South Africa has so much to offer. It’s a shame not to visit another side of this spectacular country whilst you are here. We decided to extend our African holiday with a break in Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands region. Stellenbosch is a pretty University town with a real European feel. It is awash with beautiful Cape Dutch architecture, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and wine bars. It’s such a cosmopolitan place that I always feel like I could easily live here.
From Phinda we jumped on our little twelve seater and made the short hop to Nelsprut airport. Here we boarded a larger Airlink flight to Capetown. We hired a car and drove through the pretty countryside for thirty to forty minutes, arriving in Stellenbosch just in time for cocktail hour. We stayed in a deluxe suite at the quaint and quirky Ouder Werf Hotel, right in the centre of town. This was our fourth stay here and the staff are always so welcoming. It had been a long time since they’d seen any Australians.
We had always been curious about The Hussar Grill which was opened in 1964. (The year I was born.. so it is very old!) It now has a new Tapas Bar sister restaurant which opened in 2021. We made a beeline for this one as we are huge fans of tapas style eating. Upon arrival your friendly waiter brings you some complimentary fat green olives and the thinnest of potato skins to nibble on as you peruse the menu.
After ordering a couple of crisp South African Chardonnays we ordered some jalapeño poppers, crumbed mushrooms and pork belly bites. All were delicious and servings were generous. A complimentary chocolate liqueur arrived after our snacks. We liked this place so much we ended up visiting twice.
In the morning we headed out to visit one of my favourite spots in the world, Babylonstoren. Babylonstoren is a Garden of Eden, with beautiful sprawling gardens attached to a working farm, hotel and winery which also has range of shops, scent rooms and restaurants. It’s amazing to see these beautiful gardens filled with fresh produce.They even make their own honey and have a nursery to buy your own plants and pots if you live nearby. Do a guided garden tour or grab a map and explore for yourself as we did.
We strolled through the gorgeous gardens and marvelled at how each time we come we spy something new and features that have been added. After saying hello to the donkeys, tortoise and chickens, we then browsed the shops before heading back to the glass walled wine tasting room and interesting wine museum.
We savoured the colourful Harvest Platter, full of fresh farm produce, which we nibbled on while tasting three Babylonstoren wines – a Chardonnay, a rose and a white blend for me. Hubby enjoyed his full bodied red. All were spectacular. The Rose had been the drink of choice for the recent Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Heading home we stopped in to the Warwick Wine Estate. A huge statue of Nelson Mandela greets you here. We were hoping to buy one of their special Wedding Cups but alas someone had bought all their stock for wedding favours, so what could we do but have a glass of the excellent Warwick wine instead.The Warwick winery is a family friendly venue where family’s picnic and play in the fountains during the Summer. It was opened in 1771 and was a successful fruit farm before the winemaking Ratcliffe family took over in 1964.
In the evening we had a very special dinner booking at Jardine Food and Wine Bar, just a short walk from our hotel. We visit every time we are in town and it never disappoints. Chef George Jardine is an acclaimed Scottish born chef, who is one of the most respected and innovative fine dining chefs in South Africa. Since 2021 the restaurant has been co- owned by Executive Chef Hilde – Lee Olivier.
Tonight’s offerings are served by candlelight as load shedding is now a grim reality in South Africa. For us it only adds an ambience and romantic quality to our meal. I love the light oven roasted butternut pumpkin curry I choose as my main and hubby enjoys a beautifully cooked aged flat iron steak with a monkey gland crust. ( Yes, we weren’t sure about that either!) It’s accompanied by a potato and celeriac pomme Anna and celeriac purée. Both meals were absolutely delicious.
The true hero dish of the night was dessert. We both swooned over the Lemon Marmalade Cake with lemon curd, lemon butterscotch and vanilla whipped crème fraiche. It was served warm in little copper saucepans. Hubby said that if he wasn’t so full he would order another one. It was one of the best desserts we’d ever tried.
Waking to a crisp Spring morning we decided to visit a few wineries but we didn’t get very far. Our first stop was the glorious Hidden Valley Winery. This sprawling winery has immaculate gardens with nature trails and gorgeous statues hidden amongst the greenery. We stopped for a wine on the deck overlooking the lake. Here families were enjoying wood fired pizzas and burgers and catching up on a lazy Sunday. Tempting as it was to stay we decided to stretch our legs and explore the beautiful walking trails.There were delights at every turn: lush grounds and blooming spring flowers, hidden picnic tables, a tennis court atop a hill with views for miles, gorgeous statues and inviting bush lodges where guests can stay.
