4 top student spots in the university town of Stellenbosch

A 20-minute drive from Cape Town’s city centre, Stellenbosch is primarily a student town, playing host to a wide, vibrant array of clubs and bars catering largely to the hundreds of 20-year-olds who populate it. Here are a few to check out.

Aandklas is, arguably, the centre of Stellenbosch nightlife. A club with an extensive range of events every night of the week – from typical college-style foosball and beer pong to Thursday quiz nights. The rest of the week is dedicated to a wide range of events, with live music on Tuesdays and pumping parties from Monday to Saturday.

Bohemia restaurant and bar incorporates a relaxed bohemian vibe. Primarily a live music venue, Wednesday finds it packed to the rafters with students as they demonstrate their support for whichever local musician is booked for the night.

Just down the street is Die Mystic Boer, an alternative club that plays music out of the mainstream six days a week, with Fridays being trance nights.

Nu Bar, a fresh upmarket club, features top DJs six nights a week, while every last Thursday of the month is Afrikaanse musiek aand (“Afrikaans music night”), ideal for those wanting to get to the root of Afrikaans music culture.

Do-it-yourself classic Cape red wine tour

New to South African red wine, or want to discover some of the best local vineyards? Respected wine judge and certified Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman suggests some of the classic estates to visit in and around Stellenbosch in the Cape winelands.

“The very finest Cabernet Sauvignon in South Africa comes from Stellenbosch. It’s the best area for growing Cabernet, with a wide range of conditions. If you can, taste your way from the cooler Helderberg across to the warmer, inland Simonsberg.

Le Riche Wines must be number one on your list for Cabernet, but one of the most exciting Cabernets at the moment is from Stark-Condé: their Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon is outstanding. It’s a modern style of Cabernet Sauvignon that can hold its head high.

The Cabernets from Grangehurst are also superb, as are those from Kleine Zalze.

Pinotage is obviously a big drawcard for visitors. L’Avenir and Kanonkop would be my two go-to producers for Pinotage. Kanonkop got incredible results at the recent International Wine and Spirits Challenge for their Black Label Pinotage, but even their regular Pinotage is superb. The wines from Beyers Truter, the winemaker at Beyerskloof, are also worth discovering.

Spier Wine Farm also makes an incredible range of Pinotage, from entry-level wines to their premium 21 Gables. They also make a range of niche wines that you can only taste at the farm. They’re all utterly drinkable and utterly collectable.”

Escape the Winelands crowds

The Winelands beyond Cape Town attract plenty of tourists, but what if you’d rather avoid the crowds and the tour busses in favour of something more authentic? Winelands tour guide Stephen Flesch has just the place for you…

One of the estates I love visiting and taking my clients to is a small family-run winery in the Helderberg region, called Grangehurst.

The cellar is run by winemaker Jeremy Walker and his wife Mandy; a lovely couple who really do make beautiful wines. They have a small vineyard, but the main focus of their production is buying in grapes that they turn into wonderful wines.

They are primarily a red wine producer although they do also have a rosé made from five different grape varieties.

The key thing about Grangehurst is that they make wines in a classic way; these are wines that are meant to age. When you go to the cellar you’ll taste wines from 2006 and 2007. They are ready to drink now, but they will also age happily for another 10 or 15 years.

They are wonderful people with lovely wines, plus it’s an intimate tasting room with no crowds.

Explore Cape Town’s kingdom of Cabernet in Stellenbosch

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most regal of the noble wine varieties, and nowhere makes better ‘Cab’ in the Cape than the Stellenbosch winelands.

Cabernet Sauvignon vines can be planted almost anywhere there’s enough late-summer sunshine to ripen the thick-skinned grape bunches. But to produce world-class “Cab”, this hardy vine needs the perfect terroir (a complete natural environment for wine to be produced, including soil, topography and climate).

“To make great Cabernet you need a very specific set of climatic conditions,” explains David. Trafford owner and winemaker at De Trafford Winery says that the range of soils, elevation and aspects in and around Stellenbosch make it the perfect region for cultivating Cabernet.

“Cabernet is the last variety to ripen in the season and is exposed to all the trials and tribulations of the vintage,” explains Johan Malan, cellar master at the family-owned Simonsig Wine Estate. “It needs the perfect terroir to perform at the highest level.”

