The historic town of Stellenbosch was established in 1679 in the Dutch vernacular of white gables and thatched roofs, and it nestles among the nation’s oldest winelands weaving their way through spectacular natural beauty today. To the north across the Hottentots-Holland Mountains the landscape gradually merges into the semi desert-like Karoo. To the south a scant half-hour away is Cape Town, Mother City and the only settlement in South Africa older than Stellenbosch itself. If you are thinking of researching the property for sale in Cape Town, perhaps consider living in this quaint village a stone’s throw away from the city proper.
By 1690, the vineyards that settlers planted had already drawn their first vintages from the dark alluvial soil, and were showing promise in a climate reminiscent of the Mediterranean coastline. Enthused by this, the hardy Dutch inhabitants dug channels to lead water from the Eerste River to their farmlands – the first reliable water source since leaving Cape Town. Then they planted their streets with graceful oak trees for which Stellenbosch is still famous.
By then several schools had already been established as the growing town assumed its own character, with Rhenish Girl’s High School being the oldest school for girls in all of South Africa. The Het Stellenbossche Gymnasium founded in 1866 ceded its more senior classes to Victoria College that in turn became the University of Stellenbosch in 1918, and so the University Town of Stellenbosch was born.
The local inhabitants know that between tourist seasons, and when students are on holidays their town assumes a small-town personality with an enviable lifestyle. This is why so many academics would give half their university degrees to settle here. After all, where else could one enjoy a unique blend of intellectual stimulation, awe-inspiring mountains demanding to be climbed, the nation’s arguably finest student rugby team, and, of course, the opportunity to drive out to historic farmsteads and to buy the season’s newest wines, before the auctioneers arrive to take their booty to the cities.
Tourists appreciate the wide range of accommodation that ranges from grand hotels to simple farmstays, and enjoy dining off the menus of a variety of owner-managed restaurants too. Students treasure the happy buzz of campus life, and opportunities to chill out in the town’s many delightful pavement cafés and signature pubs as well. No wonder so many artists and craftspeople have settled here too. Indeed the town centre is alive with jewellers, art shops, boutiques and delightful deli’s.
Discovering Stellenbosch on foot in the company of an experienced local guide is the perfect way to taste its ambience in less than half a day. The walk begins with a visit to the Village Museum in Ryneveld Street and Oom Samie se Winkle in Dorp Street, which is also the oldest general dealer store in South Africa. From there, a gentle stroll leads on to historic Church and Andrigna Streets, where some say there are more curio shops and pavement cafés per square kilometre, than anywhere else in Africa.
A visit to Stellenbosch is incomplete without a visit to the nearby farmlands, where fine grapes are grown, and where award-winning wines and signature brandies are lovingly given birth. No surprise then that here, beneath a cloudless sky and baking sun where you could sometimes almost hear the silence, lies the secret that attracted the first intrepid settlers in 1679.