There are hotels we like and then there are hotels we love – and South Africa’s Babylonstoren is most definitely in the latter category. Set within the Cape Winelands and only 50 kilometres from Cape Town, Babylonstoren is a working farm with a historic Cape Dutch homestead at its heart.
Karen Roos, the former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa, and her husband, Koos Bekker, the chairman of multinational internet and media group Naspers, fell in love with the property 10 years ago and undertook a massive restoration, transforming it into what is now the coolest destination in the Cape Winelands. Featuring a restaurant, vineyard, deli, bakery, butchery and a spectacular garden that spreads over 3.5 hectares, the original structures (many of which date to the 18th century) include a manor house, the Koornhuis (wheat store), the old cellar, an ornate fowl house, a dovecote, a leaning bell tower and the historic gates.
Within these structures, past the botanical print-covered reception and adjacent resident’s lounge, house a host of accommodation options that fuse old-time glamour with contemporary touches. Dating back to 1777, the manor house sleeps 10 people in five bedrooms – all beautifully restored to their former glory. A traditional farm kitchen boasts a roaring wood-burning stove, while additional touches include a daily basket of fresh-picked herbs by the freestanding clawfoot bathtub for an aromatic restorative soak, ideal for chasing any stress away.
Over at the former farmworkers’ Cape Dutch cottages that sit on either side of the oak-tree-edged avenue are thirteen suites. The garden cottages feature six one-bedroom suites, three one-bedroom cottages and four two-bedroom cottages, transformed from existing farm buildings into relaxed spaces with modern furniture by international design brands such as Kartell, Magis, Philippe Starck and the Bouroullec Brothers. New accommodation has also been added to create the Farm Hotel.
For those looking for a more exclusive experience, the one-bedroom cottages boast a luxurious en-suite bathroom and a lounge. The addition of a glass cube for the dining and kitchen area provides an uninterrupted view of the garden and the vines, which brings the outdoors in. The palatial two-bedroom cottages, built in the Cape Dutch style, includes a kitchen and a lounge. All come with a fireplace and bookshelves filled to the brim, offering a unique farm-stay experience.
The hotel spa is set within a forest of bamboo and tranquil greenery, linked inextricably with the garden and its changing seasons. Constructed in bamboo, there are a hammam, a chill room and a hot spa.
On the grounds, everything is thoughtfully designed and curated, from the idyllic farm shop to the extensive gardens and its divinely delicious produce. Karen tasked garden architect Patrice Taravella with creating a wholly edible and medicinal garden, taking inspiration from Company’s Garden in nearby Cape Town – the original suppliers of food to the sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company.
The garden grows more than 300 edible and medicinal plants organically that supply the farm’s two restaurants. Babel is housed in the old cow shed, which features a mix of Cape Dutch architecture and contemporary glass, while the Greenhouse Restaurant is tucked away between the oak trees at the rear of the gardens. Here, the food is served in wooden crates picnic-style, with its preserves, jams and salads served in Weck jam jars. One of the loveliest things at Babylonstoren is that visitors can help themselves to anything growing in the garden – in fact, it’s actively encouraged.
The Babylonstoren winery is a highly contemporary steel-and-glass structure, consisting of the tasting room and winemaking facilities below. There are four fantastic pairing menus as well, featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables grown on the farm, cheese, meat, and fish – all served on wooden boards made from wine barrels.
Rested and full of the joys of idyllic country living, you can continue on to explore the many delights of the Cape Winelands, or drive along the Garden Route or visit a game reserve. Reflect on your travels while luxuriating in this heavenly space before you’re ready to leave Babylonstoren and face the real world again – or just maybe you’ll want to extend your stay.
See also: Luxe Living At Sea