After all our walking we had worked up an appetite so we decided to try our luck in getting a table at the acclaimed Overture Restaurant. This restaurant is booked out months in advance so we were very surprised when they could squeeze us in. We were so lucky they did. This was one of the best meals we’ve had in our life, with some of the very best service.There were lots of little extras and special touches which made this meal a spectacular experience. Many guests had opted for the five course menu with matching wines but we opted for three courses and chose our own tipple, a Chardonnay from the nearby Uva Mira Vineyard.
Only one word describes our meal… WOW. We began with the most delicate potato gnocchi with mushrooms, before pork belly and pumpkin, and then a dreamy dessert of baked custard with passion fruit, pear and a coconut sorbet. Seasonal flavours at their best were made with the freshest of produce. A symphony on a plate, with not a note out of place.
Sadly, Overture is making way for a new restaurant, but the team are moving to another wine estate we have visited,The Waterkloof Estate, in Somerset West. The next act by accomplished chef, Bertus Basson, wil be called Chorus and we will certainly be visiting for an encore on our next visit. This restaurant deserved a standing ovation.
Our last day in Stellenbosch was a day of shopping and sightseeing. We explored the many art galleries, quaint bookshops and trendy boutiques, before buying some colourful prints in the famous Portchie’s Red Teapot Gallery. Often Portchie is here painting … but alas not today.
In the afternoon we headed to the world famous Delaire Graff Estate for a late lunch on the deck overlooking the mountains. It is such a beautiful spot to while away a few hours and my meal of mushroom tortellini, pork belly and carrot and a liquorice dessert ticked all the boxes. It was superb as were the magnificent views, gardens and statues. There is even a diamond shop, but alas hubby may need a few more wines before I can tempt him in there. We stocked up on some beautiful wines for home and as we headed back into town we marvelled at the beautiful Stellenbosch scenery.
All too soon it was time to venture back to Capetown, then Johannesburg, to catch our respective flights. Hubby was heading to Switzerland for work and I was going home after an amazing African adventure. Now that should be the end of the story. The holiday was fabulous and you may think we just enjoyed the safari, sipped on wines, did some sightseeing and ate great food but there are a few things you need to know about travel in 2022.
One of the things we hadn’t expected was the load shedding. Each day our hotel would post the times when the power would be off. Whilst we were in South Africa they moved from Level Four to Level Seven Restrictions, which meant more and longer outages the longer we stayed. Often these were from 10am to 12 o’clock, 6pm to 8 pm and even during the night. It changed every day.
We really felt sorry for the businesses and restaurants who have just come out of COVID and were now dealing with this. Some places had generators, many did not, so we had a few dinners by candlelight.
It is very dark in some places so it would be a good idea to pack a small torch.The phone torch doesn’t cut it and you don’t want to spoil your holiday by tripping and falling. The worst thing is when you are driving along and the traffic lights stop working.This causes mayhem and traffic jams.
Another caution is with flights. Travel may be back but not everything is up to speed. Luggage can be lost or very slow to come out. I packed extras in my hand luggage just in case I needed a couple of days of clothes and toiletries. Luckily my luggage always found me on this trip but it is a good idea to attach some air tags. My husband missed his connecting flight home to Brisbane when it took over an hour for his luggage to come out in Melbourne.
We travelled with Qantas and it is clear that they do not have enough maintenance staff. We travelled Business Class and this is a luxury we have only allowed ourselves as we are getting older. It is very expensive right now.
We won the seat trifecta. On the flight from Brisbane to Johannesburg my husband’s seat was broken. No rest for him. Our friends arriving the next day were stuck in Sydney for four hours whilst they fixed…. You guessed it… a broken seat. And three out of three… I was given an inoperable seat on the way home and could not recline or move it at all.
Fixing seats, tray tables and toilets is so important for consumer confidence, as it makes you wonder what other maintenance has been neglected when these visible signs are so obvious. My seat was covered in yellow stickers and deemed unfit for use… but still there I was. It took a lot of the sheen off Business Class travel for me. Luckily my cabin crew were lovely and so very kind.They were embarrassed and fussed over me all the way home.
To visit South Africa you must be fully vaccinated and in some areas it’s important to take malaria tablets. See your travel doctor before you depart. On safari you can brush your teeth with the water but it is advised to drink bottled water. Finally a word from the bookworm…take a good book to calm you and amuse you if you experience delays. I raced through three books this trip.
South Africa is open and as beautiful as ever. Pack a little kindness and a lot of patience and like a boy scout be prepared for anything. In the end I wasn’t eaten by a lion. I didn’t contract COVID… and I had a heck of a lot of fun. But with all holidays the best part for this reluctant traveller was coming home … to the loving arms of my family and friends with a cache of new stories to tell.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).