Spring is a special time in the Winelands. This weekend dust off those walking shoes, stock the picnic baskets and venture out as we share a few lesser-known outings for soaking up the fine weather.
Art in the outdoors
Dylan Lewis is one of our most lauded local artists, famous for his renditions of the animal form that range from the powerfully life-like to the inspiringly abstract. Although his sculptures grace the lawns and gardens of wineries from Delaire Graff to Leeu Estates, Stellenbosch is also home to Dylan’s own outdoor gallery, in the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden on the Paradyskloof Road.
By rejuvenating a neglected tract of land behind his farmhouse, Dylan has created a sculpture from the earth itself, shaping a remarkable sculpture garden as “organic, very natural … it fits in with the natural order”.
End your visit at the Old Storeroom to enjoy speciality teas, excellent coffee and fresh bakes; Dylan’s wife Karen Malpage Lewis has stylishly refurbished it into a contemporary space.
Picnic by the stream
You know you’re truly a Stellenbosch local when you have your own favourite spot for a picnic on the banks of the Eerste River. From its headwaters high in the Jonkershoek Valley, the Eerste River in spring is flush with winter rains and rushes its way through town. On a bright spring day it never fails to remind me of The Wind in the Willows, where Rat and Mole’s river is a “sleek, sinuous full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh … all was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles.”
Along the Eerste’s route through town you’ll find many a quiet spot for that long-awaited reunion with family and friends. Stock up on artisanal breads from the Schoon Manufactory at The Bird Precinct, add in a little charcuterie and cheese from Wild Peacock, then lay out the blanket, crockery and pillows on the riverbank.
If you prefer a more formal picnic spot, Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, just off the Jonkershoek Road, offers shady facilities on the riverbank, with easy walking trails to explore nearby.
Summit the Simonsberg
The Simonsberg dominates the landscape around Stellenbosch, its sheer cliffs rising above the vineyards. Sipping a glass of Sauvie at one of the surrounding estates, you can be forgiven for thinking the mountain named for Simon van der Stel is only for hardy mountaineers. With a little effort and some sure-footedness, it’s easy enough to step out onto the summit.
The path to the top leaves from the border of the Tokara Estate. Park at the farm’s charming Deli – a good spot to stock up on snacks – and wander along to the nearby gate, where you’ll sign the register before heading uphill. It’s a steep, steady path up, but as you swap farm road for mountain path you’ll admire stands of waboom proteas and clusters of colourful watsonias. The path becomes progressively steeper, with the occasional rocky scramble as it nears the summit, yet the views from the top are well worth the effort. Allow plenty of time – most of a day – to enjoy the views along the path and at the summit.
Art in the Eikestad
Perhaps surprisingly, the Stellenbosch University Museum is home to a substantial art collection, built up over the past century to include more than 3 000 works by both local and foreign artists. The museum is situated in what was once the Bloemhof Girls’ School, built in 1907 in the elaborate Flemish Renaissance Revival style. The university purchased the building in 1986 and the museum opened in October 1991.
While the museum’s permanent collection is extensive and includes works by icons such as Rodin, Dali and Picasso, of particular interest are the paintings of celebrated South African artist Maggie Laubser. The museum holds more than 140 of her paintings and many are on display in the very building where she once attended school.
While independent visits are well worthwhile for any art lover, when lockdown allows, look out for the return of the Wednesday Art Walkabouts. Held on the first Wednesday of each month, from 1pm to 2pm, the walkabouts showcase previously unseen works in the museum’s collection. The walkabout is free but booking is essential.
The fascinating From the Vaults exhibition also remains on show until the end of the year. A highlight of the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale, the exhibition was assembled by curators Mike Tigere Mavura and Khanyisile Mbongwe, who delved deep into the archives and art collections of both Stellenbosch University and the University of Fort Hare to examine the historical significance of past acquisitions and discuss how passing a critical eye over museum vaults can guide behaviour in the future.
