Location: South Africa » Western Cape » Cape Town » Stellenbosch

In 1679 Governor Simon van der Stel undertook his first inspection tour of the outposts of the victualling staion established 27 years earlier.  On 8 November he pitched his camp on the banks of the Eerste (First) River and was so enchanted with the surroundings that he decided to found a settlement there and call it Stellenbosch (for himself).

This was the origin of South Africa's first town after Cape Town.  The large number of aks which line the streets have given the town the sobriquet Eikestad (city of oaks).  The first oaks were planted in the time of Van der Stel but experts believe that most of those seen today were planted in the early 19th century.

The first farms were allocated before the end of 1679 and the village was formally established in 1685 when the first lanndrost (magistrate) Jan Mulder was appointed.  By then about 30 farms were being cultivated.  They included names that have survived to this day:  Ida's Valley, Koelenhof, Coetzenburg, Jonkershoek and Mostertsdrift.  Governor van der Stel himself supervised the surveying of the first residential stands on 15 October 1686.  The drostdy, official residence of the landdrost, was completed in April 1687.

The fown was badly damaged by fire three times:  in 1710, 1803 and 1875, each time in the month of December.  In 1803 more than 40 homes were razed to the ground.  Afterwards the architectural trend was away from single storey Cape Dutch thatched homes to Georgian style double storey constructions.

Today there are more than 600 farms of between 80 and 130ha in the 635km square district.  Viticulture is the most important activity by far, but deciduous fruit and Turkish tobacco are also grown.  many of these farms still boast the original Cape Dutch homesteads built in the late 17th and early 18th century.  Together they present a magnificent pageant of South Africa's architectural heritage.

More than 40 wine estates in the Eerste and Berg River valleys are open to the public and can be visited along a number of wine routes.  The names of these estates are household words wherever fine wines are appreciated.

Stellenbosch boasts a number of fine old churches and religious institutions of a variety of denominations.

* The first Dutch Reformed church was consecrated in 1687 but destroyed in the first fire of 1710.  A new church was put up in 1722 and enlarged in 1814.  Rebuilt in Gothic style to a design by architect Otto Hager in 1862-63, it was the only Dutch Reformed church in the town until 1952.

* St Mary's Anglican church was built in 1852 on the town square, the Braak (fallow land), which has itself been proclaimed a national monument.

* The old Lutheran church in Dorp Street was completed in 1851.  The building now houses the university's art museum.  The new Lutheran church in Hofmeyr Street was designed by A Kappelhoff and completed in 1964.

* The Rhenish Mission church on the Braak has a long history dating back to 1823 when the building was put up by a local missionary society to serve the slaves and coloured people.  A new wing and a north-facing entrance were added in 1840.  The baroque pulpit was made by Londt, a well known Cape Town carpenter, in 1853 for the local Dutch Reformed church, which presented it to the Rhenish Mission in 1963.  The church has two bell arches.  Located on the southern boundary of the Braak, the church is regarded as one of the best specimens of early 19th century classical architecture in Stellenbosch.  The Rhenish parsonage, built in 1815, is also located just off the Braak.

Stellenbosch has played a pivotal role in the development of school and tertiary education in South Africa.

* Stellenbosch University, one of the largest residential universities int he country, grew from the Stellenbosch Gymnasium opened in 1866 and the Victoria College founded in 1881.  The Ou Hoofgebou (old main building) of Victoria College is still in use and was proclaimed a national monument in 1973.  Of South Africa's eight prime ministers (from 1910 to 1984) six were students of Stellenbosch University.  The exceptions were the first and last, both Bothas.  The university's sports fields at Coetzenburg are legendary.  No rugby ground has produced more Springboks than Coetzenburg.

* The Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1859 virually on the foundations of the drostdy (magistracy) built in 1718, eight years after the destruction by fire of the first.  Until 1938 this was the only institution in the country in which Dutch Reformed ministers were trained.

* The first girls' school in the country was the Rhenisches Institut, built on the western side of the Braak in 1860 as a high school for the daughters of Rhenish missionaries.  Later girls of other denominations were accepted but lessons continued to be given in German and English.  The premises are now used as an arts centre.  South Africa's first domestic science school was opened in the same institute in 1893.  The Rhenish High School was opened in a new building next door in 1905.

* Paul Roos Gymnasium, one of the best known schools int he country, is named for the captain of the first national rugby side to tour abroad (in 1906).  It was on this tour that the name Springboks was chosen for the national XV.  Paul Roos was headmaster of the school from 1910 to 1940 when it was still known as Stellenbosch Gymnasium.

* Bloemhof Girls' High School was founded in 1874 and moved to new buildings in 1960, leaving the original buildings to be used by the primary school.

* Stellenbosch is the headquarters of the research institutes for fruit and fruit technology, oenology and viticulture of the Department of Agriculture.  The university runs an extensive botanical garden and herbarium for research purposes.  The specimens include many rare plants such as Welwitschia mirabilis from the Namib desert, and many ferns, orchids and a comprehensive collection of succulents.

