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Time to take a mini winter break

Cape Town - So how is winter working out for you? Are you hibernating or getting out there and enjoying the world, even when it’s pouring with rain?

I recommend a little of both.

Colourful: Proteas brighten a rainy day in Stellenbosch. picture: Bianca ColemanTABLE TALK: Brampton Wine Studio, where visitors are encouraged to scribble on the tables. Picture: SUPPLIEDART IN THE PARK: Anton Smit Faith sculptures welcome you to Delaire Graff estate.Tokara chef Richard CarstensGREEN: Die Laan in The Avenue dates back to the 1890s, and its oak trees were declared national monuments in the 1950s. Picture: SUPPLIEDBroekie lace  forbidden photograph from inside Oom Samie se Winkel.The Angel Factory, or Engel Fabriek was a theological seminary. picture Bianca Coleman

That’s what we did when we took off for a mini midweek break in Stellenbosch, a place where tourism is zealously promoted. Come Sit, Stay & Savour Stellenbosch is part of Stellenbosch Experience 2014, a campaign initiated by Destinate (a specialised destination and tourism marketing agency) for Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Stellenbosch 360.

There are three packages from which to choose, which include accommodation, meals and activities spread over a two-night stay in the pretty town, and can be tailored to suit your wants, needs, and desires… and your budget. More details can be found elsewhere on this page.

We crammed quite a bit into half this time, but we still didn’t tick off everything on the list. As my mother always says of travelling: “Leave things undone so you can go back.”

For me, visits to Stellenbosch usually involve wine farms and their products, and not nearly enough attention on the town itself. Our package was a mixture of elements from the three options, supplemented by a couple of unassociated excursions. There are plenty of things which can be enjoyed for free, or very little money, as well as weekly events to be considered when planning your trip. However, I would advise you not to fill up your time too much. There comes a point when you want to get back to your accommodation and relax.

We were keen to hike up to the waterfalls in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, but as it happened, we blew into town along with a monstrous cold front and the rainiest day this year. Walking around town with a leopard print umbrella is far better than traipsing up a mountain, especially when there are scheduled stops for pastries, wine, history and hot chocolate.

With a Bites & Sites tour, dinner at Tokara, and a spa treatment followed by lunch at Delaire Graff, this was quite a delicious foodie itinerary. Of course, you can’t avoid the wine – and why would you want to? – so we blended a bottle of red at Middlevlei. We broke the rules at Oom Samie se Winkel by taking photographs inside, wrote on the tables at Brampton Wine Studio (not illegal), and popped into the irresistibly named Gun O’Clock where gunsmith/clocksmith Jacques Arzul took us into his strongroom at the back to show us his collection of firearms.

Coffee connoisseur Sexy Deborah had to try the coffee at the Blue Crane & Butterfly, voted best in town, and concurred with this opinion.

We saw an ancient stuffed leopard in a butchery, pondered the meaning of life and death in a decrepit cemetery, visited the oldest cottage in the town, bought vintage vinyl, caught up with the world from the newspaper over our bacon and eggs, and revelled in the abundance of beautiful artworks on the pavements from the many outdoor exhibitions that have been installed over the years.

The latest Come Sit sculpture exhibition consists of 24 formerly plain concrete benches which have been transformed into functional works of art. If you’re serious about this sort of thing you can look up all the locations and go find them, but I think it’s more fun to stumble across them when you least expect it. Many of them are quite remarkable, and the ballerina girl with her brolly is clearly the most popular and most photographed. Perhaps it’s something about her pose that invites interaction.

The Fun Finder verdict on Stellenbosch is that it is so beautiful you will want to take hundreds of photographs; it’s where you will find some of the finest restaurants in the Western Cape as well as small producers and entrepreneurs making so many delicious things; it is rich in history and famous for fires; and almost everyone has time to stop to share a story. Plus there are over 150 wine farms and estates.

What are you waiting for?

Sit down, kick back, relax and enjoy

There are three packages to Come Sit, Stay & Savour Stellenbosch, from Bargain to Luxury, ranging in price from R1 200 a person to R2 777 for two nights during the week, with two fancy meals, and two planned activities. It costs a little more over weekends.

Activities over the three tiers include visits to Van Rhyn’s, JC Le Roux and Bergkelder, which we covered a couple of weeks ago, and the Luxury option includes a Vine Hopper tour which is a hop-on, hop-off circuit of selected wine farms. You can easily set aside an entire day for that.

A Segway tour at Spier, a mini spa package at Lanzerac, a two-hour bicycle rental, wine tasting and a snack platter at Peter Falke Wines, and a Florentine and brandy tasting at Van Rhyn’s are available in the Luxury package. From this tier we selected wine blending at Middlevlei and the Bites & Sites tour. This turned out to be a brilliant way to see the town, learn more about its history, as well as sample delicious food and wine. It will also take up a fair chunk of time, from 10am till at least 1pm. See more alongside.

Middlevlei is popular with tour groups because they lay on a daily braai at the family farm.

