Arguably one of the seven wonders of the Western Cape, Babylonstoren provides a space to escape and immerse oneself in the gardens, the greenery and the gorgeous food.
Fortunate enough to be gifted a night here, we got to experience a stay in one of the farm’s new Fynbos Cottages – a collection of whitewashed bungalows facing a dam. Set away from the public gardens, and accessible with a golf cart that burbles through the citrus groves, the cottages are a veritable oasis of tranquility, with their own pool, lounge and bar to enjoy. A spring stay is undoubtedly the best time to enjoy the cottages, as the surrounding landscape is a riot of colour from myriad species of indigenous flora. In terms of interiors, the attention to detail is admirable, with every requirement catered for. Compact and yet giving the illusion of space, our single bedroom cottage featured vaulted ceilings, with a nod to the farm’s pastoral heart present in barn doors and wood panelling. An airy lounge faces out over a verandah tiled in terracotta whilst the kitchen is housed in a sunroom that provides warmth, light and the illusion of cooking within the garden itself. Curated to be functional, I particularly enjoyed the screed floor, the butler’s sink and the basket of blood oranges awaiting us – never before have I sampled citrus so sweet and juicy.
A bathroom replete with trough-style bathtub, marbled shower and a wall of Art Nouveau-esque mirrors showed off Babylonstoren’s signature style of understated luxury but it was the small touches – a bouquet of fragrant herbs, soaps and shampoos crafted from the farm’s own botanicals and the afternoon sun falling golden on the floor – that really made the room.
Although one is sorely tempted to spend the rest of the day curled up with a book and a cup of tea, a tour of Babylonstoren’s wine cellar awaited. New to the experience, I was eager to get subterranean and sample some of the estate’s wines. After an informative tour of the main cellar and wine-producing equipment, we descended through concrete eggs and terracotta amphorae to a tasting table set for two. What followed was a curated pairing that involved 9 of Babylonstoren’s 10 varietals each partnered with an offering from the farm. I particularly enjoyed the Sprankle for it’s crisp minerality and citrus notes and the Viognier – I can certainly imagine pairing the latter with creamy seafood risotto. Out of the reds, I’ll always be partial to Babylonstoren’s signature Mourvèdre Rosé – there’s a reason as to why it’s such a popular summertime libation – but I also took to the Babel Red and was pleased to get a second chance to sample it over dinner that evening. But more on that later.
After all that wine, a pre-dinner walk to clear our heads was in order. We managed to catch the sinking sun as it turned the distant Paarl mountains pastel pink and reflected its last light on the farm dam. Midges buzzed lazily above the water, with the occasional ripple of a fish the only thing to disturb it’s mirrored surface. What followed was a walk in the deepening dusk with the honeyed scent of Buddleja saligna (false olive) heady on the cool evening breeze. Early stars winked overhead and a gravel path still warm from the day felt solid beneath my feet. There was nothing to concern me, to distract me from this idyll. I could have stayed in that garden forever.
Well until my appetite appeared. Having eaten at Babylonstoren’s Greenhouse restaurant in the past, I’d been anticipating an opportunity to dine at the farm’s flagship eatery Babel. We opted for two courses of Chef Schalk Vole’s springtime offering paired with relating wines. I particularly enjoyed the Red starter of lightly smoked Franschhoek trout cured with a citrus, garlic and ginger paste, kimchi and a sesame-crusted quail’s egg paired with Mouvèdre Rosé. The Green starter consisted of plump prawns grilled and served abed lightly steamed asparagus with a ginger and citrus Hollandaise – light and refreshing when paired with my beloved Viognier.
Keeping with the seafood theme, I ordered the line fish – Cape Bream – in a fragrant broth of mussels, lemongrass and ginger with the Chardonnay while Dawid enjoyed farm-raised sirloin on the bone with slow-roasted strawberries and a glass of Shiraz. Perfection! And no stay at Babylonstoren is replete without their famed harvest table breakfast offering, now COVID-compliant and enjoyed at the diner’s own table. Fresh fruit, creamy yoghurt and granola are served alongside charcuterie, cheese and croissants with a hot breakfast of farm eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms following.
I may even be so bold as to say that Babylonstoren’s breakfast provides one with reason enough to book a stay.
One of the estate’s main attractions has to be its farm shop. Boxes of fresh veggies from knobby cauliflower and verdant romanesco to ruby beets, fennel, spring onions and bouquets of thyme are grouped with farm fruit, locally produced cheeses and Babylonstoren’s own yoghurt, labneh and halloumi. Glassware, table linen and wine can be purchased too, along with fresh soups, pastries and ice lollies. But it was the bread I was here for; piles of crusty loaves – rye, sourdough and ciabatta – grouped with preserves, honey and organic eggs from hen, duck and quail. The final treat in our itinerary was a short bread-shaping course with Peachy – Babylonstoren’s own baked goods guru.
Standing over Peachy’s marble-topped workspace, we were introduced to the basics of sourdough bread-making and had the chance to knead, shape and adorn our own loaves. Little beats leaving with one’s own spring onion & cheese or garlic-stuffed sourdough. And perhaps a bottle or two of that Mourvèdre Rosé.
Thank you to the Babylonstoren for gifting us with this wonderful stay – I absolutely can’t wait to return!