I’ve said it before- writing about travel on this blog is a way for me to relive that trip or experience, so I like saving my favourites because I know that once the post is published I’m letting go of it in a way.
I spent about a week in Cape Town last month (which seems like a lifetime ago), reviewing properties that had been on my list forever. At the top of that list- Babylonstoren.
In Franschoek or Stellenbosch, you could pick a wine farm at random and still have a great experience. Most have a restaurant with a view over the awe- inspiring sweeping vineyards that seem to stretch on forever. However, there are a few wine farms that are so spectacular that they deserve a special mention- and Babylonstoren, situated in the Drakenstuin Valley between Franschoek and Paarl, is at the top of that list.
The farm is preserved in the Cape Dutch style, which was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The farm is owned by media mogul, Koos Bekker, and his creative wife, Karen Roos, former editor of Elle Decoration. The farm today translates to a real life scrapbook for their passions. For example, Koos loves prickly pears, so a “maze” was created consisting of various types of the unique fruit. He also has a soft spot for hedgehogs, and you can find a peaceful area cordoned off just for them.
Each one of the 300 varieties of the plants in the garden is edible, with fruit and vegetables harvested throughout the year for use in the restaurants on the premises. Nothing is ornamental, and the plants grow in formal beds, bordered by lush fruit trees and paved walkways which are distinctive in character (for example, in the fruit orchard, paths are lined with peach pips.) Daily garden tours occur at 10am and can go on for as long as 3km.
Tours end at the Greenhouse, which doubles as a tearoom and is the perfect spot for a scone and tea. The airy space allows the Babylonstoren garden team to experiment with plants that have struggled due to rain in winter and lack of humidity in summer, like ginger, dragonfruit, exotic granadillas and even a baobob tree. Here, light meals like salads and sandwiches are served. I found the sandwiches quite bready (plus, they were served cold- I asked for mine toasted but it wasn’t an option.) The scone, however, was delish.
For something more substantial, try the farm’s signature restaurant, award winning Babel. At times, the eatery is fully booked up to 2 months in advance, so make sure to call ahead early, especially if you want to go on a weekend in high season.
At Babel, the focus is on simplicity. Unlike other fine dining establishments, where food is pureed, ground or cut into tiny pieces, Babel likes to keep food as close to its original form as possible. This means that at breakfast, your fruit salad may consist of whole fruits with the skin on, instead of the chopped selection we are used to- a nice change.
The layout of the restaurant and the views it provides are jawdropping. The interior is a mixture of white and glass, enhanced with a few interesting features- kraal tools found on the premises are propped up on the wall. Meals are wholesome and hearty, infused with well rounded flavours and enhanced with Babylonstoren’s own cold pressed olive oil, made on the premises.
I’d recommend the grilled, almond crusted line fish with fennel, jam, chickweed pesto, braised fennel and waterblommetjie, R155 or the flame grilled lamb cutlets, with rosé steamed onions, crisp kale and a roasted garlic sauce, R185.
The more time I spent on the farm, the more incredulous I became at the fact that the establishment is almost completely self sufficient, producing most of what it needs in house- including bread (available to purchase at the Farm Shop), and eggs (which can be collected by guests before breakfast from the chicken run.)
While food may be a highlight, there’s lots to do on the 200 hectare farm for the outdoor lovers too. Bikes are available for rent for a cycle through the vineyards, or you could opt to canoe on the farm dam. There are also numerous hiking trails to enjoy.
Of course, you can’t leave the farm without sampling some of its wine. Everyday at 12pm, visitors are able to join a guided cellar tour that takes them through the winemaking process from start to finish, starting in the vineyard through to the finished product, which guests are then able to sample. The tour is free for hotel guests and R100 for non- guests.
The farm hotel has managed to achieve a balance between preserving the authenticity of the Cape Dutch farm buildings, and the modern luxury we have come to expect today. A night’s stay is pricey, but is a real treat, and will allow you to have a full day and night of leisure on the farm. I was amazed at the fact that our room had every possible thing we could ever need- gumboots, a fridge, slipper socks, bath salts- it was perfection.
Entry to Babylonstoren is just R10. Visitors may be turned away on weekends in high season when the farm gets too full, so go early during these times. For more information, visit www.babylonstoren.com