Wilma den Hartigh
Visitors to the Western Cape now have the option to experience the best of what the Stellenbosch region has to offer, on a bicycle.
A Stellenbosch-based adventure sports company recently launched a new tourism product that offers guided bicycle tours through the historic town and surrounding winelands.
"It is something different. You actually have an opportunity to experience Stellenbosch and its surroundings, and not just sit in a bus," says the Adventure Shop's Raino Bolz.
And, you don't even have to be in peak condition to join in.
"It is a leisurely ride but it helps to be moderately fit. We don't rush the group," Bolz adds.
He says the Adventure Shop has always offered bicycle rentals and guided tours on demand for tourists. "We then decided to combine both the rentals and guided tours and turn it into a product."
He adds that there are other bicycle tours to wine farms, but these don't include the historical aspect.
A historic town
The tour kicks off in Stellenbosch, at the tourist information centre where riders collect their mountain bikes and helmets.
Bolz advises tourists to travel light and cycle in comfortable gear such as shorts and t-shirts. The guides carry a snack pack for each rider.
From here, tourists cycle through Stellenbosch to interesting historic sites.
"The town has a fascinating history," says Bolz.
Founded in 1697 by Simon van der Stel, Stellenbosch is the second oldest town in South Africa. It is home to some beautiful and well preserved examples of Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture.
Many of these buildings can be seen in one of the town's most well-known streets, Dorp (Afrikaans for town) Street, which is a national monument.
Stellenbosch has earned the reputation as the City of Oaks because of the large number of oak trees that were planted by its founder, Simon van der Stel.
On route, the guides will point out other prominent landmarks such as the moederkerk (Afrikaans for Mother Church), and the theological seminary.
The moederkerk was completed in 1863 under the supervision of German architect, Carl Otto Hager. The first church was destroyed by a fire in 1710, but it was later rebuilt and extended.
The theological seminary was constructed on what used to be an island on the banks of the Eerste River. Here Simon van der Stel camped with his party for the first time in 1679, and founded the town of Stellenbosch.
Heading into the countryside
Next, the group heads out to the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, just outside Stellenbosch. Cyclists might work up a bit of a sweat on this part of the route, but the beautiful mountain fynbos should offer enough of a distraction.
More than 1 100 plant species can be found in the reserve, of which a number are rare and endemic to the area.
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve. Jonkershoek is a popular cycling spot and its rugged terrain is ideal for hiking. Assegaaibosch, which is a much smaller reserve, is suitable for shorter walks and picnics.
The tour follows a winding road through oak and poplar forests to two wine estates in the Jonkershoek Valley: Stark-Condé, owned by self-taught winemaker Jose Condé, and Lanserac Wines, producers of the world's first commercially bottled Pinotage.
At Lanserac, cyclists are also treated to chocolate and wine pairings, the ultimate indulgence.
Ending a perfect day out
After the tasting, the group cycles back into Stellenbosch. If the wine and chocolates leave you feeling a bit weary, rest assured that the route back is as scenic as the way up, and it is mostly downhill.
Bolz says that there are some variations to this route and the tour can be tailored to suite the group's cycling ability.
The duration of the tour is four to five hours and cyclists depart at 9.30am from the Stellenbosch tourist information centre, where the Adventure Shop is located.
The cost is R490 (US$64) per person, which includes a guide; bicycle and helmet rental; two wine tastings and a snack pack and drink.