It’s not often that I get to finally check a place off my travel bucket list, for it is, admittedly, something of an ever-expanding, ravenous beast (which I will one day cut down to a manageable size…) – but this past Easter Monday, I was able to do just that when I visited Babylonstoren… where, just outside Franschhoek, paradise was well and truly found.
Easter is always a special time of year for me, when family and the most poignant example of loving sacrifice take centre stage in my heart, and this year I really wanted to make it even more memorable, for – after a short Easter break back home on the farm – I planned to visit Babylonstoren with my parents and treat them to a rare, all-expenses paid day of adventure and quiet enjoyment organised entirely by yours truly.
I don’t generally get to spend enough full days with the people I love any more, due to work and life’s responsibilities – but this past month, I enjoyed one of the best days of my life, out with my parents.
A special Easter visit to beautiful Babylonstoren
We got to Babylonstoren mid-morning (after I briefly got us lost because for once, I neglected to look up concrete directions… whoops!) and, as soon as we stopped outside the entrance (which has the farm’s name made out of giant, hay-bale letters) and paid our entry fee, I was already deeply in love with this place.
As it was a public holiday (I checked ahead to ensure that the farm and restaurant we intended to visit, Greenhouse Restaurant would be open – only the main restaurant, Babel, was closed on the day), visitors paid R20 per adult and R10 for children under 12 (on weekdays, it’s R10 for all)* and received a beautiful Babylonstoren pamphlet, with a handy, detailed farm map inside.
*(Although it is not standard practice to pay entry at most wine farms, because Babylonstoren has a farm trust to help educate local children, you are required to pay a minimal entry fee – but I think it’s a wonderful initiative!)
As you navigate up the drive, you weave your way through the vineyards – which, at the time of our visit, were getting their autumn colours (soon, though, the vines will be barren) – and almost instantly, it hits you that Babylonstoren is no normal wine farm… if you’ve not heard as much as I have of its wonder, this will come as an even greater surprise, for it is, in every way, a masterpiece of a living garden, working farm and lovely wine estate in one, with highly rated spa, accommodation and hotel facilities to boot.
Although there’s an undeniable feeling of understated, country luxury here, what will linger on in your memory is the well-preserved, true Cape Dutch authenticity and natural, raw beauty of this farm, for elements of country life make an appearance around every bend – whether you’re heading up the main drive past a stack of hay bales or parking beneath a living, sprawling pergola of grape vines in one of the rustic, gravel parking lots.
Breathe deep and leave your worldly troubles behind when you pass through the entrance, because there’s so much going on – though at a slower, gentler pace, it must be said – and so much to see at Babylonstoren.
We started our exploration by entering the farmyard (one of the best preserved in the entire Cape!), where we visited the donkeys in their nearby paddock (please be careful when touching them, as they can bite and kick just like horses, and don’t enter their enclosure at all).
Historic architecture meets country luxury and laid-back farm life
Because the farm was established in 1692 when famed Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel granted local burgher, Pieter van der Byl, farm ownership, the farm bears the true Cape Dutch architectural style, made popular in the 17th- and 18th centuries, with many of the original structures still present on the modern-day farm.
Today, though, this historic farm is owned by media mogul Koos Bekker and his talented and ultra-stylish wife, Karen Roos (former editor of Elle Decoration) – and together, they have turned it into something even greater and more intriguing than ever before, as here, lush luxury meets beautifully preserved, historic Cape Dutch architecture and timeless Western Cape farm life.
After some time in the farmyard where the farm’s resident fowls roam about contentedly beneath the Oaks, we entered the heavenly-smelling Scented Shop (which sells an array of lavish scented products and other gifts) before moving inside the Farm Shop, which is adjoined by the Bakery, as well as the Gift Shop and the Meat/Cheese Room. (Look out for the cool farm animal mural inside there; it was one of my favourite interior features.)
