When you live in a place you tend to get use to its charms. We have been living in Cape Town for five years now and while I am constantly aware of its beauty, I often forget to look up at the incredible architecture, rarely wander into a museum, and easily miss all the interesting sights spread through the city. So every now and then we love to play tourist, trying to see and experience things like someone would visiting for the first time.
Recently I had the opportunity to join a Bites and Sites food tour in my home town Stellenbosch, situated less than an hour out of Cape Town. Growing up here and while studying at the university I loved exploring all the little streets on foot, coffee in hand, stopping to take in art, read the dedications on historic statues and buildings, wondering about all the stories that played out over the last few hundred years.
And yet you still miss a lot when you’re use to walking the same streets every day, so I was excited to be able to take a look through a tourists eye.
I’ll admit that the foodie angle also won me over. Stellenbosch is a treasure chest of delicious spots that include artisan bakeries and coffee shops, craft beer bars, slow food markets and fine dining restaurants. I find that each time I visit there is some new eatery or wine bar to discover, a foodie fad to try out or a side street I haven’t wandered down yet.
My mom and I joined Hanli Fourie, founder of Bites and Sites on a beautiful Sunday morning, along with two American tourists. We started our walk from the tourist centre at the top of Church street and from there meandered to the Theology department around the block, the spot where it’s said that Simon van Der Stel first had the inspiration to settle down and establish the town of Stellenbosch.
The tour takes you down Dorp Street, down a few alleyways and finally back up Church, stopping at new street art pieces, historic buildings and foodie gems.
Hanli is clearly passionate about her town and a rich source of knowledge. As we walked she took us pointed out the various architectural styles of the buildings and how events in town influenced the way people started building their houses. The reason people moved away from thatched roofs, for instance, was because the town kept burning to the ground. Not ideal.
Our first foodie stop was at Schoon de Companjie where we nibbled on some of their famous bread sticks – the olive and chocolate variants are my favourites – and got a little introduction to the space and slow-food philosophy behind it all.
Schoon de Companjie is pretty well known at this point, but were you aware of the boutique wine shop tucked away in the top corner? Here you can taste and buy a range of small-batch wines that aren’t typically found on the market. I will definitely be heading back here to stock up on my collection.
From here we made a quick stop at Eikeboom Butcher, which was unfortunately closed on a Sunday but worth a visit for all the meat lovers. Eikendal is the oldest butcher in town and still regarded as the top spot for quality cuts. Hanli was clever enough to pack a little biltong and droëwors which we could nibble on as we made our way to the next spot, and it was superb.
Another newbie space I hadn’t visited before was Le Chocolatier in Church street. You might remember these guys from their little shop in Franschhoek, which recently moved to its new home. Inside you’ll find a spread of handmade chocolates, of which I highly recommend the dark chocolate truffles.
We picked up a selection of flavours and strolled down the street to Brampton Wine Studio where we were about to do a chocolate and wine pairing that Hanli and the Brampton team has specially curated. Overall it was a nice selection of easy-drinking wines and the pairing worked well. I also enjoyed the casual, laid-back atmosphere at Brampton and would imagine it a great spot for after-work drinks.
We only did a mini food tour since we still had a big lunch ahead of us that day, but you can select from a variety of options to indulge. I would also be keen to try their tour into Kayamandi where you can try delicious traditional dishes.
For our final stop we popped in at the oldest building in Stellenbosch, which forms part of the town museum. I’ve love this house since I first visited it on a primary school class trip, with the smells of herbs baking outside in sun mingling with the cool, slightly damp scents from inside.
The museum is an interesting place to stop, consisting of three houses from three different eras, each recreated to represent that period. This first house gives you a good idea of how people must have lived way back when, drying bokoms (salt-cured fish) and herbs from the rafters and storing coffins in the roof. The museum tour guide is even dressed in an historical outfit.
If you’re looking for a fresh way to discover Stellenbosch I can definitely recommend the Bites and Sites food tours. What I loved most was that the foodie spots were actually the places locals enjoy, and not the super commercial tourist traps. Even as a regular visitor I discovered new, interesting spaces to visit, sights to take in and treats to try. Thumbs up.
Head over to bitesandsites.co.za for more info.