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While Cape Town, Table Mountain and its captivating coastline offer ample attractions, for many visitors, the ultimate lure lies in the 200-plus vineyards that cover the verdant, rolling hills of the Cape Winelands. This region is famed not only for its scenic wine tours but also for the high concentration of stunning accommodations and stellar restaurants on offer.
The gardens of Babylonstoren Photo credit: Babylonstoren
Enter Babylonstoren, a veritable 200-hectare farm located deep in the Drakenstein Valley, almost halfway between Franschhoek and Paarl, that perfectly encompasses all of the above, and so much more.
This thick slice of 17th-century farm life, with its dense, whitewashed walls, pitched reed-thatch roofs, rounded gables and harmonious symmetry, is one of the finest remaining examples of Cape Dutch-style architecture in South Africa’s picturesque Winelands today. And serves as the perfect countryside escape.
Get lost in the gorgeous groundsPhoto credit: Babylonstoren
Babylonstoren’s entrance lies just off a small, unassuming road near Franschhoek that takes you between the vineyards and into the first of two restored wings of the wine cellar. The old space, overrun in dim lighting and vintage farm implements, has been reinvented as a retail area (complete with a coffee bar) that leads up a ramp into an innovative, highly contemporary steel-and-glass tasting room. From here, you can see all the expansive, bottle-green vineyards that surround it, as well as the superb Simonsberg and Banghoek Mountains. However, as beautiful as that is, Babylonstoren’s gardens are arguably the main attraction, providing the central backdrop to everything that happens on the farm.
This sprawling edifice to nature is divided into fifteen clusters and was inspired by the fabled Gardens of Babylon, as well as the original Company Gardens in Cape Town that supplied fresh produce to traders along the Spice Routes between the Netherlands and the East.
Extending into a mythological, maze-like 3.5-hectares of land overrun in fruit trees, overgrown vegetables, cacti and fragrant lawns, the gardens encompass not only excellent wine production, but also a stylish guest house, a couple of award-winning eateries, a serene spa, boathouse, endless dirt roads (which cottage guests can explore on available mountain bikes) and a pervasive sense of tranquility that’ll follow you wherever you go.
Peruse the pathwaysPhoto credit: Babylonstoren
There are over three kilometres of paths that run through the gardens, which provide hours of walking pleasure, and there’s a daily guided tour lead by one of the gardeners.
Apart from their walkability, however, their lush, magnificent and completely magical aesthetic can’t be emphasised enough; rose vines tower overhead as they twirl around rustic wooden structures, green peppers and lettuces and pumpkins and tomatoes flourish, glowing with the sort of goodness you can only happen upon in Cape Town’s foremost farm-fresh markets.
This is also an excellent place to see nature at play. From the changing colours of the seasons, an “insect hotel” alive with all forms of life, a new crop of unusual plants and flowers, or a cheeky squirrel stealing fruit for his supper – there is always something to keep you entertained. So much so that there is far too much to experience in just one visit.
A look inside the wondrous accommodationPhoto credit: Babylonstoren
The most stylish accommodation in all the Winelands, with contemporary detailing offset against historic architecture, Babylonstoren’s cottages contain considered design that delights at every turn. And their reputation is spreading far and fast for effortlessly mixing old and new, and incorporating local and foreign influences in everything from the garden design to the decor on display. Waking up here makes for an otherworldly privilege.
The rooms are elegantly understated, and they let the landscape do most of the talking. Of course, there are luxurious touches at every turn: bespoke furniture, wool-and-sisal carpets, textured linen, horsehair, wood, leather, and stone in neutral palettes. Grand marble bathrooms beckon with rain showers and under-floor heating, and distinguished art adds to the overall joyous aesthetic.
Two glasses of world-class winePhoto Credit: Rhino Africa
Babylonstoren’s world-class winery comprises of 178 acres of vineyards that produce thirteen different grape varieties. Daily tastings are on offer, with each sampling including five different blends.
It’s also highly recommended to order one (or two!) of their platters of charcuterie, cheese, and the fruits and veggies that are freshly grown in the garden.
The Greenhouse restaurantPhoto credit: Babylonstoren
Inside an old cowshed, sits Babel Restaurant. This place is all about deceptively simple foods, taking classic favourites you love and fusing them to create unique and unexpected blends that you won’t soon forget.
The second eatery, the Greenhouse Restaurant, is located at the back of the garden. This lovely daily café is set next to an airy conservancy that dishes up freshly baked cakes, coffee, tea, and juice made from the fruits of the garden.
You won’t find any ingredients out of season, and you certainly won’t be eating anything that has been transported from the other side of the world. This means that every bite is perfectly ripe.
The sprawling vineyardsPhoto credit: Babylonstoren
Babylonstoren makes for the Wineland’s most attractive, easygoing, epicurean getaway, where a beautiful sense of novelty permeates, and the prosaic and poetic always combine in the minutest details – from crushed sea shells which line the walkways in the fragrance garden to decorative floor inlays made with the distinctive blue-and-white pottery shards found on the property. Here, intention, impeccable style and all-out indulgence are always on tap.
This is a land of equal parts utopian bliss and delicious heart. But Babylonstoren’s real appeal lies in its distance from the hustle and bustle of the city, making it the perfect farm-style retreat, where the days are intentionally unscripted, leaving you to uncover the elusive, legendary hanging gardens all by yourself.
Daryll is Capetonian to his core. Following an internship in Mexico and a solo trek through the United States, he returned home with a renewed perspective and an uncanny skill for content marketing. Aside from his writing, he enjoys reading non-fiction and rewatching Quentin Tarantino films. When he is not hunched over a keyboard you can find him hiking along the mountainside, unpacking the science behind pop music or crafting the perfect cup of Earl Grey tea.
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