The décor inside the Farm Shop is, like everything else at Babylonstoren, captivating, yet rustic, with birds’ nests, olive trees and more placed inside to accompany the natural, historic buildings, with their whitewashed walls of thick stone or primitive clay brick, ornate gables and thatched roofs.
Although many of the Babylonstoren structures have been tastefully modernised with glass casings and sweeping windows, none of the original beauty has been lost or maimed in any sense.
We spent a generous amount of time inside, taking in all the products, all of which appear to be carefully and lovingly produced on the farm, and which are available for home purchase.
This includes everything from olive oil to home-grown risotto, preserves and atchar, in-house fresh breads (made by baker Ernie Beck who creates farm-grown baked goodness in the form of breads (and wood-fired pizzas) for guests and visitors alike to enjoy at the Bakery, Tasting Room and Farm Shop), exotic honeys, rooibos tea and all kinds of beautiful porcelain ceramics and cute toys too.
From there, we made a pit stop at the bathroom (okay, so I’m not-so-secretly crushing on wine farm bathrooms, which are always uniquely stylish and beautiful… but, as of now, Avondale Estate takes the cake, followed closely now by Bablyonstoren and Warwick) and then, finally, it was time to break out into the exciting, awesome garden space.
We passed Babel, the main restaurant – house in a formerly disused old cow shed – which was sadly closed on the day (although I had always wanted us to experience the Greenhouse in any case so we were not left disappointed) and then proceeded down the garden walk through fruit trees and past pretty, flowing canals (big hits with the children and I admit, they were sorely tempting, especially on a hot day such as that…) and lily-covered fish ponds.
By the rivers of Babylon…
From there, we properly explored the gardens – which whisper of The Secret Garden, mixed with a classically Cape feel – including the likes of the guava avenue, weaver nests, ducks’ enclosure/ponds (even finding a giant, marked tortoise, who we helped reach his fig, which he was trying to hungrily munch on) and then made our way along the stream and Clivia walk, before crossing the bridge and entering down into The Lost World (Jurassic Park-style) where we encountered the exotic, yet beautiful Cycad collection.
I paused to take a photo of the hill at the end of the orchards – and I’m really glad I did. Before my visit, I wondered whether the name Babylonstoren was in any way linked to the Babylon and/or Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible. Were the gardens at Babylonstoren not passable as the farm versions of the Hanging Gardens, which King Nebuchadnezzar was said to have tenderly made for his wife, who longed for the valleys and mountains of her youth?
It turns out, I was right to think that after all, for the 8-acre gardens (which offer some 300 varieties of plants that are either edible or which bear medicinal values) at the heart of all that is Babylonstoren, were inspired in part by these glorious hanging gardens – though they were mainly mirrored after Cape Town’s very own Company’s Gardens.
What about the Tower then? Well, as it happens, the farm’s original owner said the hill reminded him of the Tower of Babel story and thus, he named the farm ‘Babylonstoren’, which, as my dad correctly translated, means Babel’s tower or tower of Babel. (Originally, it was named in Dutch as Babilonische Tooren, then Babilonstoring before the farm’s modern-day name was settled upon.)
The farm’s logo: a pipe (representing the farmer), a flower (representing the garden) and a bird (representing nature) further emphasise the naturalness, earth-preserving practices and ways and above all, bountiful fruitfulness of this Cape farm.
We then made our way around to the farm buildings, finding a huge swing (another Tamlyn attractor) in the process, as we covered the endless lawns and made our way across to the historic gates, leaning Bell Tower, ornate fowl house and dovecote, and lastly, Manor House.
Though the manor house dates back to 1777, the other aforementioned structures all date back closer to the 1750s.
This is a wonderful area for some portrait and landscape photo opportunities and be sure to step inside the fowl house, where you may see a protective mother hen with her chicks or a few eggs left behind from the morning’s laying duties.
Glorious gardens to explore
After doing something of a loop, we briefly entered the garden again, which is vast and full to the brim with benches, unexpected hanging vegetables, cute flowers, indigenous gardens and even some amazing coloured tiling too!
