If you’ve ever had anyone tell you about their visit to Babylonstoren, we’re pretty sure the gardens were the main topic of conversation.
And with good reason.
Covering a whopping 3.5ha of the property, they’re lush and magnificent and completely magical – rose vines towering overhead as they twirl around rustic wooden structures, green peppers and lettuces and pumpkins and tomatoes flourishing, glowing with the sort of goodness we only dream of finding in the aisles of our locally grocery store.
Then there is the cactus patch - the stark and hardy desert plants gathered together in the confines of a low white wall, looking like a congregation of hands-in-the-air worshipers frozen in time. And just a little further down the path, 10 000 dormant clivias, biding their time in green peace until springtime sees them burst into bright orange bloom.
Yes, the gardens truly are magnificent and will captivate your imagination on each and every wander through. However, that’s not all Babylonstoren, conveniently located in equal proximity to Paarl, Stellenbosch and Francshhoek, has to offer.
During a recent afternoon visit to the beautifully preserved 322-year-old Cape Dutch farmyard we discovered that it really is drenched in all sorts of delights. So, here are a few MORE reasons to include it in your travel plans:
1. The food (and drinks)
Babylonstoren has two restaurants as well as a bakery that forms part of their farm shop, all three of which serve up the freshest, most delectable dishes and wares.
Babel is the main restaurant on the farm and offers simple, wholesome meals, which are always gorgeously presented. They have a pick, clean, serve approach to their meals and all fruits and vegetables are harvested fresh from the garden. Apart from that, their food reflects the mood of the season, meaning that summer will see brightly coloured plates containing citrus and carrots and a handful of pomegranate seeds, while winter will bring hearty dishes like slow-cooked leg of lamb. Babel is open for lunch from Wednesday to Sunday, and also for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. It's extremely popular, so be sure to book going.
If you feel like something lighter and more relaxed, the Green House will win your heart immediately. The menu consists of a mouthwatering array of fresh salads and sandwiches that you can wash down with home-made juices, cordials, ginger beer or ice tea. That is if you can resist indulging in a glass of wine! Or simply sip a cup of piping hot tea while nibbling a delicate cupcake. The mix of vintage furniture and green picnic tables, Delft crockery and paper place mats makes for a truly sublime atmosphere - like Alice in Wonderland meets Pride and Prejudice. The Green House is open 7 days a week from 10:00 to 16:00.
Finally, the farm shop produces some of the most intensely delicious looking bread you will ever see, all baked in a wood fire oven as well as amazing hand-crafted cheeses.
2. The wine
Although its one of the main attractions in the winelands right now, Babylonstoren is actually relatively new to the production of wine, with 2015 hailing only its fifth harvest. Despite this, they have managed to produce no less than seven gorgeous wines, including their recently unveiled flagship red blend, the 2012 Nebukadneser. This Bordeaux blend joins the Babylonstoren 2012 Chardonnay in flagship position. Apart from these two wines there is also a highly acclaimed Viognier as well as a Shiraz in the higher price range (over R100) and three more budget-friendly options, including a Mourvedre Rose (R82), a Chenin Blanc (R72) and an easy-drinking red called Babel (R98).
In order to help guests learn more about wine production on the farm, they just launched a comprehensive cellar tour. The walking tour is one-hour long and gives visitors insight into the farm’s history as well as its wine growing heritage. It includes a visit to the new olive oil production plant, winery and barrel cellar, as well as an olive oil and wine tasting along the way. You will see various examples of vine trellising; encounter the farm’s water management system; and, get a front-row view of where and how Babylonstoren wines are made. Your visit concludes at the Wine Shed tasting room, where you’ll taste the final array in Babylonstoren’s portfolio and have the opportunity to add them and others to your own wine collection.
If the Babylonstoren wines tickle your fancy, you can also join the exclusive Wine Club, which has many benefits such as free entry to the farm, special discounts on wine, invitations to events, launches and tastings. Plus, you get to boast about the fact that you're part of Babylonstoren's wine club!
For bookings or to sign up as a member of the Babylonstoren Wine Club, call 021 863 3852 or send email to email@example.com. Also check out the wine section on the Babylonstoren website.
3. The photogenic green house
Okay, so we mentioned the Green House restaurant, but we didn't really tell you about the object it was named after. Located right next to the restaurant, you will find a 26m-long, glass green house where Babylonstoren experiments with the cultivation of more exotic kinds of plants that don't bide well in the Western Cape's winter rainfall climate.
Step inside and feel like you're being transported to a tropical island as granadillas, ginger, cardamom, pineapples, dragonfruit, vanilla, guavadellas and even a baobab tree burgeon, twist and twirl all around. Oh and keep your camera close at hand, because it really does make for exquisite photos!
4. The secret meditation corner in the garden
In the very middle of the garden you will find a mysterious enclosure, surrounded by high white walls covered in a creeper plant of sorts. Adding to the mystery is an ancient looking, low wooden door just begging you to twist the handle and enter.
Well, look, there's really nothing much inside, but that's what makes it so wonderful! If you're looking for a quiet spot to hide from the crowds (because Babylonstoren does attract them), maybe catch up on a page or two of reading or even try meditating for a bit, you're bound to have it to yourself for much of the time. A number of rocks dangling by strings against each of the four walls, adds a further measure of zen - looking like maybe they offer some sort of mystical crystal healing. The truth is, they're just weighing down the vines on the other side. But still. It's pretty cool.
5. The history
Last but not least, what makes Babylonstoren especially amazing is their absolute reverence for the farmstead's rich history. The land was originally inhabited by nomadic Khoisan communities, but when the Dutch colonised the Cape it fell under the authority of Governor Simon van der Stel. In 1962, when the borders of the Cape Colony expanded after the arrival of the French Huguenots the farm was granted to burger Pieter van der Byl by Van der Stel. It was named Babylonstoren after a kopje close by, that served as a landmark for anyone heading to the farm.
Today Babylonstoren is one of the best preserved werfs in the Cape Dutch tradition, being home to an array of beautiful old structures, including the manor house that dates back to 1777. Also look out for the Koornhuis and the old cellar, as well as an ornate fowl house, pigeon loft, leaning bell tower and historic gates.
However, it is not just the architecture that has been preserved, but also the rich human heritage. The people of Babylonstoren have been commemorated in various ways, the latest being a specially designed glass table in the new cellar, which bears the names of every single person who has ever worked or lived on the farm - from burgers to slaves to those who perform the most menial tasks there today.
What you need to know:
If you're planning on visiting Babylonstoren, keep the following in mind:
Times: Gardens are open seven days a week from 09:00 to 17:00. There is a daily Garden Tour that starts at 10:00 - booking is essential.
Cost: R10 at the gate
Are dogs allowed: Unfortunately not
Dress code: Well, there isn't one, but wear shoes that would be comfortable to walk in on gravel and peach pips
Wheelchair friendly: Yes, and wheelchairs are available on request
Getting there: Babylonstoren is located on the R45, which is really just a hop and a skip off the N1. It takes about 45min to get there from Cape Town and a mere 20mins (max) from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.
More info: Check out the Babylonstoren website
Check out the map with directions below: