A piece of heaven on earth

Oak trees, historic buildings, students, green spaces, cafés and lots of great wine are among the first impressions of this buzzing university town, but there’s much more to life in Stellenbosch than its undeniable picture-postcard charm

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Experience Stellenbosch

Visitors flock to Stellenbosch for its quaint historic streets lined with oak trees and for its well-deserved reputation for gourmet food and wine. Students come to study at the world-class university that occupies a significant area of the town centre. And residents get all that plus a lifestyle that offers the best of all worlds. Stellies is all about small-town convenience; a diversity of culture and arts more typical of a big city; prestigious schools; a vibrant café culture; beautiful surroundings; and the mountains and wine estates that embrace the town and offer a wealth of outdoor activities.

Christ church in Stellenbosch

“Stellenbosch is probably the most ‘happening’ town outside of the city centres – never a dull moment,” says Ilse van der Merwe of the Demo Kitchen, who has lived here her whole life. “It’s a town filled with so many choices on the social calendar, restaurant scene and local music scene.” Locals can take their pick of events, from the annual Woordfees literary and music festival to the summer street soirees with open-air wine tastings; from lunchtime concerts at the university Conservatoire to theatre productions at Oude Libertas amphitheatre; and so much more.

The town centre, with its oak-lined streets overflowing with cafés, delis, boutiques and traditional high-street shops (no need for out-of-town malls here), is very walkable, and residents who are lucky enough to live in sought-after Mostertsdrift and other central residential areas can easily walk to work, stopping for breakfast in a favourite café and avoiding traffic, which can clog up narrow streets in peak season.

Basic Bistro restaurant in Stellenbosch
A street corner in Stellenbosch Manouche restaurant in Stellenbosch

Morning or evening exercise is also simple to slot into the daily routine: trails for running, mountain biking and dog walking wind around the mountain slopes in the Paradyskloof, Coetzenburg and Eden areas; the small Jan Marais Nature Reserve is within the town boundaries; the excellent university sports facilities are also open to residents; and there are three premium golf courses within reach of the town.

It only takes five minutes to escape town altogether and head for genuine mountain wilderness: “One of my top things to do is hike in Jonkershoek,” says Kora Holm, resident for 13 years, “preferably all the way up, until you reach the summit and the stunning view of False Bay is revealed.” Here there are waterfalls to hike to in winter and beautiful scenery year round – even the winding drive up the valley is guaranteed to relax and refresh the soul.

Outdoor restaurant in Stellenbosch A street in Stellenbosch

On weekends there’s an abundance of choice when it comes to markets. Root 44 is fun for all the family, Slowmarket at Oude Libertas is excellent for real food and a chilled atmosphere, and then there are the Blaauwklippen family market, Spier organic farmers market and monthly Woodmill market. Stellenbosch’s foodie credentials are just as visible in town, where artisan ice-cream parlours, patisseries and delis turn shopping into a taste adventure. There are plenty of more affordable eateries and wine bars catering for the student population, too. “It is a town that offers value for money to students,” adds Ilse, “but also caters for the premium tourist and established resident with a taste for the best in life.” This is something that becomes obvious when you scan a list of restaurants on nearby wine estates, which reads more like a who’s who of South African cuisine: Jordan, Terroir, Rust en Vrede, Overture, Makaron, Tokara and the list goes on.

Top schools, Rhenish Girls High, Bloemhof High School, Paul Roos Gymnasium and Eikestad Primary School, are grouped amid green sports fields just over the Eerste River, and the adjoining suburbs of Die Boord and Dalsig are also popular for families whose children can easily walk to school.

Relaxing in a park in Stellenbosch

For a town so rooted in history, Stellenbosch has an incredibly youthful energy. Besides the university, known internationally for its research and development and postgrad studies, there is a wealth of innovative businesses, both hi-tech and creative. “There’s a vibrant mix of creatives living and working in Stellenbosch, passionate about preserving Stellenbosch as a premium historic town, but also keen on developing Stellenbosch’s unique modern heart,” comments Ilse. “It’s the closest to living in Europe that you’ll get in SA, with a distinctive uncompromising local flavour.”

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