Top 10 things to do in the Stellenbosch Winelands

Posted on 11 May 2012

I was in the fortunate position of not having to drive myself around the Stellenbosch Winelands. With an abundance of good food and wine waiting to be sampled in this beautiful area of the Winelands, it was with gratitude that I gave up this duty to a designated driver who dutifully drove us from one satisfying rendezvous point to the next. The area encompasses Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and the Dwars River Valley and is home to some of the Western Cape’s finest restaurants, vineyards, historical sites, galleries and shops. Here are my top 10 things to do in the Stellenbosch Winelands.

1. A journey in salmon

The last time I remember eating such lashings of good quality salmon and trout was…never. The Salmon Bar in Franschhoek is one of those discerning places, that once found, will always remain near the top of your list of places to visit on return. I can vouch for that. With their obvious speciality being salmon and of course trout, I was willfully subjected to a taste journey of their products.

Their Royale Highlands Trout, a firm favourite amongst patrons, is farmed in the Lesotho Highlands where the exceptional water quality results in a fish full of flavor and texture. Their local Rainbow Trout, sourced from selected farms in the Cape, are also sustainably farmed without compromising on quality. Their salmon is imported twice weekly from Norway, Scotland and Alaska and is a heavenly treat on the palate. My journey began with eating the fish in its purest form; shashimi. It then evolved to tasting both species in their cold-smoked, cured and hot-smoked form. Make a turn at The Salmon Bar and start your journey.

Also Read: A handy guide to some seriously good restaurants in Paarl

2. Sabrage ‘uncorked’

For those that don’t know what sabrage is, let me enlighten you. It is a potentially dangerous way of accessing the contents inside a Champagne or sparkling wine bottle if not done properly. Not for the faint hearted, but neither is drinking it. There was cause for much celebration after another victorious win by Napoleon’s cavalry and this would result in many Champagne bottles being opened with their weapon of choice; the saber.

The art continues today and in true Haute Cabrière fashion, our host gave us a fine demonstration of sabrage to a bottle of Pierre Jourdan Bella Rose. I was almost enticed to execute this deed myself, but the thought of the bottle exploding on site was too much for my faint heart. Sandwiched between the Franschhoek mountains, the Haute Cabrière Restaurant served up their unwooded Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Pinot Noir for our opinion, complimented with choice canapés. An ever-changing menu, with half-portion meals on offer, ensure guests have the chance to sample and taste a variety of combinations. Daily cellar tours and tastings can be experienced, with the farm’s winemakers hosting a special tasting on Saturdays. Get your bubbly uncorked at this delightful restaurant.

Also Read: 10 beautiful guesthouses in Cape Town

3. Hitting the sweet note

Our lively and animated presenter at Huguenot Fine Chocolates in Franschhoek was clearly born to act. He made a rather interesting subject come alive in a short half hour programme that took us through the history of the chocolaterie, where chocolate comes from, a demo of how their chocolates are made and then a taste test. I actually did feel like a kid in a candy store looking through the glass casing to a display of pistachio marzipan, cherry kirsch, coffee crème, praline and other perfectly wrapped Belgian chocolates. R35 will get you the chocolate experience.

4. Tasteful views

Driving into the verdant valley of Franschhoek is one thing, but to spend time gazing lustfully over this exquisite tableau from arguably the best lunch seat in the valley, is an entirely different matter. Tucked within the Dieu Donne Vineyards, Roca Restaurant serves up Mediterranean inspired fare, and paired with home-grown wines, it makes for an impressive combination. I had difficulty narrowing my choice from the starters of carpaccio of ostrich, panzanella salad and crispy phyllo prawns.

The mains proved even more difficult with Mozambican style chicken in lime and coconut, fillet of beef with vine tomatoes, truffle-scented rocket and shaved parmigiano and a porcini and portobello mushroom rigatoni cooked with a hint of chilli and a touch of smoke ricotto. If the weather behaves itself, then sitting outside on the expansive veranda decked with chic umbrellas is a treat and one gets a double dose of the mountain vistas as they reflect back in the restaurant windows. Lunch and dinner is served from Monday to Thursday with lunch only served on Sundays. Reserve your ‘best-seat-in-the-valley’ for that next special occasion.

