Babylonstoren: A Self-Sustaining Paradise In The Winelands
Babylonstoren is a Cape Dutch Farm Hotel, located about an hour’s drive from Cape Town (45 minutes if you hurry). Built in 1692, it is one of the oldest establishments in the area, with a rich history of farming and trading. It is essentially South African, boasting all the very best that Western Cape has to offer, with a hint of the old Dutch days shining through in the architecture and layout of the compound. Vines, orchards, plants and bushes cover the land as far as the eye can see, surrounded by a border of picturesque mountains in every direction.
We found ourselves there on a day that was too hot for a South African spring and too cold for summer (read: the perfect kind of weather) with a single backpack for the two of us, holding everything we might need for the night.
As we parked the car we were greeted by Warren, a smiling concierge, who gave us a brief overview of the area while walking us to our cottage, which looked like a very well kept old Dutch manor from the outside. As we stepped in, however, we encountered an astonishing interior; the open-plan living area tastefully blurs the line between old and new, with glass walls all around the kitchen, a small library separating the living room from the dining space, high ceilings, lots of light, marble bathroom flooring and an enormous fireplace to keep us cozy after nightfall. All finished with incredible attention to detail and style. Safe to say, we took the tour of the cottage with our mouths slightly open, and our eyes wider than usual.
Once Warren finished up and left us to our own devices, we cracked open one of the two complimentary bottles of Babylonstoren’s own wine that came with the cottage, peeled a couple of the farm-grown blood oranges, and soaked it all up. Needless to say, we were absolutely smitten and could not wait to see what the surrounding areas had to offer.
Once we’d finished our chardonnay and gathered our senses, we headed out to the cellars, where an informative young lady gave us an extensive tour through the production process and storage methods of the vineyard. From there we were shown into the new wine tasting room, a beautiful class cuboid surrounded by the very vines used to make the wine that they serve. We were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of a vegetable platter made up of everything that was currently in season in the garden and, to my husband’s great delight, freshly baked bread from the bakery.
Drinks started with the sommelier bringing us each a glass of Babylonstoren’s Sprankler – a sparkling wine that is produced using the old champagne method, carrying a sultry apple aroma and a crisp, refreshing taste. Next up, a light Viognier, followed by a Rose and a couple of the extremely bold house reds. We sat and nibbled until there was nothing left, except for an empty platter and two very satisfied, albeit slightly tipsy guests.
We spent the next hour and a half on bikes provided by the hotel, riding down endless roads between vines, olive trees and orange trees. There is beauty everywhere you look and it felt as though we could get lost in that moment forever, peeking at each other between trees and admiring the vastness of the surrounding land.
We returned to our cottage as the sun dipped below the horizon, freshened up and made our way straight back out, setting our trajectory for Babel, the fine-dining establishment on the grounds. Four courses, all made from the freshest ingredients in the garden, took us on yet another adventure – one of olfactory and textural bewilderment. I enjoyed a salad as my starter, which was made up of incredible ingredients such as waterblommetjies (water lilies), fresh pear, pak choi and more, all doused in an aromatic Thai green curry vinaigrette. This was followed by a mushroom risotto (easily the most flavorful risotto I’ve ever had), and finished off by and elaborate dessert featuring a chocolate fondant, coconut and lavender ice cream and gloriously sweet shards of meringue. As if it couldn’t get any better, all of the meals were perfectly paired with exquisite wines straight from the grounds. With heavy eyes and full bellies, we said goodnight to our waitress and walked back to our cottage under the starry African sky.
My husband made a fire as I filled the bathtub with water, sprinkling in bits of the bouquet of fragrant plants, which sat next to the tub. I picked a book from the shelf, took a nice long bath, and dried off in front of the fire before hopping into our bed.
The next day we woke up and went to breakfast where we were greeted by an amazing array of granola, yogurts, fruit, vegetables and juices. I was so excited by the incredible spread that I took pictures for the first 10 minutes, whilst the husband impatiently nibbled at his selection. We filled our stomachs and headed to the main building where we met with the guide who was to give us a garden tour. We walked through the vast gardens, smelling an orange leaf here and tasting nectar from a flower there.
From there we headed to the farm stall to get freshly baked roasted garlic ciabattas and sparkling grape juice for the road. We packed our bags in the car, and said goodbye to the lovely people and place that had won our heart in such a short time. As we checked out, the concierge sent us off by saying “We’re looking forward to having you back here! You’re family now. You will always be welcome”. The last thing I said to my husband before we drove away was something along the lines of ”I really can’t wait to go back there!”
If this hasn't convinced you to visit Babylonstoren yet, here are some more amazing facts:
Hotel guests are free to explore 200 hectares (almost 500 acres) of the property. In addition to walking between the orchards, guests can canoe on the dam, cycle through the vineyards, birdwatch, pick fruit and veg with the chefs, have a wine tasting, relax at the Spa, have a dip in the pool or just relax.
At its heart ￼lies the 3,5 hectare (8 acre) garden, which has 15 sections that include fruit, berries, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, a prickly pear maze, a clivia tunnel and a plethora of trees of historical and botanical import.
If you don't stay the night, you can visit the farm with an entrance of of R10 per person and marvel at the gardens, have a wine tasting, go to one of the restaurants or the farm shop. You can easily spend the whole day there!
There are two restaurants on the property: Babel, the intimate signature restaurant, and the Greenhouse tea garden, where visitors to the garden can enjoy tea under the majestic old oaks. Guests can also enjoy wine tasting and delicious platters at the Tasting Room.
All the fresh produce used in the restaurant dishes are planted and harvested in the garden. The things that aren't produced at the farm are sourced locally.
You can find more information regarding the farm and hotel on their website.