Looking Back: Tim Loonen's Stellenbosch visit
Coming Home: Looking Back
Landing back at Heathrow Airport after eight amazing days in South Africa is like a splash of cold water in our faces. Believe me, I love London for many reasons but this morning it’s not quite as shiny as it used to be.
We’ve just come back from a trip that seems to have brought us to the very center of hospitality. Never did I think that there’s actually in a destination that gets it right -completely. As a hotel school graduate with quite a bit of experience in the hospitality industry, I’ve been disappointed many times. I even felt that genuine hospitality and the allure of staying in a hotel wasn’t really of this time anymore.
As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve been driven towards using and loving services like Airbnb and Tripbod for all these years. At least with these services I was secured of a genuine local experience without being tricked into some sort of tourist rip-off.
A Genuine Experience
You might think that I’m forced to say all this as I’ve just come back from the (sponsored) Bucketlist Trip of a lifetime, but that’s not the case. I’ve checked the price of every single item on our list, whether a hotel, activity or a restaurant visit and I didn't say: “I would or could never pay this much money for this” once. South Africa is affordable and price vs quality is better than I’ve seen anywhere in a very long time.
Back to all those amazing local people we’ve met along the way.
It all started with Raino, who picked us up at Cape Town International Airport and drove us to the first hotel of our trip: Wedgeview Country House & Spa.
On our way to Wedgeview in Stellenbosch (about 40 minutes from Cape Town) Raino told us about Simon van der Stel, the founder of this amazing town and its community. In the distance we could already see Simonsberg, which would be our amazing view for our entire 4-day stay in Stellenbosch. The quick car ride was very comfortable and the roads great, which made me feel extra relaxed as I would be driving these roads myself in 4 days time.
Check-in at Wedgeview was smooth and accompanied by one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. Host Karel from the Netherlands was expecting us and quickly served us a delicious home made soup and a glass of Sauvignon blanc.
After a quick nap by the pool (yes – even in mid winter!) we checked into our room to get changed for dinner at the first restaurant of our trip Clayton, who would be driving us around Stellenbosch for the next few days, was awaiting to us to drive us up the hill. Along the way he told us a bit more about his love for the local tourism industry.
Wine & Dine
Overture blew us away with their top notch 6-course dinner and wine pairing. The fact that there’s no jet lag to get rid off (UK and SA is only 1 hr difference) made it easy to enjoy and hard to believe that we had been on a plane just that morning that morning.
Day two started with a Segway Tour, which was a lot more exciting than I had thought it would be. Spier Wine Farm is at the top of the ecological farming movement and their Segways are equipped with big tires so they can be taken off-road. Awesome!
Our guide was a young Responsible Tourism student from Cape Town. He quickly makes us feel comfortable driving the Segways before we went offroad into the farm. Those beautiful mountains were staring at us in the background and Cape Town’s Table Mountain just in the distance.
Stellenbosch could be that special place away from all the hustle and bustle of Cape Town – yet super close to the airport.
Then we were off to a quick wine tasting at the beautiful Spier center before driving to Dornier Wine Farm where we were welcomed by their super friendly staff. The Springbock Flammenkuchen was delicious as were the duck spring rolls.
By this point it almost felt like we’d already been in South Africa for more than a week. Truth was – we’d only been there less than 24 hours!
Stellenbosch Wine Routes had done their absolute best to make sure our program wouldn’t be filled with activities back-to-back, which was very clever. They did a brilliant job of making sure we would have time to reflect.
In the afternoon we were doing just that, by enjoying another sunshine-filled afternoon at Wedgeview before enjoying a treatment by their spa specialists.
On day three we checked out of Wedgeview after another delicious full English breakfast.
Then Clayton dropped us off at the Stellenbosch Tourism Office where Hanli from Bites & Sites Tours took us on a walk around the center of town. It was only here, in the center of Stellenbosch, that we realized it was actually winter. Trees were leafless and students had flown out for the winter holidays. However, the Stellenbosch culinary scene was very much alive.
We started at Eikeboom Slagterye were we tried some delicious droewors (dried beef sausage) and chatted with the super friendly lady behind the counter. Hanli from Bites & Sites was amazing in pointing out details in the way Stellenbosch has been set up that we would have never spotted otherwise.
Another high was the tea tasting at ZAR Rooibos Tea Emporium. Fazlin the manager, was incredibly passionate and the Rooibos tea we tried (served with milk foam) was delicious. We ended the tour with a quick wine tasting at the super-modern Brampton Wine Bar. It was cool to see a mix between wine tasting, social media and great swag. This place must be heaving when the students are in town, although it was pretty busy while we were there too, with people working on their laptops in the afternoon sun.
Being Dutch, I feel pretty comfortable on a bike. Little did I know that Delheim Wine Farm had a mountain bike experience through the hills planned for us. Their hosts made me doubt my career choice, as a life of cycling through the Stellenbosch hills suddenly became very appealing.
It was interesting to hear how they’ve turned the heaps of alien vegetation into a positive (some farmers might disagree) by cutting their own mountain bike paths and tunnels right through them. It was incredible to ride a bike downhill, seeing nothing but the bush, then suddenly be surprised by views as far as Cape Town.
After our ride Mariette du Toit-Helmold (Destinate) and Annareth Bolton (Stellenbosch Wine Routes), who planned this trip of a lifetime, joined us for a Pancake Pairing at Delheim. I still sometimes dream about that 2012 Cabernet.
It was finally time for a bit relaxing, we check into 22 Die Laan, which turned out to be a cute little guesthouse with a nice garden and a swimming pool. It was too cold to swim, but good to sit and relax in the garden and enjoy the sunshine.
When the sun had gone down we decided to go into town, which is only a 3 minute walk away, and because of the great local recommendations we managed to buy all our souvenirs within an hour.
Lanzerac – our dinner spot for the night – is of the classic kind. Something completely different from what we’d seen until then. The hotel and restaurant looked fancy, but the staff were very funny and friendly and managed to loosen up the atmosphere a bit.
The next morning we were off to Fleur du Cap (the biggest wine producer of South Africa), where we were taken on a special tour through the wine cellars and were amazed by the background story of Fleur du Cap. Nadia made sure our tour wass personal and to the point. We became fans immediately. Of course we had a wine tasting and the Fleur du Cap Salt Pairing which was simple, yet very intense. The chef at Bergkelder had prepared small dishes with the salts selected to best pair with the wines we tasted. The salts find their heritage in places as far as Hawai and again Nadia made it feel like we tasted wine with a local friend.
We even bought some good wines for back home, when we’re longing back to South Africa. By this time we were convinced that that's going to happen very soon.
After another nice and quiet sleep we met Hanli again, but this time for something completely different. She was taking us to the Kayamandi Township, where she introduced us to Mama Lily. We made a traditional meal with her and had lunch together in her house. After our local lunch, Thembi (who studied tourism in Stellenbosch, but still lives in the Township) took us on a walk to show us her neighborhood. She grew up here and lives here with her husband and children.
After this we went back to our guesthouse and have a nap, knowing that there was another great dinner coming up in the evening.
Clayton picked us up again and drove us to Tokara. The wine estate is based in a secluded spot on a hill. The tables are set against the window, where guests can see the lights of Stellenbosch. This is more Japanese oriented which is an incredible match with the South African wines.
After breakfast the next morning we left Stellenbosch and took the beautiful coastal route to Grootbos. We were off to spot some whales.
Stellenbosch, we’ve never had so many great meals, but you leave us hungry for more.