That terroir is to be found in and around the university town of Stellenbosch, a 20-minute drive from Cape Town’s city centre, where the range of climatic conditions, altitude and soils provide a variety of terroirs that allow the king of the noble wine varieties to express itself.

The altitude and cooler temperatures of the Jonkershoek Valley offer more elegant wines, while the warmer north-facing slopes of the Helderberg and Simonsberg provide bigger, bolder expressions that lean more toward Napa than Bordeaux.

While local winemakers have, in the past, embraced big, bold Cabernet the times are changing.

“We must make Cabernets that are true to our own soils and climate,” emphasizes Malan. “Although we are in the New World, stylistically our wines have an Old World character; they are more austere, with dry tannins and a slightly herbaceous character.”

Pair wine with chocolate and a wilderness drive at this estate

Waterford Estate, a 30-minute drive from Cape Town on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, offers one of the finest wine-tasting experiences in the Cape winelands. Here’s why…

Waterford cellar master Kevin Arnold crafts some of the finest wine in the Cape winelands, happily matched by a seriously upmarket tasting experience on this Stellenbosch estate.

That experience begins as you wander up avenues of citrus trees to winery that wouldn’t look out of place in the hills of Tuscany. A shady courtyard is a welcome escape from the summer heat and the charming tasting room offers a wonderful array of wine-tasting experiences.

In addition to a standard tasting of the Waterford wines, the Vintage Reserve tasting allows you to sample a selection of the cellar’s acclaimed Reserve Wines. Reservations are essential for the Library Collection tasting, the perfect choice for wine lovers looking for a taste of selected older vintages.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Chocolate and Wine pairing matches Arnold’s top-notch wines with chocolates from chocolatier Richard von Geusau. Taste your way through Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and natural sweet wines, each paired with dark and milk chocolates.

The Wine Drive is also worthwhile: a two-hour exploration of the estate, with knowledgeable guides explaining the estate’s terroir as you discover the vineyards. The drive ends with a tasting back at the cellar.

Party like a student at Stellenbosch Mad² fundraising carnival

A 20-minute drive from Cape Town’s city centre lies Stellenbosch, famous for its wines and the University of Stellenbosch. This university town parties hard during the annual fundraising carnival, held during the height of Cape Town’s summer. Join in…if you have the stamina.

Preparing for the Stellenbosch University Carnival (or Mad², as it’s known nowadays) in the searing heat of Stellenbosch is a time I don’t personally remember with too much fondness. As a first-year student at the time this included practicing routines for vensters (elaborate plays performed in or around the hostels), folding paper flowers for float-building and having to sing songs at the top of our lungs. It all made no logical (or romantic) sense to me.

In the years since then – now that I don’t have any preparation to do myself – this festival has been a visual and auditory wine-enthused pleasure.

Mad² takes place in late January or early February each year, when the town is flooded with students returning to the campus for the new year and there’s a vibrancy in the the air. Local bands play, wine is drunk … and it all builds up to the grand finale: the “Jool konsert” (“Rag concert” – “rag” meaning a student-run charitable fundraising organisation).

Mad² has changed its name a few times over the years – Karnavaal (“Carnival”), Jool (“Rag”), Mad², all the while increasing the focus on fundraising and community service … but a rosé by any other name would taste as sweet (disclaimer: avoid sweet rosé; dry wine is much easier on the tongue and the head).

Stellenbosch also happens to be one of the world’s most famous wine regions – so once you get tired of pretending to be a student there are plenty of wine farms’ nearby where you can drink out of real wine glasses. Like a proper adult…right?

Tee off from a piece of history at the Stellenbosch Golf Club

Dating back to 1904, the Stellenbosch Golf Club has hosted several major tournaments and had golfing greats from across the world tee- off from its greens. It’s a classic Cape Town course not to be missed.

Stellenbosch Golf Club traces it history back to 1904, making it one of the oldest clubs in South Africa. And it’s no country-cousin either: the Club has hosted five South African Masters tournaments as well as the 1999 South African Open – the year in which local player David Frost took the trophy – and it remains one of the more charming tracks in the winelands.

A classic parkland layout, the course is best enjoyed on foot, although carts are available.

