Good oaks and good okes

Chris Harvie reserves judgement on students, but gives Stellies the thumbs up.

I had always thought that Stellenbosch was a lot of fuss about nothing. A few gabled buildings but not enough. Pavement dining but grim weather. Distant people and too many students.

It took me only three trips around the road system at the confused centre of South Africa’s second-oldest town to meet a sensible selection of outgoing people, meandering under avenues of ancient trees or dining on pavements splattered with sunshine, ask them the way, pass countless beautiful gabled buildings and find d’Ouwe Werf, the country’s oldest inn. I had Stellenbosch all wrong. Suddenly I loved it. Good oaks and good okes.

We were here to combine the old with the new, the traditional with the trendy; staying at d’Ouwe Werf and later heading out of town for dinner.

For now, though, we cruised history-laden streets, drank coffee and eschewed a barrage of cakes. We were feeling slightly queasy having been unintentional attendees, that morning, at a seal funeral in Hout Bay, where six municipal workers had unceremoniously buried the washed-up creature in a not-very-deep hole in the sand. I hope no unfortunate child excavates it in the foundations of a sandcastle.

I am not keen on beaches and sea. I prefer mountains and wine.

Later that night, after dinner, we wandered bloated through the numerous interlinking courtyards of the hotel, passed the pool and staggered up stairs that creaked from our gluttony . I have never had a better night’s sleep in a town in my life. There are shutters inside the windows, allowing the utter silence and total darkness that can usually only be experienced by caving . The Swedes use the rather graphic expression ‘to sleep like a clubbed seal’ but after the morning’s burial, I put this out of my mind and slept, instead, like a log.

I like to wake up feeling well. I like clever breakfast menus. I like friendly waitresses at breakfast time. I like Eggs Benedict. I like descending into the vault underneath a hotel and looking at the foundations of a church dating back to 1687. I like d’Ouwe Werf. And now that it has been taken over by the owners of The Vineyard, one of this country’s greatest hostelries, I am sure I will like it even more next time.

And as for Stellenbosch, I have changed my mind about almost everything, but I was there during university holidays so I will reserve judgment on the number of students.

Basics

Where it is: 30 Church Street, slap in the middle of Stellenbosch.

Why go there: For relaxed elegance, history, style, class and silent nights.

What it offers: 32 en-suite rooms, antique furniture, a heated pool, massages and the 1802 restaurant named after one of the two years in which the hotel burnt down and had to be rebuilt.

And the food: Cape fusion and cake confusion.

Rates: From R1300 per double room. Winter rate from R990 per double room. Rate includes breakfast.

Contact: www.ouwewerf.com, e-mail ouwewerf@iafrica.com. Telephone 021-887-4608.

Local attraction: 96 Winery Road, Ken Forrester’s and Martin Meinert’s Winelands Restaurant is a gastronomic frenzy surrounded on all sides by vineyards, roses and lavender. This is utterly unpretentious, sensibly- presented, delicious fare in a hummingly-full, high-roofed thatched cottage decorated with dramatic works of art (for sale). The long wine list was varied and helpful in its food pairings and the staff lovingly knew the menu down to the last herb and spice.

There is an Australian Shiraz for R3200, which is a bit mind-blowing, but there are countless more affordable options. The Hautes Cotes de Nuits Pinot Noir 2000 was recommended with the Warthog and Crocodile Kebabs with Truffle Hollandaise and Deep-fried Rocket, but went down equally well with the Wild Mushrooms and Parmesan Phyllo. And that was after one of us had absorbed Calamari with Chilli and Coriander Cream on Potato Rosti, and the other, Goat’s Cheese with Balsamic Berries.

Don’t go if you are on a diet or a budget. Do go if you love food, and do leave some space for the Safari Platter, a tiny taste of all the best puds, and a glass of something noble. Then make sure you have a comfortable bed to lie in after your repast.

For information, visit www.96wineryroad.co.za or telephone 021-842-2020