Stellenbosch is replete with buildings of great historical significance, many of them now national monuments.  To walk through the older part of the town is to page through the early history of the country.  The main street, Dorp Street, is arguably the prettiest and best preserved old street in all South Africa.

Together with the National Monuments Commission and the municipality, three private associations concern themselves with the restoration or preservation of important historical buildings.  They are Historical Homes of South Africa (founded in Stellenbosch in 1963), Colonia Ltd (1964) and the Van der Stel Foundation.

* Libertas Parva at the western end of Dorp Street is a beautifully restored homestead which once belonged to the Krige family whose daughter Sybella married Jan Smuts.  It now houses the Rembrandt van Rhijn Art Gallery.  Next door is the Stellenryck Wine Museum.

* Ackermann House, another restored residence, at 50 Dorp Street, is where Jan Smuts lodged when he was a student at the university.

* Vredelust is the original homestead of the old farm Libertas East allocated to Jan Cornelisz in 1689.  Fully restored, it has been converted into a restaurant.

* Also at the western end of the street are the Krige cottages, built by Willie Krige in a combination of Victorian and Cape styles.

* La Gratitude, 95 Dorp Street, was built in 1798 as a parsonage for the Revd Meent Borcherds who personally supervised the construction.  Above the front gable window he had carved what he called the allseeing eye of God, which still watches over passers-by today.

* The Village Museum in Van Ryneveld Street preserves part of the old town, including some of the finest period buildings.  Among them are Schreuder House, built early in the 18th century and probably the oldest extant town house int he country, Bletterman House, built around 1780 and furnished according to the style popular with the well to do of the period, and Governor House, complete with slave quarters and coach-house, built in 1782 for the Neethling family and furnished as it would have been in the late 18th century.

* De Witt House, middle 19th century, in Plein Street now houses the town's information bureau for visitors.

* In Old Strand Street there is a group of whitewashed cottages reputedly designed by Sir Herbert Baker , who later was the architect of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.  Originally used by labourers on Cecil Rhodes' farm, these have been restored and now house a brandy museum.

* The Kruithuys (powder magazine), built by the Dutch East India Company on the Braak in 1777, is now used as military museum wiht collections of weapons and uniforms.

* Also on the Braak is Burgherhuis, built in 1797 as an H-shaped Cape Dutch homestead.  It has been fully restored and part of the building serves as a museum with fine collections of period furniture, glassware and ceramics.

* The name of Papegaaiberg (parrot mountain) west of the town merits some explanation.  Governor Simon van der Stel made a habit of visiting Stellenbosch on his birthday every year.  On these days there would be a country fair with many bucolic activities and competitions, including target shooting.  The target would be fashioned into the shape of a parrot and placed on the slopes of this hill.

* The 25ha Jan Marais Nature Reserve within the municipal boundaries is a wild flower sanctuary of the first order.

* At Adam Tas Bridge at the western end of town a small memorial marks an archaeological site discovered in 1899 by Dr Louis Peringuey of the South African Museum in Cape Town.  Stone implements discovered there indicated that the area was inhabited by prehistoric man as long as 250 000 years ago.  An archaeological reserve of 2ha was proclaimed around the memorial in 1962.

Founded in 1679, Stellenbosch is the second oldest town in South Africa (after Cape Town), renowned for it’s historical buildings in the Cape Dutch Style, it’s university and wines. Also known as the ‘Eikestad’ (town of oaks) because of it’s many oak trees, Stellenbosch lies in a fertile valley, surrounded by majestic blue mountains, vineyards and orchards. Stellenbosch is home to one of South Africa’s foremost universities – the University of Stellenbosch – a leading educational institution which over the years has produced six prime minister and various Springbok rugby captains.

GENERAL INFORMATION

How to get there

Cape Town 48 km, Gordon’s Bay 29 km, Paarl 32 km, Franschhoek 35 km, Strand 25 km, Somerset West 20 km

Altitude: 115 m above sea level

Average Temperatures

Summer 15°c – 35°c; winter 1°c – 18°c

Rainfall: 600 mm per year

Rain Moths: May to September

Mountains

Stellenbosch Mountain (1175 m), Helderberg, Simonsberg (1390 m), Twin Peaks (1494 m)

Rivers

Eerste River

Banks

Absa, Nedbank, FNB, Standard, Saambou, Boland, SA Perm

HISTORICAL VIEW

Probably the best way to explore Stellenbosch and it’s historical attractions is to do so on foot. A comprehensive guide tour of Stellenbosch is conducted daily.

Burgerhuis Museum

A classic H-shaped Cape Dutch homestead and today the Head Office of the Historical Homes of South Africa.

D’Ouwe Werf

Built on the foundation of the first church in town (1687), this is possibly the oldest tavern in town – today an elegant hotel.

Die Braak

The original village green, formerly used as parade ground for the local militia and festivals. Various historical buildings surround the Braak, including the Kruithuis, Burgerhuis and St Mary’s on the Braak.

Libertas Parva

Rembrandt van Rijn Art Museum

 

Morkel House

One of the few buildings to appear on the 17th century town plan which is still standing today.

