Even though Stellenbosch has long been overshadowed by nearby Franschhoek, this historic university town outside Cape Town deserves a closer look as a standalone destination—and not just as an afterthought to a Winelands tasting tour. Yes, you’ll have to sample a fair share of delectable wines here—there are more than 140 wine estates to choose from—but you can also while away a few days hiking, biking, 4x4-ing, or hot-air ballooning. Then, of course, there’s the food. There’s a reason why Stellenbosch is home to the largest concentration of South Africa’s top 10 restaurants, and for those with simpler palates, this Afrikaner stronghold is a great place to sample some authentic braai (barbecue) fare. If I’ve sold you on adding an extended detour in Stellies to your Cape Town trip, here are the five best hotels to consider. From opulent wine estate resorts to more intimate boutique properties, there’s a hotel for every taste in Stellenbosch.
Delaire Graff Estate
This vineyard has earned plenty of attention overseas, no doubt due to its very famous owner: the Laurence Graff (as in, the famed Graff Diamonds). The views, the contemporary rooms, and the spa live up to the hype, but the star here is Graff's South African art collection; the 2013 homecoming of the iconic Tretchikoff painting Chinese Girl was big news in South Africa.
This quirky 22-room boutique inn is one of my favorite hotels, thanks to its whimsical decor: oversize flamingo murals, fantastical paintings carved into the ceilings above the beds and a table shaped like a giant boar. Don't miss the four-course tasting menu at Makaron, helmed by local star chef Tanja Kruger.
Lanzerac Hotel & Spa
Lanzerac has always had plenty of old-world charm. Established in 1692, it is the third oldest winery in Stellenbosch—the first to bottle the uniquely South African grape varietal pinotage—and an 1830 Cape Dutch manor house sits on the estate. In 1958, the original wine cellar became a hotel, and over the next half-century, it attracted society wedding parties, honeymooners, and Capetonians wanting a Sunday lunch with a vineyard view. Now, several owners and many renovations later, Lanzerac has finally undergone a fabulous top-to-toe makeover worthy of grande dame status.
When it came to the interiors of the 53 vineyard-facing, cottage-sized rooms, local historian and designer Con van der Colff traversed the countryside, sourcing original Cape antiques to honor the heritage of the property. Ornate in-laid tables, elegant armoires, and brass-edged trunks serve as historical markers alongside walls and shutters painted in aubergine, petrol blue, and khaki. No two rooms are alike, but each has a glamorous Victorian-style bathroom. Some have private pools and gardens, including rooms 208 through 210 - ultra-private and romantic love nests. By early 2019, the manor house restoration will be complete, adding a private villa to the hotel. Complimentary minibars, Nespresso machines, homemade cookies, and crisp, white cotton bedding are all lovely touches, along with an invitation at check-in to do a complimentary cellar tour and wine tasting.
Stellenbosch beckons with its excellent restaurants, but Lanzerac has several worthy dining options if you don’t feel like leaving the farm. The Manor Kitchen serves lavish breakfasts, afternoon tea, and a short, sharp, seasonal bistro menu for dinner — the likes of fresh West Coast mussels, followed by roasted venison with confit potatoes and a juniper jus, and a nostalgic raspberry and honey souffle to finish. The informal, more festive Taphuis gastropub is known for its sharing plates, like Cape spice and ginger beer-battered fish with crushed peas, beetroot attar, and lime mayo, and robust mains like springbok bobotie (a traditional Cape Malay spiced, baked lamb dish) with roasted stone fruit, samosa pastry, onion chutney and coconut sambal. Alongside the winery and tasting room is a deli and bakery, offering pastries, elaborate cakes, all-day breakfasts (try the brie and chargrilled ham stuffed French toast), gourmet sandwiches, and cheese and charcuterie boards.
In the spa, locally-produced Theravine products combine anti-oxidant rich grape extracts with indigenous essential oils for nourishing, hydrating results. There’s also a gym, heated indoor pool, hot tub, and a spa cafe serving everything from freshly pressed juices to estate wines by the glass. Overall, a stay here taps straight into the best of South African heritage, reinforced by the delightfully down-to-earth and friendly staff. Doubles from $480.
Spier Wine Farm
One of the oldest wine estates in the region, Spier is a South African institution. Take a tour of the vineyard on a Segway, have a gourmet picnic on the grounds and view the on-site art collection; when you're done, retreat to a Riverside room with views overlooking the Eerste River.
This historic manor dating back to 1713 is right in the heart of the town center, making it walking distance to Stellenbosch's quaint cafés, boutiques and galleries. The beautifully restored home's 16 rooms have Old World furniture and stand-alone tubs and basins; many overlook the courtyard, which features a heated pool.