Ever dreamt of being a pilot? While we can’t all call a cockpit at 35 000ft our office for the day, model aircraft are an easy way to indulge a passion for planes. Stellenbosch Model Aircraft Academy offers an excellent introduction to the world of remote-controlled aircraft. At its small runway on Wild Clover Farm, off the R304 towards Paarl, members and visiting pilots soar high above the open fields, with themed flying days drawing both pilots and spectators.
To watch the aerial action, visitors are welcome to unpack their picnic and camp chairs a safe distance from the runway or wander over to the nearby Wild Clover restaurant and brewery for a taste of its delicious craft beers. Order one of the excellent pizzas and ask for a terrace table overlooking the flying field.
Discover the Hidden haven
From its perch high on the northern flanks of the Helderberg, Hidden Valley Wine Farm has become well known for both remarkable views and top-notch cuisine at Overture, one of acclaimed chef Bertus Basson’s many kitchens. But beyond the fine wine and food, many visitors wander right past one of the hidden attractions of this charming boutique farm.
When former owner Dave Hidden purchased the property, alien vegetation and invasive trees choked the valley above the dam. After major rehabilitation, the area was replanted with indigenous flora and in the years since, the landscape has flourished.
Today the 20-minute nature trail meanders across the dam wall, past colourful beds of leucadendrons and scabiosa and up through a grove of wild olives. Higher up, Outeniqua yellowwoods and tree ferns thrive in the shade of the valley and the dense fynbos has become a haven for birdlife. It’s also a fine spot for a picnic, with generous picnic baskets offered for guests to enjoy on the lawns or in a shaded spot along the trail.
Unless you’re a regular hiker, it’s easy to be intimidated by the dramatic amphitheatre of mountains that greets visitors to the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. With the surrounding summits rising to more than 1 500m, the valley offers some of the most beautiful mountain vistas the Cape has to offer.
Hidden away at the end of the valley is a path that’s easily accessible to weekend wanderers and young families, delivering mountain views, pristine fynbos and two dramatic waterfalls. It’s less than 1km from your car to Eerste Waterval, but it’s worth pressing on up the valley to admire the tumbling cascades of Tweede Waterval. It’s an out-and-back route on a path that’s easy to follow, so there’s little chance of getting lost. Take the family, pack a picnic and allow plenty of time for a lazy wander beneath the high peaks.
Bucolic Banhoek escape
We’re all guilty, both tourists and locals, of not giving the Banhoek Valley enough attention. It’s too easy to slide right past it on our way between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, the twists and turns of Helshoogte Pass keeping our eyes on the road instead of letting us enjoy the glorious views of the mountains that encircle the valley.
At De Zeven Guest Lodge you’ll have plenty of time to let your gaze linger. Whether it’s for visiting friends or a staycation of your own, this boutique guesthouse offers a charming country bolthole just 10 minutes’ drive from Stellenbosch. Owned by Siobhan and Ace Meyer, who call Limoenkloof farm on the nearby Simonsberg home, the lodge offers 11 individually decorated rooms, the walls filled with the works of local artists. The seven rooms in the Manor House are more classical in style, while the airy Barn Rooms overlooking the pool and courtyard gardens are decorated in a more contemporary aesthetic. Either way, in the warming days of spring you’ll spend plenty of time enjoying the glorious indigenous gardens, the work of acclaimed landscape designer Rentia Hobbs.
If a surprise cold front rolls in, retreat indoors. The traditional Finnish sauna, installed by Santavi, offers incredible views of the valley and is bound to ward off the chills. Or step upstairs to the spacious lounge, all steel pillars and glass walls, to admire the views with a glass of wine in hand. The wine list includes a selection from Siobhan’s favourite valley cellars as well as De Zeven’s own wines, made by winemaker Van Zyl du Toit using grapes from the vineyards on Limoenkloof. A fine way to toast the arrival of spring.