Babylonstoren. – Earlier this year I visited the very special Babylonstoren in the Cape Winelands, where I spent an indulgent night in one of their suites, revelled in the joys and discoveries of their food garden and had a life altering – and aligning massage at the Spa. I climbed the hill of Babel and enjoyed a spectacular meal in the Babel Restaurant. There were walks and chickens and donkeys and endless delights. It’s a beautiful soul filled place.
I wrote about it for the new African Travel Market Magazine, as below.
‘There’s a knock at the door and as I open it I’m presented with a broad smile and a silver tray that holds delicate canapés and a glass of perfectly chilled Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc. A surprise delivery to my room, ‘just a little something to see you through to dinner’, I’m charmingly told. I settle in to savour the flavours as the sun softens.
Invited to spend a night, I’d arrived a few hours earlier to take in as much of the farm as possible. Located between Franschhoek and Paarl in the Cape Winelands and about 60km from Cape Town, Babylonstoren offers one of the oldest and best preserved examples of a traditional Cape Dutch farm yard. The classic Manor House dates back to 1777 and there are numerous buildings from the 1690’s when the farm was originally settled. The old cellar and ‘Koornhuis’ for storing wheat, as well as the ornate fowl house, pigeon loft, leaning bell tower and historic gates, all which add character to the traditional courtyard surrounded by its whitewashed wall. A pair of donkeys and a collection of rather tame and very happy turkeys, ducks and chickens now call this area home.
Babylonstoren has seen complete restoration under the ownership of Koos Bekker of Naspers fame and his stylish wife Karen, a former editor of Elle Deco. Since buying it in 2007 they have invested a wealth of work, vision and passion into transforming the property into one of the county’s top luxury destinations. Karen understands decor and design, balancing it perfectly with considerate detail. Combine this with true South African hospitality and the way in which they honour the land, acting only consciously, and you have magic.
From the start, their primary focus was establishing an edible garden, which they did taking inspiration from the original plans and drawings used when laying out the Company Gardens. Planting over 350 edible fruit and vegetables, herbs and heritage plants, this formal french kitchen garden pays tribute to the traditions of the Cape. Furrows bring water from the Berg River and burnt orange reservoirs serve to breed fish, whilst reflecting the surrounding Drakenstein mountains in the afternoon sun. On a garden tour with Gundula and her dog Doring, I learn about the philosophy behind the food garden all the while Head Chef Cornelle Minie fills her basket with herbs.
Babel Restaurant is the best place to taste some of these fresh offerings. An absolute triumph in a converted cowshed with an open kitchen and the menu scribbled on the wall next to a much photographed sketch of a bull. There is a fresh menu daily, organised by seasonal colours and influence, be it beef or smoked trout with generous portions of homegrown veg. Here emphasis is on provenance, on real food that’s lovingly prepared. In the middle of the room, once feed troughs hold glass bottles of water and Babylonstoren whites on ice. The service is gracious and attentive, each course matched to a wine from the farm, or at least the area.
Or you can opt for the Greenhouse, situated under oak trees at the back of the garden, with a collection of tables and Luxembourg chairs both inside and outside the conservatory. Offering lighter meals, here you can construct your own sandwich and dream up your own tea from an offering of freshly picked herbs.
The accommodation takes the form of eight en-suite one bedroom and four en-suite two bedroom guest rooms in converted labourers cottages. On opening the door you will find that a light, soft white and utterly inviting room awaits you. Holding a king size bed, shelf divider with a library of books, mostly South African titles and a lounge area with fireplace and glass wall opening onto the patio. The bathrooms are large with claw-footed bath and shower, double vanities and a slim wrap around window which brings in fresh air. Effortless luxury with everything you need and much more, right down to welly boots and sweet treats. The note on the bed reads, ‘we’ve been expecting you’.
The Garden Spa is situated near the large farm style pool, the treatment rooms and new Turkish Hamman offering an array of treat options. I had a massage that incorporated the aromatic herbs grown on the farm, my therapist working wonders with her strong healing hands.
There’s much to do at Babylonstoren, or you can just relax into the gentle pace of it, savouring the experience with all of your senses. What I do recommend are the following: take a guided tour of the food garden with Gundula, enjoy a cellar tour and tasting (they even have pizza night s in the cellar), mediate in the mulberry garden, feed the donkeys, walk the prickly pear maze, cycle to the dam, climb the Babylonstoren hill from which the farm got its name, to take in the view across the valley. Walk the plum orchards. Eat fruit off the trees. Breath in the indigenous herbs. Spend much time barefoot on the chamomile lawn.
Here is the art of natural living. A place to pause.
Babylonstoren is open daily between 9am and 5pm. Call 021-863-3852 to book a tour and take a look at www.babylonstoren.com for more. Advance bookings at Babel are essential and yes, they do have a wedding venue. What a fairytale that would be. There’s wine tasting, a Deli bakery, cheese and charcuterie rooms and a farm shop with a collection of wonderful gifts. Whatever you need, the team in the welcome area and lounge will assist in their charming way. Do take note of the regular workshops on offer too.’