The town of Stellenbosch is famed for its excellent wines from some of South Africa’s oldest, and most prestigious wine farms. It is a must for wine-lovers visiting the Cape. However, with so much to see and do in and around the small town, it can be hard to know where to begin and how to enjoy the ultimate balance of art, food, history, wine, and nature that this special area offers.
While one could stick to some of the mainstream hotspots, our concierge suggests taking the road a little less travelled. This day-long itinerary includes our favourite places to visit and is the perfect route for those who take pleasure in discovering a kind of genuine authenticity that makes the soul sing with joy.
Award-winning wines at Kanonkop
Kanonkop is one of South Africa’s legendary wine estates, widely respected for its traditional approach, and famous for its Pinotage and Paul Sauer wines. It is here where we began our adventure, the road to the towering white cellars lined with bush vines along the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains.
The recent 100-point award by Tim Atkin means that this winery has recently gained a lot more international attention, so it does not quite qualify as a hidden gem, but is no less special for it. The award, given to the 2015 Paul Sauer (the first South African wine to receive 100 points – a perfect score – in the annual report on the South African wine industry) – is just one of the reasons to visit the farm, which remains steeped in tradition.
The entrance to the tasting room is marked by their emblematic black canon which decorates their bottles. Inside the cool reception, we were enthusiastically hosted by the knowledgeable staff, whom we found to be exceptionally well-informed and engaging.
Kanonkop has 120 hectares of vineyards, all of them red. Kanonkop’s range of seven wines includes the Kadette Pinotage Rose, Kadette Pinotage and Kadette Cape Blend (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot). Estate wines are Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, the famed Paul Sauer (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) and the Black Label Pinotage.
Visitors are invited to choose from a basic tasting, inclusive of the Kadette range, and their estate Cab Sav and Pinotage, or scale up to include their premium Paul Sauer and Black Label Pinotage. We enjoyed all of the wines, particularly the Estate Pinotage and Cab Sav, which were gloriously intense and tannic. If you are not a red wine lover, take heart, as the Pinotage Rose is dry, crisp, and light without being insipid.
Should you wish to delve a little deeper, book an estate tour which will take you into a hall of open shallow concrete vats used for hand-punching and fermenting after harvest, which the winemaker, Abrie Beeslar, claims is the secret of the high quality of Kanonkop’s wine.
Lunch at Spek & Bone
Walking into the courtyard of Spek & Bone feels like discovering a secret. Located at a historic site next to the original Stellenbosch market, this relaxed small plates and wine bar is a real hidden gem tucked away off Dorp Street in the town centre.
Indeed, sitting in the courtyard under the dappled shade of some of the oldest fruit-producing vines in Stellenbosch, one might be in Tuscany, were it not for the distinctly local flavours and ingredients that populate the succinct menu – a trademark of acclaimed chef Bertus Basson.
We shared three delectable plates, which was enough to satisfy between two, though a fourth would not have gone uneaten. The gnocchi, panfried and served with exotic mushrooms, gratings of strong cheese and a crispy crumb was outstanding, as was the whole bream and cheese-laden salad that followed – each dish so full of flavour it was hard not to murmur at each mouthful. This we paired with a carafe of wine from the extensive list, a gin trolley on hand if spirits are more your tipple.
The name behind the restaurant is equally as charming as the place itself. Explains Bertus: “The restaurant is named after our pig and our puppy, Spek and Bone (Afrikaans for the classic food combo of pork and beans), who are surprisingly best friends and inseparable”.
We intend on returning for another round of everything and have been advised to add a meaty dish, the corn ribs, and a dessert to our order. Challenge accepted.
Inspiration at the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden
In keeping with our theme of secrets, we ventured forth into what felt like another world entirely. Seven hectares of it to be exact. Here, animals, humans and fragmented, shamanic forms populate the slopes of the Stellenbosch mountain range in a meticulously sculptured garden designed to evoke a child-like sense of wonder and awe. The man behind it all? Veteran artist Dylan Lewis, who has over 60 artworks in this one-of-a-kind sculpture garden that took eight years to become what it is now.
Beginning with Lewis’ original forge – a fascinating space that showcases the birth of a sculpture from drawing to cast to life – we wound our way around the four-kilometre pathway that leads visitors through a spiritually evocative full-scale visual experience. Parasols, maps, and water are thoughtfully provided at the start.
Sculptures, both miniature and monumental line secret nooks, or poise on hills, the deliberate harmony with the landscape telling the story of Lewis’ artistic journey…all part of his exploration of the “wildness” in the world and in ourselves.
Flora and fauna of the garden have also been meticulously considered, with a focus on our indigenous fynbos. While the buchus and Ericas are in flower during July and September, the garden has been planted in a way that there is colour all year round. Birds too, chatter in the lush vegetation, and dip in and out of the cool bodies of water we carefully tiptoed around (wellingtons are provided should you wish to splash through them).
The grounds feature some of his most iconic pieces (the cheetahs most recognisable to novices), but every single piece is special, and so it is easy to spend hours exploring pathways, contemplating scenes and generally losing oneself in the magic of it all.
Thankfully, there is a lovely little cafe for recharging. Here we enjoyed a slice of well-earned carrot cake (some of the best we have had) alongside a pitcher of ice-cold homemade lemonade, teas, and coffees.
Make sure to set aside the entire afternoon (or morning) for unhurried exploring.
Note that all visits are by appointment only. While guests are invited to meander in the garden on their own with the comprehensive map provided, a privately guided tour can be arranged with advance booking. Tours are 1.5 hours and provide an informative overview of the garden and Dylan’s work.
Blog post by Tarah Darge