reated in a restored Cape Dutch farmhouse dating from the late 17and century, Babylonstoren is the brainchild of South African telecom mogul Koos Bekker and former ELLE Deco editor Karen Roos, who opened it in 2010.
The 200-hectare property is a working farm with a hotel, spa, two restaurants and a winery, and is known locally and among well-heeled international visitors for its emphasis on luxury, comfort and approach “to the farm to fork” food.
A stately garden – with pergolas, gravel walkways and water channels – is the jewel of the attraction, 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 appreciated by readers of Conde Naste Travel, who voted it the best hotel in southern Africa last year. One of South Africa’s biggest power couples, Bekker and Roos opened The Newt, a sister country hotel, in Somerset in 2019.
Where is it?
Babylonstoren is located at the foot of the spectacular Simonsberg mountain, in the heart of the Cape Wineland valley, which offers a terroir of fine red wines. It is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town and 20 minutes from Stellenbosch. Be careful if you rely on GPS to get to other nearby towns. What seemed like a shortcut to Paarl led me down a dirt road that led to a fenced apple orchard.
The hand of style guru Karen Roos is evident throughout the property – with clean-lined contemporary elements in the restaurants and hotel rooms, complementing the quirky Cape Dutch character.
It has one of the best preserved plaaswerwe (farms) in Cape Town, with guest houses built over the footprints of the original workers’ accommodation. The garden layout was designed by French architect Patrice Taravella and is divided into 15 sections including fruit, berries, bees for pollination, native plants, fragrant lawns, a prickly pear maze, a clivia tunnel and a plethora of trees of historical and botanical significance. .
Situated a short drive from the restaurant, winery and gardens, and elevated above the farm dam, Babylonstoren’s Fynbos Cottages offer wonderful views of the vineyard. Guests experience a welcome sense of privacy, even though these cottages are only a few hundred yards from the heart of the estate.
Understated elegance is key: Oregon pine floors, organic tones and textures in the decor and fine linens on the four-poster king beds, and a minimal color palette. The hotel’s rooms are outfitted with pieces from design brands such as Kartell, Magis and Bouroullec Bros, while curio collections including books, pressed flowers and herbs in minimalist frames (a nod subtle to the cultivated garden at the heart of the farmhouse) create an atmosphere that exudes quiet luxury.
The cottages’ pristine Cape Dutch style features a contemporary glass cube seamlessly added to the 18th century structure to house a kitchen area and provide additional views of the rugged Western Cape mountains.
The property’s two restaurants — Babel and the Greenhouse — complement each other perfectly.
Housed in a former cow barn, the premier blends Cape Dutch architecture with contemporary glass walls, providing an elegantly secluded setting for an evening meal and an airy, sunny place to enjoy a hearty breakfast.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Schalk Vlok, the cuisine is a farm-to-fork philosophy that promotes locally sourced, seasonal foods and reflects the hotel’s ‘pick, clean and serve’ approach, with cuts featuring heavily pork, beef and lamb thins, as well as plenty of vegetarian options.
The restaurant’s color-themed “traffic light” starters are all delicious and mouth-watering. The “yellow” option? Lightly smoked trout papillote with golden beets, pear-apple remoulade, blood orange, fried capers and nasturtium and Cape gooseberry pesto. Green? Miso broth with early asparagus, broad beans, peas, wilted greens, ‘papkuil’ and a bunch of fried Babylonstoren ricotta sprinkled with kale.
Nestled between the oak trees at the back of the garden, the greenhouse serves as a supply station with food delivered as a picnic in wooden boxes with preserves, jams and salads served in weck jars and fresh bread of the wood oven.
A “living” spa is set in a bamboo forest and includes a steam room, relaxation room, hot spa, and gym. Next door is an outdoor pool, where trickling water and buzzing dragonflies provide a soothing natural soundtrack.
Book a visit to the tasting room and try some of the farm’s varieties, including Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Sémillon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage.
The green room opposite the Babel restaurant is intended for all hotel guests, offering a good selection of books and board games, a chess set and an easel for painting. The Farm Shop offers a selection of locally made products, from farm-fresh foods to household items.
Guests can enjoy a range of on-site activities and experiences, including garden tours that start daily at the farm shop and take visitors around the farm. You can also move around the 500-acre estate on a bicycle parked outside your accommodation.
Visitors can also take a guided excursion to the lower slopes of the Simonsberg where much of the farm’s grapes are grown.
In February, Africa’s first wine museum – called The History of Wine – opened on the farm. The space details the origins, culture and culture behind humanity’s love affair with wine, “while encouraging a contemporary narrative of its age-old traditions and social gravity”.
Further afield, Franschhoek is full of art galleries, souvenir shops and gourmet restaurants and is well worth a visit.
Marvel at the changing hues of the jagged mountains at sunset as the cicadas chirp rapidly, 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 offer direct flights between Heathrow and Cape Town. Accommodation ranges from R11,500 (£600) per night for two people sharing a farmhouse suite in high season (1 May to 31 August) to R73,000 (£3,800) for a Fynbos farmhouse. Lower rates apply off season; babylonstoren.com