An iconic Stellenbosch establishment, River Manor Boutique Hotel
is housed in two adjacent manor homes on the banks of the Eerste River. This is where it all began for the historic town of Stellenbosch.
Lying a few dozen meters from the front door of the boutique hotel, is the spot where the Dutch Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, first camped in the late 1600s during an exploration trip. Admiring the picturesque valley and recognizing a wealth of natural vegetation, the governor commemorated his own name, calling the area Stellenbosch. Within a year of this discovery settlers had begun flocking to the area to establish farms, officially founding a town in 1685.
By the late 1800s, Stellenbosch was a thriving agricultural region with an established and prominent town. The Avenue, where the boutique hotel is now located, was at this time being populated by stately Victorian manor homes and rectories, including number 6 and number 8. A park on one side of the road became a popular place for the community to gather, especially on days when local Stellenbosch musicians were performing at the bandstand. The oak-lined Avenue, which is affectionately referred to as “Lovers’ Lane”, became a popular spot for young couples to meet for tete-a-tetes, strolling down the avenue and pathways that meander through the park. The institution that would go on to become Stellenbosch University was also founded during this time, firmly establishing the town’s reputation as a centre for academic excellence in South Africa.
The manor house at Number 6 was the first of the two properties to be converted into a boutique hotel after it was purchased by Leigh and Johan Swanepool in 1989. The building was initially a church rectory and home to Dominee Botha and his family, the then minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1960 the back portion of the property’s garden was sold to allow for the building of a retirement home. Later the property was bought by the De Kock family, a prominent Stellenbosch family of academics. Both husband and wife were teachers. One of their sons went on to become a lecturer at Stellenbosch University in the Faculty of African Studies. A young Leigh Swanepool studied under him prior to her and her husband eventually purchasing number 6 from her university lecturer’s family.
In the 1990s Leigh and Johan Swanepoel began restoring 6 The Avenue. This was undertaken with careful consideration to the building’s historical charm and character, acknowledging its place in the Cape Winelands, as well as the heritage of both the English and Dutch settlers.
River Manor Boutique Hotel opened on the 31st of December 1997, with the first guests, friends of the Swanepool family, booking out the hotel for their wedding – a fitting beginning for the hotel. The addition of the second manor house, 8 The Avenue, came about in 2001, growing River Manor Boutique Hotel to an 18-room hotel.
8 The Avenue, was built in 1904. It carries both National Monument and Provincial Heritage status due to its distinctive architectural design. The Victorian house features a half-hipped shingle roof, dormer windows and a recessed full-length veranda with plaster moldings attached to arched masonry supports.
The house was originally named Vredelust, built for Reverent Neethling, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was later renamed Moedersloon, or Mother’s Reward, by Sterretjie Verster, after she inherited the building from her mother. Sterretjie was responsible for establishing the property’s beautiful garden, which still delights guests decades later. Sterretjie is fondly remembered by the Stellenbosch community for her strong involvement in education at the Paul Roos Gymnasium School and as the founding member of an organization caring for children with special needs. Later 8 The Avenue was used as a home for unmarried women and as a digs for Stellenbosch University students before being converted into a boutique hotel, as part of River Manor, in the 2000s. In 2021 the The Living Journey Collection purchased River Manor Boutique Hotel, establishing it as the 4th property in this elegant collection of luxury five-star Western Cape Boutique Hotels. Owner managers, Friedrich and Lorraine Schaefer, have added their own personal touch to the property, modernizing and refurbishing the hotel in 2022. This refurbishment was completed with great sensitivity to the historical importance of both heritage buildings, complimented by the contemporary needs of its guests. While the boutique hotel’s rooms continue to reflect the grace of a bygone era, Lorraine has personally overseen the refurbishment, livening up the rooms with hand-picked fabrics, plush woven fabrics and newly restored antiques.