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Tatler Magazine named it one of their top hotels for 2012, calling it ‘the most delicious new opening of the year’, while the UK Condé Nast included it in their revered Hot List.
Frenzied style mavins were effusive, as was the rest of the Rhino Africa team, but Ross and I were a little slow off the mark. Fashionably late, we went to see what all the fuss was about. And we’re sold: Babylonstoren, set on a 300-year-old working farm in the Drakenstein Valley between Franschhoek and Paarl, is a piece of organic art that would have the President of the Soil Association in a euphoric fit.
You could photograph the landscaped gardens, all 8 acres, from a bird’s eye view and sell the shot for more than Banksy ever made from his most prized piece. At least if Posh and Becks were at the auction.
Babylonstoren is allotment chic at its most wholesome and enticing.
Besides the aesthetics, the gardens are an experiment in holistic and sustainable farming. Which is the main philosophy at Babylonstoren. Every one of the over 300 varieties of plants is edible. Our guide points this out as we pass the verdant veggie patches and indigenous plants alongside snail-harvesting ducks and buzzing bees. Gravity feeds water into waterways from the stream, which in Spring is lined with 7 000 clivias.
There’s something deeply restorative about Babylonstoren. No doubt the intimate bond with the earth. Everything is done with a conscience that supports the planet and nature’s energy. From the organic food to the exquisite farm hotel rooms. We don’t spend long in the gardens, but it’s enough time to feel far away from the outside world and to reconnect with nature. And it’s less expensive than a Spa visit.
We’re handed two bouquets of bright orange pincushions to return home with, but really we want to stay and don muddy Wellingtons and get our hands dirty as though we were 4 years old again.
This luxury estate combines traditional Cape Dutch architecture with a clean, modern style. The estate was restored by husband and wife team Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, ex-editor of Elle Decoration.
Our tour of the estate – and we recommend walking shoes and a hat for this – takes us past the well-preserved werf (Afrikaans for yard) of Babylonstoren, which consists of a renovated Manor House dating back to 1777, an old cellar, a koringhuis (where wheat and hay was stored), a bell tower, an ornate fowl pen and a dove cote. Some of these have been converted into guest accommodation, including the old farm labourers’ cottages, while an abandoned kraal now stands as their acclaimed restaurant, Babel.
I feel right at home amid traditional Cape Dutch architecture, with the whitewashed outer walls, ornate gables and thatched roofs that stand as stalwarts of family holidays in the countryside.
The swimming pool is a restored farm reservoir, with a modern wooden slat deck that organically morphs around the pool. South Africans reminisce about summers spent paddling in rivers and farm reservoirs, while the sun freckled our noses and flies buzzed above. The farm dam is a big deal. At Babylonstoren you just happen to have tourists holding down fancy deck chairs alongside the pool or floating in the water in tyre tubes, 500 Shades of Grey and a glass of Chenin Blanc in hand.
From Babylon To ParisBabylonstoren was named after a small hill on the farm, which was itself named by the early Dutch Settlers to honour the Bible’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Even King Nebuchadnezzar would have been proud of these gardens. The architect of Babylonstoren’s garden, however, is Frenchman Patrice Taravella, owner of the medieval monastic garden Prieuré Notre-Dame d’Orsan, in Paris. The green steel and glass conservatory consists of doors, removable bamboo roof screens and other details that were imported from Serres d’Antan in France.
From Babylon To Paris
Babylonstoren was named after a small hill on the farm, which was itself named by the early Dutch Settlers to honour the Bible’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Even King Nebuchadnezzar would have been proud of these gardens. The architect of Babylonstoren’s garden, however, is Frenchman Patrice Taravella, owner of the medieval monastic garden Prieuré Notre-Dame d’Orsan, in Paris. The green steel and glass conservatory consists of doors, removable bamboo roof screens and other details that were imported from Serres d’Antan in France.
As you’d expect by now, the food at Babylonstoren has an organic and healthy feel to it. The 350-plus edible species grown in the gardens provide virtually all of the fruit, vegetables and herbs used in the restaurants, making Babylonstoren as self-sustainable as possible.
Babel is the main restaurant. We’ve heard some mixed reviews about the food and service, but we suggest trying it for yourself. If you’re the open-minded type, you’ll appreciate the more offbeat pairings of foods. On a summer’s day, misters spritzing, the venue can’t be beaten.
You probably need about two or three nights here to properly relax and unwind, and to fit in all the activities. The suites continue the organic, clean feel of the estate, with white walls and sublime decor. Traditional cottages meld into modern glass structures. I’m not normally one for having a kitchen anywhere near me while on holiday, but the kitchen cottages were by far my favourite – spectacular.
Accommodation is adjacent to the gardens and limited to a maximum of just 32 guests to ensure more privacy and personalised service for guests. There’s a mix of one bedroomed suites (without kitchens), one-bedroomed cottages and two-bedroomed cottages. All the cottages have underfloor heating and most have fireplaces and have either a garden or vineyard view with an area for alfresco dining.
For families or guests travelling in a small group, Babylonstoren’s historic Cape Dutch home, the five-bedroomed Manor House is available on request on an exclusive use basis.
Take an early morning or late evening stroll up the Babylonstoring Koppie with views of the Drakenstein Valley and farm below; canoe or row on the farm’s two dams; take one of the mountain bikes for a spin around the estate; enjoy a massage in the Spa overlooking the vineyards; take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool or in the Spa’s indoor plunge pool after a sauna or steam room session. Enjoy a glass of wine beside your suite’s fireplace or select a book from your private library. Or do nothing at all.
Location: Babylonstoren lies in the Drakenstein Valley between Franschhoek and Paarl. Surrounded by the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek Mountains. It is some 60 km from the city of Cape Town and a 45 min drive from Cape Town International Airport.
Book now: To find out more about this property or to book your stay, contact one of our expert travel consultants. We can incorporate Babylonstoren into a longer South African itinerary that includes other great destinations and hotels in the Winelands.
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Tamlin has been exploring, writing about and photographing Africa ever since her first job as a photojournalist for Getaway Magazine. She's lived on an island, eaten with lions, sailed catamarans in the Indian Ocean, tracked wild dogs with Kinglsey Holgate, and white water rafted down the Zambezi and has kept just about every airplane ticket that has crossed her hands.
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What an interesting place! The restaurant in particular looks amazing. I’d love to sample that menu some time 🙂
“Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable; with the possible exception of a moose singing ‘Embraceable You’ in spats.” ~ Woody Allen
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