One of the Wineland’s most charming features is its plentiful examples of Cape Dutch architecture. Especially in Stellenbosch and on the various wine estates.
Cape Dutch architecture is indigenous to South Africa. Dutch colonists took the Dutch architectural fashions of ornate gables and high roofs and adapted it to the Cape climate. For example the thick white washed walls and small-paned shuttered windows are designed to keep out the summer heat. The thatched roofs, with their elegant gables, kept the houses cool in summer and warm in the Cape winters.
Initially the front gables were also considered to be a slight fire break in case the thatch caught fire. But later they were used mainly as a decorative feature to display the family’s crest. (Indeed the traditional thatched roof of the Cape Dutch homesteads has meant to many being lost to fire over the centuries.)
So where are we most likely to see these fine specimens?
Definining Characteristics of Cape Dutch architecture in South Africa
- Thatched roofs
- Usually decorative central gable (though older examples many be plainer)
- Painted wooden shutters on the outside of the buildings
- Expansive, multi-paned windows, much more than a Georgian house…
- Usually paintwork is in ‘heritage green’ but sometimes wood is left in its natural state
- Many have a distinctive H shape.
- Many have attractive outbuildings built in the same style
- Gardens and courtyards are surrounded by low white-washed walls
- Usually single storey though some roof spaces have now been converted into bedrooms.
The homestead often began as a simple rectangular building. As the family’s fortunes grew, this was extended to the back to form the spine of a T. If their fortunes continued to prosper, a second extension was added at the back to form an H shape. Unlike English manor houses, which also often have an H shape, the front door is usually in the centre of the front facade. (Rather than in the centre of the middle with two wings at the side.)
In addition to their attractive central gables, the charm of a CapeDutch homestead also lies in the surrounding buildings. These were usually designed in a simpler but similar style. They were thatched, white-washed with small-paned windows painted green. These would house servants quarters, laundry, stables and wine cellars. If the young man of the household took a wife whilst his parents were still alive, then he might be set up in a “young mans house” . This was a simpler version of the main homestead. All these buildings were surrounded by low white-washed walls and it made for an extremely harmonious composition.
Good examples of Cape Dutch architecture in towns
Stellenbosch, Tulbagh, Swellendam, Paarl and Graaff Reinet have the best examples of Cape Dutch architecture.
The Cape Governor Simon van der Stel visited the Eerste river valley (site of Stellenbosch) in 1679 and decided the area was suitable for farming. The charming town of Stellenbosch was established in 1685 and still contains a number of well-preserved Cape Dutch streets from that era. A walk around Stellenbosch shows off the many styles of Cape Dutch architecture through the years.
We recommend a visit to the Village Museum which shows four ‘settler’ houses through the ages. This shows how they first lived when the Dutch colonists arrived in the late 17th century and then charts how the Cape Dutch architecture developed until the 19th century.
Many of the surrounding wine estates have beautiful old Cape Dutch homesteads. Some such as Boschendal and Vergelegen are open to visitors.
Vergelegen Wine Estate
Vergelegen Wine Estate is an elegant, tranquil wine estate in Somerset West. It has a dramatic history. It was the original home of Simon Van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape. But he lost his home when he fell out of favour with the Dutch authorities. Nowadays it’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours. You can tour the Cape Dutch homestead, meander through the beautiful gardens, enjoy some wine tasting and take a cellar tour in its state-of-the-art modern cellar. Vegelegen is in Somerset West and you may like to combine a visit with the nearby wine and olive estates of Lourensford and Morgenster.
Boschendal Wine Estate
The manor house at Boschendal is not as old as Vergelegen but arguably it’s a more attractive example of Cape Dutch architecture. The current manor house was built in 1812. Here you can see the manor house, mainly from outside, sample their wines, enjoy their traditional Cape restaurant or opt to take a gourmet picnic to eat in their edenesque grounds. The garden has also recently been revitalized and is well-worth some time. Boschendal lies between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Other Cape Dutch Wine Estates to Visit (Outside views only)
Though the Manor House is only for in-house residents, you can still enjoy the magnificent gardens, the cellar tours, the new tasting room, Babel restaurant or the Conservatory and a particularly food farm shop.
LÓmarins Wine Estate and Motor Museum
Though the main farmhouse is not open to the public, the gracious outbuildings house the introduction to the Franschhoek Motor Musuem and the Wine-tasting room. Well worth a visit…
Other Wine Estates include Blaauwklippen, Spier, Rustenberg… the list goes on
Hotels in Cape Dutch Homesteads
You can also opt to stay in some old Cape Dutch homesteads which have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels.
Prime examples are:
- Lanzerac Hotel & Spa, Stellenbosch
- Hawksmoor House, northern Winelands
- Babylonstoren Estate, between Paarl & Franschhoek
- Boschendal Farm, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
- Grande Roche Hotel & Spa, Paarl
- Grande Dedale, Wellington
- Holden Manz, near Franschhoek
- Rickety Bridge Manor, near Franschhoek
In the Constantia Area of Cape Town
- Alphen Hotel, Constantia
- Steenberg Hotel & Spa, Constantia
- Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, Constantia
- and Hout Bay Manor Hotel
- Jan Harsmgat Country House, near Swellendam, Cape
- Drostdy Hotel, Graaff Reinet, Eastern Cape
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