Created within a restored Cape Dutch farm dating back to the late 17th century, Babylonstoren is the brain child of South African telecoms magnate Koos Bekker and the former editor of ELLE Decor, Karen Roos, who opened it in 2010.
The 200-hectare property is a working farm with a hotel, spa, two restaurants and winery, and is known locally and among well-heeled international visitors for its emphasis on luxury, comfort and “farm-to-fork” approach to food.
A majestic garden - featuring pergolas, gravel pathways and water canals - is the attraction’s jewel in the crown, providing an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and spices for its restaurants and farm shop.
The restorative powers of a stay at Babylonstoren have been enjoyed by readers of Conde Naste Travel, who last year voted it southern Africa’s top hotel. One of South Africa’s biggest power couples, Bekker and Roos opened The Newt, a sister country house hotel, in Somerset in 2019.
Where is it?
Babylonstoren is set at the foot of the dramatic Simonsberg mountain, in the heart of the Cape Wineland valley, which provides some fine red wine terroir. It’s about an hour’s drive from Cape Town and 20 minutes from Stellenbosch. Be careful if you’re relying on GPS to get to other nearby towns though. What seemed like a short cut to Paarl took me down a dirt track that led into a fenced off apple orchard.
Style guru Karen Roos’s hand is evident throughout the property - with clean-line contemporary elements in the restaurants and hotel rooms, complementing the original Cape Dutch character.
It boasts one of the best preserved plaaswerwe (farmyards) in the Cape, with guest cottages built on the footprints of the original labourers’ accommodation. The garden layout was conceived by French architect Patrice Taravella, and divides into 15 sections that include fruit, berries, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, a prickly pear maze, a clivia tunnel and a plethora of trees of historical and botanical significance.
Set a short drive from the restaurant, winery and gardens, and elevated above the farm dam, Babylonstoren’s Fynbos Cottages offer glorious vineyard views. Guests experience a welcome sense of privacy, even though these cottages are just a few hundred metres from the heart of the estate.
Understated elegance is key: oregon pine floors, organic tones and textures in the décor and fine linen on the four poster king-size beds, and a minimal colour palette. The hotel rooms are furnished with pieces by design brands such as Kartell, Magis and Bouroullec Bros, while collections of curiosities including books, pressed flowers and herbs in minimal frames (a subtle nod to the cultivated garden at the heart of the farm) create an atmosphere that exudes quiet luxury.
The pristine Cape Dutch style of the cottages includes a contemporary glass cube seamlessly added to the 18th-century structure to house a kitchen area and offer extra views of the Western Cape’s jagged mountains.
Food & drink
The property’s two on-site restaurants - Babel and the Greenhouse - perfectly complement each other.
Housed in an old cow shed, the former mixes Cape Dutch architecture and contemporary glass walls, providing an elegantly secluded setting for an evening meal and an airy, sun-kissed spot to enjoy a hearty breakfast.
Under executive chef Schalk Vlok’s direction, the kitchen a farm-to-fork philosophy favouring locally-sourced seasonal food and that reflects the hotel’s “pick, clean and serve” approach, with fine cuts of pork, beef and lamb featuring heavily, as well as plenty of vegetarian options.
The restaurant’s colour themed ‘traffic light’ starters are all mouth-wateringly delicious. The “yellow” option? Lightly smoked trout parcel with golden beetroot, pear-and-apple remoulade, blood orange, deep-fried capers and a nasturtium-and-Cape Gooseberry pesto. Green? Miso broth with early asparagus, broad beans, peas, wilted greens, ‘papkuil’ and a deep-fried Babylonstoren ricotta cluster dusted with kale.
Tucked away between oak trees at the rear of the garden, the Greenhouse serves as a refreshment station with food delivered picnic-style in wooden crates with the preserves, jams and salads served in weck jars, and fresh bread from a wood-fired oven.
A “living” spa is set within a forest of bamboo and comprises a hammam, chill room, hot spa and gym. Next to it sits an outdoor pool, where trickling water and buzzing dragonflies provides a soothing natural soundtrack.
Book a visit to the Tasting Room and try out some of the varieties on the farm, which include chardonnay, chenin blanc, viognier, shiraz, mourvèdre, sémillon, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and pinotage.
The Green Room opposite Babel Restaurant is for all hotel guests, offering a good selection of books and board games, a chess set as well as an easel for painting. The Farm Shop offers a selection of locally made goods, from farm-fresh foods to homeware.
Guests can enjoy range of activities and experiences on site, including garden tours which start daily at the Farm Shop and take visitors around the farm. You can also get around the 500-acre estate on a bike conveniently parked outside your accommodation.
Visitors can also take a guided trip up the lower slopes of the Simonsberg which much of the farm’s grapes are grown.
In February, Africa’s first wine museum - called The Story of Wine - opened on the farm. The space details the origins, cultivation and culture behind mankind’s love affair with wine, “while encouraging a contemporary narrative of its age-old traditions and social gravitas”.
Further afield, Franschhoek is packed full of art galleries, curio shops and gourmet restaurants and well worth a visit.
Marvelling at the changing hues of the jagged mountains at sunset as the cicadas quickly sing, while sipping a glass of Babylonstoren’s “Babel” wine.
How to get there
Babylonstoren is a 50 minute drive from Cape Town International Airport. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both fly direct from Heathrow to Cape Town. Accommodation ranges from R11,500 (£600) per night for two sharing a farmhouse suite in the high season (May 1 - August 31), to R73,000 (£3,800) for a Fynbos farm house. Lower rates apply in the off season; babylonstoren.com