Stay in the newest oldest hotel in the heart of historic Stellenbosch

With its whitewashed Cape Dutch buildings and tree-lined avenues, Stellenbosch is even more beautiful following a major street art investment and the myriad art galleries with sculptures that spill out into the streets. As a university town, it has a vibrancy and edginess that makes it very desirable, especially if you are young at heart and want to be in a stimulating academic and creative hotbed.

Stay in the newest oldest hotel in the heart of historic Stellenbosch

Our short stay at Oude Werf Hotel, the oldest inn in the land, was made even more pleasurable by the fact that after we parked our car in their protected adjacent parking lot (that, in itself, is a rarity for the historic centre) we spent our time there on foot, exploring the many restaurants and shops from high-end fashion outlets to affordable crafts and one, in particular, the Dorp Street Gallery, that features some of the best South African collectable art and also many low cost items as gifts and trinkets.

Another must visit is the uber trendy Schoon for coffee, food, artisan bread and much more. In the other direction, just around the corner from Oude Werf is a newish destination, De Warenmarkt, a creative reworking of a former police station with superb meats from Ryan Boon, coffee from Deluxe and all manner of delicious things to eat and drink.

Our accommodations were so comfortable it was hard to leave the hotel to explore but because it really is at the center of what’s fabulous, we made many side trips, each time bringing our loot back to store in our First Floor room as if squirreling away acorns from the great overhanging oaks.

You can see the original foundations, a disinterred grave and even the remnants of the original pulpit of the first church in Stellenbosch, built in 1687, under the hotel’s restaurant. According to hotel information the original church was destroyed by fire in 1710. “On this ‘old churchyard’ would rise the Cape Dutch-style Wium’s Inn, the two-storey Arcadia and, in the 20th Century, after much rebuilding, Oude Werf Hotel, today owned by the Petousis family and run by its 65-strong team.

Stay in the newest oldest hotel in the heart of historic Stellenbosch

Since 1802 it has welcomed guests from statesmen and artists to explorers, the university’s first female graduates, and even the odd ghost. Oude Werf has 58 rooms in three luxury styles, set across the hotel property. Most are centered on our poolside gardens or in our historic inn-house. Most above-ground rooms have lift access, with some adjacent rooms interleading and family group-friendly. All rooms have been extensively renovated or are newly built, incorporating latest interior fittings and standard room features.”

Stay in the newest oldest hotel in the heart of historic Stellenbosch
New suitcase-type laptop safe

We were accommodated in one of their Luxury rooms which has the benefit of an outdoor patio looking into the courtyard and seating area and steps down to the pool. These rooms have also recently been upgraded and are more contemporary with exposed brick feature walls, textured vinyl headboards and intriguing perspex legs to the desk/vanity area. A Nespresso machine is cleverly secreted into a side panel which is invisible when not in use and I loved the laptop safe, the first time I’ve seen one that opens, as a suitcase might, from the top rather than the typical barn-door opening. It is well hidden in a cupboard drawer but much easier to access than usual ones. As you’d expect, there is Wi-FI in the rooms and public areas.

Massed light fittings make for contemporary decoration

With the upgrade, this historic hotel is now 100% in the 21st Century without having lost the nostalgic charm of a historic property. Clever and artful decoration, mainly achieved by massing objects like traditional light fittings but arranged in such a way to make the look entirely contemporary. They’ve done the same with hats and hooks and created an art wall installation “trophy” wall, with just one taxidermic head with the rest out of beads, ceramic, crochet fabric and so on. The Deluxe category rooms have more traditional interiors.

Stay in the newest oldest hotel in the heart of historic Stellenbosch

Sensational cheesecake

The recently appointed new head chef Jeremy takes inspiration from the 19th Century country dishes of the legendary hotel owner, Tant Betje Wium but with a contemporary twist. We were really impressed with the biltong and oxtail soup, the sensational pork belly and the baked cheesecake. A table right in front of the roaring fire must be one of the coziest places to dine. At breakfast, the buffet had everything we wanted, so we didn’t order any of the specialty dishes although the salmon rosti sounded particularly good. Hotel public areas include the restaurant, reception and a wonderful coffee shop/bar which looks out onto the courtyard gardens.