One of the oldest working Cape Dutch farms in the Winelands, Babylonstoren –with its award-winning wines and bountiful produce – is one of South Africa’s most sensational places to stay

 Words: Jonathan Whiley

Babylonstoren is one of those places that “those-in-the-know” – from veteran travel journalists to discerning friends – had been telling me about long before we visited. Set in the spectacular Cape Winelands, in the shadow of the Simonsberg Mountain, it’s one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms in South Africa and is revered by those who have set foot on its 750-hectare estate.

Located an hour’s drive from the centre of Cape Town, it’s a veritable Garden of Eden; a sun-soaked farmhouse escape home to orchards of abundant fruit, acres of vegetables and a collection of farm animals that includes a herd of more than 100 water buffalo.

The gardens, uniformly designed by architect Patrice Taravella, are beautiful. Guests are invited to stroll at their leisure; picking fruit as you go (the kitchen garden spans some eight acres), with a chance to explore nature’s apothecary in the Healing Garden and learn about South Africa’s spice-bearing tropical plants in the verdant and humid Spice House.

Elsewhere on the site there is a bakery, butchery, farm shop, ‘meat room’ (with Himalayan salt tiles for curing) and ‘milk room’, where cheese is produced from the rich milk of the farm’s own water buffalo. There is also a sleek Garden Spa – with indoor and outdoor pools, sauna and salt room – and a wine cellar where you can embark on an exceptional tour and generous tasting of Babylonstoren’s own range of 10 wines produced from 13 grape varieties from the surrounding terroir.

Their Provencal-style rosé may be familiar with those who have attended the RHS Chelsea Flower Show; for the past three years this delicate fruity number has been the event’s official rosé. Sister hotel, The Newt in Somerset, has been the headline sponsor for the show in recent years and those curious to try Babylonstoren’s range can order directly from The Newt’s website for delivery in the UK (the Bordeaux-inspired Nebukadnesar is particularly good).

The couple behind this wholesome utopia? Karen Roos, the former editor of South Africa’s Elle Decoration and Koos Bekker, a telecoms billionaire. They bought the derelict
18th-century farm in 2007; initially as their own weekend retreat before transforming it into the show-stopping idyll it is today.

Stylish accommodation is scattered across the estate, from a farmhouse stay to the newly-built Fynbos Cottages. Located a little further out, each cottage is built in the Cape Dutch style and has its own set of bicycles and a golf cart to get around, in addition to a pool exclusively for use by Fynbos guests.

A vast array of workshops, tours and tastings are on offer for both day guests and those staying overnight. These span everything from tastings of their own olive oil and balsamic vinegar to rowing at the dam and a guided mountain drive up the slopes of Simonsberg.

“We’d like visitors to ground themselves again,” says co-owner Karen Roos. “To enjoy the mountains all around as much as we do, pick their own healthy fruit and veg, play pétanque, swim in the farm dam, enjoy an hour in the spa, eat a simple fresh dish at one of the restaurants, walk up the conical Babylonstoren hill, await sunset with a glass of wine in hand and then slip between sheets of crisp linen and drift away.”

While there is plenty on the estate to keep you happy for a week or more, it’s also well positioned to explore the Cape Winelands with Franschhoek and Stellenbosch only a 20-minute drive away. We used excellent young local guide Joshua Juries (First Class Tours By Josh) for two day trips and he was both highly knowledgeable about the local area, very flexible and full of recommendations from off-the-beaten-track sights to the best lunch spots.

That said there is no judgement if you stayed within the restorative and luxurious confines of Babylonstoren. Lingering over the exceptional breakfast is an essential part of any stay here; it’s among the best you will find anywhere in the world with a vast array of homemade produce from breads to cheeses and seasonal vegetables and fruit.

The farm-to-fork philosophy continues in Babel, a restaurant (one of three on-site) that is housed in an old cow shed where vibrant dishes included the likes of fire-baked onions with ricotta and elderflower vinegar, ‘first of the season’ marrows with fresh herbs, aged Glen Oakes pork and beetroot with water buffalo yoghurt and lemon verbena.

No matter where you venture at Bayblonstoren there is a celebration; of seasonality, of locality, of produce and ultimately of life.