By Simone Frenchie
I always say that when I die, I want heaven to be an iteration of Babylonstoren. Every time I visit there, I feel a little as if I have died and gone to heaven.
Already driving down the picturesque farm road that leads to heaven, I start to feel the butterflies whir in my tummy. The road sign appears for the turn-off into the estate, and then there, finally, you are. Ready to drive the dusty path one more time and park your car under the vines.
Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms set in the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley in South Africa.
It not only acts as a working farm but also produces delicious, celebrated wines, cheeses, fresh fruit and vegetables, preserves, and staggeringly beautiful homeware. Not to mention teas and olive oils. You can stay in the hotel and even treat yourself to a spa visit. It really has everything. It really is heaven.
Once you’ve made your through the entrance, the old farmhouse shops selling all sorts of delicious temptations await. And then the gardens. I tread the dusty earth and want to impress everything on my soul. The Simonsberg mountains that back the edges of the farm, the endless blue sky above me, the sunshine that sheds dappled light on my skin. The rose arches are in full bloom in the spring, the lavender fields always fragrant, getting lost in the maze of botanical beauties, the sunflowers arching towards the sun, the rows of thorny arid prickly pears, trees of ripened lemons.
Spring walks in the gardens to see the jubilant clivia lilies—all 7000 of them—in the warming days or autumn’s gourds and pumpkins displayed in all shades of squash along the cleverly named ‘Puff Adder,’ a snaking, serpentine walkway. The dreamy ponds and streams around the garden are populated with lotus and waterblommetjies (edible water flowers usually used in soups and stews In South Africa).
There are over 300 varieties of plants at Babylonstoren, and all have either a medicinal value or are edible.
The fruit and vegetables grown here on the farm are used in the restaurants on the premises in an effort to ensure farm-to-fork cuisine of the highest standard. At the rear of the garden, you’ll stumble onto the old courtyard that backs up to the Greenhouse. The courtyard is shaded by a collection of old oak trees as you sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
Sip on their delicious ‘bitter lekker’ cocktail topped with MCC (Methode Cap Classique—a South African sparkling wine made in the traditional method since 1992) or a traditional water buffalo amasi (a fermented Zulu drink) while enjoying the delicious menu items: the summer forage salad, the Rietvlei water buffalo burger and the summer sorbets to name a few. The menu is altered seasonally according to what produce is available at the farm at the time. It’s a perfect ode to every season.
Spending time in the Greenhouse at Babylonstoren, with seasonal blessings of Chrysanthemums in the autumn days, visual displays of long-stemmed pastel-coloured beauties and obelisk glass vases and vintage décor, taking time to watch the views from inside the tall glass windows, makes for daydreaming.
Whiling away late afternoon sunshine days while wine tasting in their dedicated wine tasting space with lit fires in the winter, you can choose between tastings of seven wines or even an ‘express tasting’ of three.
With around 232 acres of vine and 13 grape varieties, their highest vines, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, live 600m above sea level. Cellar tours of Babylonstoren’s underground wine tunnel, where you can sip wine, occur throughout the day. Along the tour, you also get to visit the vineyards above ground and see the working cellars; wine tastings are paired with fresh local produce.
Its prized Rosé has been the official wine of the Chelsea Flower Show for three consecutive years.
Spending a spa day at Babylonstoren might be equated to spending a day with the gods. With treatments that vary from the Private Hammam Water Ritual (a private treatment that includes a full body exfoliation, head and scalp treatment with a body butter application) to the Hammam Honey and Salt Scrub, which you can combine with a full body wrap or a full body wrap and massage, to the Arabian-inspired ‘Rasul’ experience which is enjoyed as a couple, applying scrub to the body, a hair mask, followed by the application of face and body mud while you relax in the private steam chamber.
Massages include bamboo and herbal poultice massages. The essence of the spa day at Babylonstoren is to find escape in natural surroundings, staying true to their mantra of sourcing everything from their land. After treatments, relax further by spending time amongst the trees and in the heavenly pools.
It’s hard to pin a favourite time of year to visit Babylonstoren. In autumn, you have the multitude of changing leaves and rhythms of the farm, the wine harvest season, and the many colours of the pumpkins scattered. In winter, the shift to hearty meals and misty walks, moody skies. In spring, the rebirth of nature, the special re-connection to the earth as she awakens, rose petals and rosé drinking. In summer, a celebration of all that is natural and bountiful and delicious.
You can’t leave the farm without taking one last peak into Babylonstoren’s farm shops.
Split into ‘rooms,’ they are more like rooms upon rooms of enchantment. Be beguiled by the simple white palette of the ‘Scented Room’ with old wooden shelves that remind you of a magical apothecary—stacked to the rafters with scents for guests to try, such as clivias, waterblommetjies, and fynbos. You can watch the process of their essential oils being distilled or make your own face mask or scrub.
In the ‘Milk Room,’ choose between fresh cheeses or water buffalo gelato. The ‘Meat Room’ with mouthwatering local delicacies of biltong and dry wors (local dried meat specialties) are on display together with delectable charcuterie.
The ‘Lekker Room’ is housed in an 18th-century building that originally accommodated the blacksmith, stables, and wagon house. Lekker means good or delicious, and this space lives up to its name with treats such as roasted macadamias, pecan nuts and roasted almonds. Or try their vegan fudge, varieties of chocolate, rusks or a steaming hot cup of brewed coffee. There is also the onsite bakery store to fill up on delicious sourdoughs to take home.
A perfect way to spend a day (or eternity) if you ask me. I always leave safe with the knowledge that I can return at any time.
Simone has a great love of writing and has been writing for many years. When not writing or travelling, she is exploring the winelands, beaches, and mountains of her favourite city and home, Cape Town.
Originally from Johannesburg, Simone spent 15 years in the UK before moving to Cape Town and is a keen lover of the warm weather and blue skies there. She is keen to dispel common myths about Africa and South Africa and share tales of all the beauty there is to discover.