Stellenbosch Travel Guide: 103 reviews and 276 photos

Stellenbosch - An introduction

Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in the Western Cape after Cape Town, and is situated about 50 kilometers away along the banks of the Eerste River. The town became known as the City of Oaks or Eikestad in Afrikaans due to the large number of Oak trees that were planted by the founder to grace the streets and homesteads.

Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, who named it after himself — Stellenbosch means "(van der) Stel's forest". It is situated on the banks of the Eerste River ("First River"), so named as it was the first new river he reached and followed when Jan van Riebeeck sent him from Cape Town on an expedition over the Cape Flats to explore the territory towards what is now known as Stellenbosch.

The Dutch were skilled in hydraulic engineering and they devised a system of furrows to direct water from the Eerste River in the vicinity of Thibault Street through the town along van Riebeeck Street to Mill Street where a mill was erected.

The Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek valleys form the Cape Winelands, the largest of the two main wine growing regions in South Africa. Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and viticulture research.

The Stellenbosch Wine Route is a number of wineries and wine farms in and around Stellenbosch the area which provide the visitor facilities to see how wine is made. From the vine to the barrel. In addition may wineries have tasting rooms and provide light meals.

Stellenbosch is divided into five sub routes, each with its own specific natural splendour and unique wine styles. Daily wine tasting, cellar tours and sales are offered at most cellars and many have restaurants and picnic facilities. Some cellars offer tasting by appointment only.

The area in and around Stellenbosch has a mediterranean-type climate, with hot summers, cool winters and clear, sunny skies. It is at the start of the Cape Fold mountains, which have created soil favourable to vines. Grapes are grown primarily for wine, not as table grapes. The best way to visit the Stellenbosch Wine Region is to stay over for a night or two.

Stellenbosch - An Australian visitor's perspective

I stayed in Stellenbosch for a week, using it as a base for exploring the local wineries and local townships. It was also my first point of entry to South Africa after arriving at Cape Town international airport.

Stellenbosch feels very safe compared to other townships in South Africa, with cafes and restaurants spilling out on to the footpaths and open late into the night.

It has an unmistakably Dutch heritage, with many prime examples of Cape Dutch architecture. There are also art galleries and museums lending a real sense of "culture" (cul-cha!) to the vibe of the town, and the local University population has brought with it modern cafes, bistros and bars.

There are also a number of meticulously restored buildings situated in the charming town centre and on the surrounding wine farms. From the bottom end of Merriman Avenue you will have the best view of Stellenbosch's mountain panorama : to the right, the Helderberg, Stellenbosch Mountain (1175m high), with Jonkershoek Valley and twin Peaks (1494 m high) in the distance. To the east, the Simonsberg (1390 m high) which is connected to Botmaskop and the rest of the Jojkershoek mountains by the saddle of the Helshoogte.

Set aside at least 2 days, 3 if possible, to take in the sights of the area.

Stellenbosch - friendly, but not familiar

It would be fair to describe the local white population as quite reserved : they tend to talk quietly, generally polite, but not overly warm/familiar.

There is a large black population on the outskirts of town (approx 4-5km away from town centre). As you're driving on the road leading to Cape Town, you can't help but notice the constant stream of people walking to and from the settlements - most don't have private transport.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Stunning scenery, excellent climate, generally friendly locals
  • Cons:Local drivers are not too courteous
  • In a nutshell:More than just wine and food!
  • Last visit to Stellenbosch: Mar 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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