The pandemic and lockdown have made overseas travel extremely onerous, if not downright impossible, but a  weekend mini-break in Stellenbosch was like taking a KLM flight to Europe.

The town’s beautifully preserved buildings, boutique hotels, coffee culture and indie shops – an outlet for Cruzer Spanish bicycles with leather fittings (vintage design meets green tech in clockwork orange, British green and gunmetal grey) was one discovery – make it a delight to explore.

The Oude Werf Hotel, arguably the oldest-established hotel in the country and now under the proprietorship of the Petousis family, has a strong focus on art, craft and design. The reception sets the scene with an eclectic installation of  found objects retrieved during the many renovations since the original building was established three centuries ago. China platters, wood-framed portraits, glassware, even  trophy heads – both  real and fabricated from multi-coloured crochet squares  and wire, a wreath of china shards – establish a  theme that continues with touches such as a ceramic plate indicating each room number.

The rooms are more contemporary and sophisticated in style. The well-lit writing table, bathroom with a vast trough-like bath, elegant balcony with café chairs and table, made work and relaxation pleasurable.

While there were many delightful favourites to re-discover in the beautifully preserved city centre, a charming new find was  Caffè Casanova. This tiny replica of a Venetian coffee shop and patisserie is a sensory feast. (It’s the young, pretty sister of Rome in a Bite restaurant round the corner at 21 Church Street.)

Thoughtful touches establish an intimate and sophisticated ambience: Red velvet banquettes, teeny marble-topped tables topped with small lamps, an upright piano supporting  a fetching installation –  Venetian masks, old tomes and a giant bottle of champagne –  potted red geraniums in a window nook, books on Venice and beguiling portraits of coquettish women with blooms tucked archly in their lace-edged bodices… Casanova’s conquests?

The caffè offers pastries, cakes, biscuits, tramezzini, artisanal chocolates and ice-cream. On two occasions I enjoyed faultless eggs Benedict for breakfast, to order with salmon or ham. There’s total  attention to detail, from coffee served on elegant small silver trays, to a limited selection of local wines. At times one can enjoy piano recitals over a glass of bubbly or a cappuccino.

Casanova caught my heart and I’ll certainly return to find out more about this little Venetian world inspired by its legendary lover.

Find it:

Oude Werf Hotel: 30 Church Street Stellenbosch,

Caffè Casanova: 158 Drop Street, Stellenbosch

Rayvolt Bicycle Store: 6-8 Bird Street,

Images: Judy Bryant