Another thing to keep an eye out for near Babel restaurant are the Delft- and Chinese porcelain shards (encased in an outdoor glass cabinet of sorts), which were picked up on the farm when the garden was being created. These are real-life proof that the Cape was a halfway house between Europe and Asia for traders.
By then, it was pushing lunchtime and we knew we’d have a wait, as there are no reservations at Greenhouse so things generally work on a first-come, first-serve basis (except for groups larger than 13 people), so we headed over to Greenhouse Restaurant. Even on a busy public holiday though, tables free up quickly.
An outdoor lunch experience at Greenhouse Restaurant
If you don’t know that there is an actual working greenhouse here (which, in bad weather, you might be lucky to sit and eat in and which cleverly serves as the restaurant’s humid, yet awesome pay point), it’s a great surprise but if, like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting this outdoor restaurant experience, it feels a bit like coming home for lunch.
While we sat along the canal, we glanced over the attractive blue-and-white, rounded menus – which are designed to look like the same Delf- and China porcelain plates we saw remnants of outside Babel – although, in the end, we ordered off the chalkboard.
We didn’t have a very long wait (probably no more than 25-30 minutes on what was a very busy day) for our table, but while we waited I decided to treat us to an ice popsicle. They were delicious… I had Mixed Berry and it was one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere – and I take my sweet treats seriously.
Our table was a great one, near the edge of the pathway where the waitresses go up and down with the delicious-looking dishes and drinks, and the atmosphere at the Greenhouse, even with all the surrounding chatter, was delightful. It’s a very homely, yet wonderful outdoor space and one of the more magical eateries I’ve experienced on any wine farm to date.
The food at both Babel and the Greenhouse is as farm-to-table as it comes, with fruits, vegetables and so much more being sourced from the garden. Menus are seasonal and are thus inspired by the fresh produce at that time.
My dad ordered the Pot Pie (lamb, lentils, capers and olives inside) for R110, while my mum and I both opted for the Ciabatta (served with farmcheese and Hickory Ham) for R85, with a natural juice (R30 each) to go with it. Mine was cucumber, green apple and pear so it was a very attractive shade of green and, although I did enjoy it, I’m still trying to adjust to natural juices with veggies and fruit combos… it’s definitely unusual but I’d say try it, if you’re keen for a new drink experience.
As an unexpected bonus, we each received a fresh jar salad, with a salad dressing and really amazing preserve (I think it was beetroot) that ended up on my ciabatta too because it was just that good!
Our meals were excellent (that’s one of the best, freshest ciabattas I have ever tucked into and I’ve sampled more than my fair share of them to date), and service was pleasant and quick, so it was a wonderful eat-out experience overall – but something I will dedicate a proper restaurant review to on another day.
After paying in the actual Greenhouse itself and posing for some group photos, we finally made our way back to the farmyard to drink in the last sights and sounds of Babylonstoren. I went back into the Farm Shop and brought us some lovely apple juice for the road and then it was time to bid a reluctant farewell to the beautiful farm…
My parents did ask if I wanted to explore the Tasting Room (which looks slick and formidable even from the outside) but because I know they’re not big on wine/wine tours, I decided to leave it… for another time. Because I will definitely be going back again sometime in the not-too-distant future, as there is just so much I’ve still to explore!
Babylonstoren, you’ll see me again…
Our experience of Babylonstoren was utterly pleasurable and made for a really special ending to our Easter 2017. Thank you to the staff at Babylonstoren who were professional, welcoming and excellent throughout, it was yet another aspect that is engraved in my memory after our visit.
And to you, Babylonstoren, I say thank you for the memories and the country goodness, which did this farm-girl turned city dweller much good.
I hope to see you again sometime soon… for by these rivers of Babylon, none shall weep… and paradise on earth is easily found outside the fairest French corner of Franschhoek.
For more information on beautiful Babylonstoren and all it has to offer, please contact them direct on: (021) 863 3852, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their helpful website and blog. (You can also find and follow them on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.)
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