This 300-year-old farm, named after a conical hill resembling the Tower of Babel, transports you back to the Cape’s pastoral origins. After the Dutch East India Company established a refreshment station at Cape Town in 1652, gardens were planted to feed fresh fruit and veg to scurvy-ridden sailors. At Babylonstoren, established soon after the Dutch founded nearby Stellenbosch and French Huguenots brought winemaking to Franschhoek, the eight-acre garden is modelled on those Cape Dutch plots. This horticultural masterpiece is the estate’s green heart, and fascinating guided tours explore its tidy rows and magical corners, from the clivia walk and prickly pear maze to the citrus orchard and Spekboom labyrinth.
The award-winning garden informs most aspects of a stay at Babylonstoren. The self-catering cottages, occupying reconstructed 18th-century farm houses, have wrap-around kitchen windows overlooking squirrels scampering on branches and water furrows irrigating the plots. Home-grown fruit sits on the kitchen table, and indigenous herbs provide a relaxing soak in the claw-foot tub. Guests are invited to pick their own fruit and veg to accompany the Babylonstoren wines, rooibos tea and olive oil in the kitchen, with wellington boots and umbrellas to encourage forays. Overall, the cottages and suites are a thoughtful balance of rustic charm and modern comfort; their whitewashed facades and green shutters conceal underfloor heating, a library of South African tomes and a fireplace.
Before dinner, climb to the farm dam for sunset views and a pont, surrounded by the mountains of the Cape Winelands. The in-demand Babel restaurant, its modern shell enclosing an 18th-century cow trough, is another memorable Babylonstoren experience, with a seasonal set menu of dishes such as cream of cauliflower soup with kale and buchu pesto. An example of how closely the chefs and gardeners work is the experimental garden, growing indigenous herbs for trial in the kitchen. The service here, as throughout, is attentive and personal with a sprig of country charm, from the crossword on the menu to the head chef touring the tables.
Further eating options include the Greenhouse café, a great option for a sandwich and garden-fresh salad, and the bakery, which serves pizza twice a week. Babylonstoren’s many attractions also include a spa, swimming pools, farm walks, cellar tours and weekly yoga, making the farm both an excellent base for the Winelands and a self-contained retreat.