R50.

Stellenbosch map


This article first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

All prices were correct at time of publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before travelling.


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