Old Lutheran Church

Built in 1854. Home to the Art Gallery of the Stellenbosch University

Rhenish Church

Built in 1823 as a school for slaves and today housing the PJ Oliver Art Centre. It’s pulpit is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Rhenish Complex

One of the finest restoration projects undertaken in South Africa. Houses a toy and miniature museum.

Slave House

Built for freed slaves, this is a good example of a 19th century Stellebosch street

Stellenbosch Gymnasium

Both the Paul Roos Gymnasium, a boy’s school and the Stellenbosch University had their origins in this building.

Stellenryck Wine Museum (Libertas Parva Cellar)

A collection of old wine making tools and furniture

Village Museum

Encompasses approximately 5 000m2 of the oldest part of town. The original houses, dating from several periods of the town’s history, have been beautifully restored and furnished to depict the development of the town.

VOC Kruithuis (Powder Magazine)

Built in 1777 as a weapons store, this is the oldest surviving powder magazine in the country. Today houses a military museum with 17th century cannon, flintlock muskets, VOC memorabilia and items from the Stellenbosch Military Regiments.

NATURE

Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve

Adjoining the Jonkerhoek State Forest and Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve, this 204 ha reserve conserves a large variety of indigenous fauna and flora, including a number of rare proteas. Animal species include the common duiker, Cape grysbok and small grey mongoose. Birdlife includes the grey-winged francolin, the black eagle and the Cape Sugarbird. There are no accommodation facilities in the reserve. Other attractions include short walking trails, a wild flower garden with labelled plants, and picnic sites with braai facilities. The reserve is open throughout the year.

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

12 km out of town. World renowned trout hatchery – trout fishing allowed from 15 April to 15 September. Hikers and mountain bikers are also catered for. There is a scenic mountain drive of approximately 12 km.

Wiesenhof Game Park

12 km north of Stellenbosch on the R44. Free ranging game, including cheetah, and indigenous flora in a spectacular setting. Self catering bungalow, picnic sites, boatrides and swimming pools. Best game viewing during feeding time – 11:00. Open daily (except Mondays) from 09:30 – 18:00.

ATTRACTIONS

Annual Events

Food and Wine Festival – Last week of October

Music Festival – September

Simon van der Stel Festival – Saturday nearest 14 October

Stellenbosch Festival – September

Bergkelder

Tunnelled into the southern slopes of the Papegaaiberg, this cellar is renowned for it’s magnificent vats carved in 1968. Wines are sold at the Vinotaque.

Brandy Route

Bird Watching Tours

David Peplar local ornithologist (group max. eight).

Oom Samie se Winkel

A typical village shop renowned for it’s merchandise ranging from homemade preserves ro collectable.

Ostrich Farm Heen & Weer

Ostrich farm in the heart of the Winelands. Guided tours, ostrich meat tastings and sales, leather goods, restaurant and curio shop.

Sasol Art Museum

The University of Stellenbosch’s permanent art collection.

Stellenbosch Wine Route

Tour Guides & Operators

University of Stellenbosch

Bookings essential for groups, conducted tours and lectures.

 

ACTIVITIES

Angling

Most farm dams are well stocked with tilapia, black bass and trout.

Aviation / Parachuting

Hiking

Banhoek Day Walk

11 km / 1 day circular route, average grading

Eerste River Trail

This scenic treelined trail follows the Eerste River from De Volkskombuis Restaurant to the Lanzerac Hotel.

Helderberg Farm Hiking Trail

Situated just outside Somerset West on the R44, with beautiful views of the False Bay, Stellenbosch and the Cape Peninsula. Free entry to farm animals and playground. Routes vary from a 1,8 km, 50 minute walk to an 11 km route. Granny’s Forest offers easy walks for people of all ages. An overnight hut provides accommodation.

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve Trails

The reserve offers a number of trails. The Panorama Day Walk is a 17 km / 1 day circular route, offering beautiful views. The Swartboskloof Day Walk is the longest at 19 km / 1 day, campsite. The Swartboskloof – Sodydkloof Route offers a 5,3 km and 6,9 km circular routes – easy walks with a waterfall in winter and relic forest patches. The Second Waterfall Route is 6,4 km in length (in and back). It is a fairly easy walk offering beautiful views.

The Trail Day Walk

Various options ranging from 7 km to 24 km, circular route, average grading, overnight facilities.

The Vineyard Hiking Trail

(12 km, 16 km or 24 km) starts at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre and passes the cementery en route to the crest of Papegaaiberg after which it meanders through the vineyards of several well known farms, permits available from the Stellenbosch Tourism & Information Bureau.

Horse Trails

Hot Air Ballooning

Winelands Ballooning offers hot air balloon flights over the beautiful Berg River Valley and Paarl. November to April only.

Mountain Biking / Cycling

Cycle around town and in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. Cycles can be hired through the Stellenbosch Tourism & Information Bureau.

Helderberg Farm Trail

Various short trails totaling 11 km, moderate grading

Jonkershoek Valley Mountain Bike Trail

Various options, plantation roads, easy to moderate grading.

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Swartberg Nature Reserve    accommodation in Western Cape
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