With the Bargain package you can stay over at Middlevlei, as well as do a barrel tasting and a cellar tour. Other activities at this level include a cupcake and wine pairing at Delheim, an eagle encounter at Spier, a wine tasting at Bergkelder with a box of delicious salted fudge, and wine tastings at Dornier or Warwick.

In the middle is the Lifestyle package, for which one of the accommodation options is 22 Die Laan guest house, where we stayed, conveniently close to the centre of town. It’s a lovely old house – dating to the 1890s – in the oak-lined avenue on the banks of the Eerste Rivier, and very comfortable. We had everything we needed, including very welcome hot water bottles with fluffy covers. It’s attention to detail that makes or breaks a place.

If you choose the Lifestyle level, your two activities will come from this list: barrel tasting and cellar tour at Middlevlei, marshmallow and meringue pairing at JC Le Roux, wine and salt pairing at Bergkelder, brandy, coffee and chocolate pairing at Van Rhyns, and chocolate and wine pairing at Lanzerac.

Besides all the things that are part of the deal, others you can add include the botanical gardens (very pretty), Stellenbosch Slow Food Market (Saturday mornings), the Blaauwklippen Market (Sundays) or the Root 44 Market (Saturdays and Sundays).

Tantalising taste of historical Stellenbosch

The Bites & Sites tour of Stellenbosch is a great way to visit a variety of yummy eating and drinking spots, see the town and learn about its history.

We set off with our guide Hanli Fourie across a waterlogged Die Braak, once the village green. Our first destination was the Eikeboom Butchery in Plein Street, the town’s oldest butchery and owned by Nic and Elize van Rensburg.

We picked up bags of beef and kudu biltong, and droewors, which were destined for a later stop at Brampton Wine Studio in Church Street, then popped in at the wonderful Schoon de Companjie, which is like a food department store. We returned there later for ice cream and a cup of hot chocolate.

Run by several members of a family who decided to combine their enterprises under one roof, Schoon de Companjie has a butchery, coffee roastery, wine and craft beer bar, bakery, ice cream parlour, wine shop, fresh-produce and flower market, and two sitting areas.

Hanli dished out historical information and anecdotes along the way. We saw benches, which form part of the Come Sit outdoor exhibition, and sculptures from previous exhibitions. At the Dorp Street Museum we visited the oldest cottage, one of few buildings to survive a fire in 1710. On the tour is also Stellenbosch University’s theological seminary, known as the Engeltjiefabriek (Angel Factory).

We passed a book shop that used to be the morgue, and learnt that one window is a different height as the coffins didn’t fit otherwise.

We made our way to M Patisserie in Andringa Street, owned by Martjie Malan. This tiny chic shop is filled with delightfully buttery French pastries and confectioneries.

At Brampton Wine Studio in Church Street, the weather dictated we taste reds – Old Vine, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon – as well as unwooded chardonnay, just for fun.

For lunch we went to Helena’s Restaurant at Coopmanhuijs Hotel – a feast of aubergine fries, snoek paté, hummus, cold meats, cheeses, roasted peppers and marinated mushrooms.

The fascinating tour lasted a little over three hours.

You won’t want to eat any thing else

As part of our Come Sit, Say & Savour Stellenbosch experience, we had a rather spectacular dinner at Tokara, which is 400m above sea level on the Helshoogte pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Former Eat Out chef of the year Richard Carstens works his magic in the kitchen, delivering exquisitely creative dishes. Although we ordered from the menu, as well as some specials such as the creamy cauliflower soup with mushrooms and truffle oil (all you Banting people will love that), the highlight was the special treat Carstens sent out – a medley of tuna tartare, sashimi and salmon roe with rice and Japanese-inspired sauces and reductions. It was so delicious, I didn’t want to eat anything else. Ever again.

However, we forced ourselves.

Sexy Deborah had broccoli with gruyere custard, marinated mushrooms, pine nuts with teriyaki brown butter to start, followed by the fish of the day, which was kob. I had kob in my starter, perfectly roasted and served with crispy calamari, prawns, squid ink brioche, and a garlic and lemon cream. I didn’t want a main course after the tuna, but the waiter insisted I still have my original order of steak with a jus infused with bobotie flavours.

Unfortunately, after a day filled with food, dessert wasn’t an option. Obviously, there was more wine – all those in the Tokara range are available by the glass. Do try the Director’s Reserve, red or white, or both.

There is a resident calico cat that sleeps on the riempie bench in the corridor and caws like a crow when she sees people. This changes to a guttural purr when she is cuddled. When I announced after dinner that I would get my coat and the cat, Carstens was horrified: “No, you can’t take Zondernaam,” he exclaimed.

The annual Wine Made Art exhibition will be revealed next month at Tokara. Forty-five students from the Marié Stander School of Art make artworks from wine by using the 2011 Tokara Shiraz to portray their interpretations of this year’s theme, which is World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

Bianca Coleman, Weekend Argus

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