The signature hole is the par-3 7th, but you’ll struggle to find any bad holes in this corner of the course. The par-4 6th to an elevated green offers a risk-and-reward approach right over a vineyard, while the par-5 8th challenges with a semi-blind tee shot towards a sloping fairway that threatens to land your ball in an out-of-bounds vineyard.

After your game, the clubhouse terrace is one of the most enjoyable in the winelands, with wonderful views and a wood-fired oven that will tempt you to stay for dinner.

The Cape festival where pinotage wine is on tap

Want to have a good time while discovering the iconic grape of South Africa? Escape to the town of Wellington in the Cape winelands for the ever-popular Pinotage on Tap festival.

Some people love Pinotage red wine, others hate it. But the crowds at the annual Pinotage on Tap festival show there is more than ample support for big bold Pinotage, South Africa’s iconic grape variety.

The festival is held in October each year on the Diemersfontein Wine Estate outside the winelands town of Wellington, an hour’s drive from Cape Town. Diemersfontein became an instant favourite amongst local Pinotage fans when it launched its famous “chocolate” Pinotage; the wine offers up notes of chocolate, coffee and vanilla thanks to a carefully selected combination of wine yeasts and vine clones.

Generous quantities of Diemersfontein’s much-loved Pinotage are enjoyed during the day-long festival, with the wine literally available “on tap” from large wine barrels.

While the wine is a major draw card, it’s not the only reason to visit. Live music from some of South Africa’s top artists provides the soundtrack for this extremely festive festival, while stalls and food trucks keep the masses well fed.

Because the festival is held roughly an hour’s drive from the centre of Cape Town, don’t even think about making merry and then driving back to the city. Rather appoint a designated driver, or hire a transfer company to ferry you home safely. Alternatively, there’s no shortage of accommodation nearby, with local taxi companies able to provide shuttle services.

The cheesiest of Cape Town festivals

Cheese and wine is a match made in heaven, and at the annual South African Cheese Festival in Stellenbosch, an easy 45-minute drive from Cape Town, you’ll find the very best of both worlds.

The Stellenbosch winelands outside Cape Town may be famous for their fine wines, but in late-April each year the top local producers join cheese-makers from across the country in a festival of curds and whey.

The festival is divided up into a number of zones, with over 400 local cheeses available for tasting in the Dairy Square and Checkers Cheese Emporium. This is the heart of the festival, with both artisanal and commercial cheeseries showcasing their produce to a hungry audience.

The Checkers Market Theatre is also a hit, with local foodie-celebrities such as singer-songwriter and cooking show host Nataniël, and the “Giggling Gourmet”, Jenny Morris, whipping up cheese-focused dishes. There are more food presentations available at The Afrox Cooking Pot, where local chefs showcase the region’s fabulous fresh produce paired with local wines.

Tables and chairs spill out onto the grass at Carnival Park, where you can and enjoy the produce from the food stalls in Gourmet Lane.

The South African Cheese Festival is a highlight of the winelands foodie calendar, and draws a big crowd. It’s best to get there early to avoid the worst of the crush.

The Stellenbosch Wine Route offers a perfect snapshot of Cape Town’s best wines

If you’re short on time in Cape Town, but want an overview of what its wineries can produce, book a tour of the Stellenbosch winelands.

At last count there were close to 560 wine producers spread across the winelands of the Western Cape, making it hard for even the most dedicated wine-loving traveller to take them all in. If you’re new to South African wine, or short on time during your holiday in Cape Town, the heartland of the local wine industry is to be found in and around the charming university town of Stellenbosch.

A short drive from Cape Town’s city centre, the Stellenbosch Wine Route was established in 1971, making it the oldest wine route in the country. Perhaps more importantly, the variety of soil types, aspects and altitudes in the local vineyards give rise to a wide variety of terroirs that allow local winemakers to craft a staggering array of grape varieties.

The Jonkershoek Valley to the east of Stellenbosch is renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based blends, while the Simonsberg region is particularly famous for full-bodied red wines, including the Cape’s iconic Pinotage grape.

The Devon Valley nearby is also known for its red blends, while Papegaaiberg (Parrot Mountain) is famed for its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Fruit-driven Sauvignon Blanc is also the specialty of the Polkadraai Hills area, and both regions are adept at producing award-winning Chenin Blanc, a grape fast becoming a trendsetter amongst Cape Town’s winemakers.