5. A vintage affair

It’s sometimes hard to imagine an era gone by when you’re sitting sipping the fruit of the vine in such stately surrounds. Solms Delta, just outside of Franschhoek, has made its history part of the experience and together with its highly acclaimed wines, the Museum van de Caab gives you a chance to unearth the story behind this estate. Presented by the farm workers, the slave heritage of the area is depicted through pictures, artifacts and stories and challenges your thinking and outlook. After an insight into the history, I launched into tasting six of their classical wines and with labels such as Vastrap, Langarm, Lekkerwijn and Cape Jazz Shiraz it was easy to get into the swing of things and unwind. It’s a great day outing for the family, spent under the trees or indulging in Cape cuisine at the Fyndraai restaurant. For a special treat, pick a spot in the estate’s forest, set your blanket and polish off a tasty picnic.

6. Tea in Eden

There are few places that can pull off a garden tea that makes Alice in Wonderland’s tea party look like a piece of cake (excuse the pun). DeKraal Country Lodge and Garden Estate is an oasis in Stellenbosch that feels like you’ve entered a time warp. When I entered this award-winning garden I felt like I had been miraculously transported into Eden. I slowly strolled my way under the weeping willows, past serene ponds, across the hanging bridge, through exquisite cycads, past exotic plants and finally beneath some grand oaks before reaching a table laden with cakes and pastries. With the sunbirds chirping their tune, the cascading water reaching its crescendo and the sweeping mountains rising from the shadows, I really felt otherworldly. You can extend your stay by overnighting at the lodge in one of their standard, deluxe or superior rooms, family suites or two-bedroom villas.

7. A match made in Biltong

‘You will notice that the Kudu Droëwors has a soft flavor with hints of spice and how it is complemented with the silky tannin structure and black ripe fruit notes found in our Stellenbosch Hills Cabernet Sauvignon,’ described the cellar master. This was our 5th biltong and wine pairing on the list, and I had to say it was getting better and better with each round. It’s interesting to know that the making of dried meat products date back just as far back as the process of winemaking; back to 1659. Good enough reason in my opinion to pair these two together.  For your Biltong and Droëwors adventure you will need R40 per person and roughly 30 minutes, depending on your level of interaction.

8. Knot-out

Some of us will try to justify why going to the spa is not an option this month. I am realistically one of these pitiful souls that will think of a thousand other things to spend my dollars on. A lie of course, for every time I decide to spoil myself, I think ‘why the plums didn’t I do this sooner, what was I thinking?’ Coopmanhuijs Spa in Stellenbosch offers deluxe manicures, a coffee and mint body wrap treatment, an intuitive herbal oil massage, a devine indulgence package that lasts almost 5 hours with a full body exfoliation, deep tissue massage, signature facial and mani or pedi. Reason enough?

9. Restored grandeur

The place definitely has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it. It was initally hard to put my finger on it. Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel in Stellenbosch was built in 1713 and was one of the first grand residences in the area. Walking through the cozy corridors and intimate corners into dashing rooms plushed-up with finery down into the Provençal kitchen and out onto the courtyard where the elegant size pool boasted its sparkling water, I felt a little like royalty. Yellow wood ceilings, sash windows and antique pieces add a genuineness to the atmosphere. Its sister establishment, The Stellenbosch Hotel, a few blocks down, has been declared a national monument and with 27 rooms, 6 self-catering studios and two-bedroom apartments to choose from, it has successfully carried its historical grandeur through into the modern elements of the hotel. A little old with a little new.

10. The 360° experience

My curiosity was piqued. We were off to visit one of the 8 fields of interest that will comprise the new Route 360, Stellenbosch’s new marketing initiative that will take tourists on a virtual route through their website and translate it into a real experience. Sport was the name of the game for our outing and we had a chance to mingle with some of the local soccer stars and athletes on their turf. The idea behind the initiative is to bring emerging entrepreneurs from the rural areas under the tourism umbrella and use them to give tourists an interactive one-of-a-kind experience whilst in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and surrounds. Tourists will be able to shop online for their activities and experiences, book and pay in addition to seeing all the events on the go. Take a look at their website for some inspiring activities you can take part in when next in the area.


Looking for accommodation in the Greater Stellenbosch area? Click here


Thanks to Don Valley and Cape Winelands District Municipality for arranging the experience. For more information on the Greater Stellenbosch area visit



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