Babylonstoren

near Paarl, Cape Winelands & West Coast, South Africa Book from

Reviewed by Will Hide
A stunning Winelands farm: organic gardens, a remarkable restaurant and unique cottages blending history with contemporary design
A 45-minute drive east of Cape Town, near the town of Paarl, you turn down a dirt track, past rows of vines, and park up. A golf buggy comes to take your luggage as you stroll towards reception, where you're met with a friendly “Howzit?”. The gnarled, rather crumpled Simonsberg Mountain is away to the right, behind a converted 1692 Cape Dutch farmhouse and row of whitewashed old workers’ cottages that have been transformed very, very tastefully into accommodation.

Stepping over a small stream, you enter your cottage and emit a “Wow” - seriously, you will. The elegant interiors looks like they've come straight from the pages of a glossy style mag, but that's not surprising: owner Karen Roos was formerly editor of South African Elle Decoration.

In front lies a beautifully landscaped 8-hectare garden, with giant orange pumpkins, an indigenous cycad 'forest', yellow citrus orchards, scented healing herb beds, a block of mulberries, and bright vegetables in every hue. Wander in and pick your own fruit, or veggies and herbs if you're here to self-cater; some cottages have kitchens, but the restaurant's the main event. Sublime cuisine with beautifully colour-coded dishes is hard to beat. Later, head to the spa, borrow a mountain bike for a short spin around the farm, and watch the sunset with drink in hand from the top of the small hill nearby. This is what a holiday is really all about.

Highs

  • The stunning suites: vintage four-poster beds, angle-poise lamps and rolltop bathtubs, all wrapped in a graceful, all-white cocoon
  • The food in the restaurant, Babel, is simply fantastic. Straight-from-the-garden ingredients are spun into colourful juices and salad plates (picture a 'yellow salad' with butternut squash, corn and papaya), meat is organic, and puddings are a treat
  • Friendly, laid-back staff. Ask for a guided tour of the amazing gardens
  • The beautiful setting and the peace - it's perfect for a romantic or restorative break, though it's popular with families, too
  • It seems remote but Paarl is a 10-minute drive away, there are vineyards on the doorstep, and you're only 15 minutes from Franschhoek with its world-class restaurants

Lows

  • The pool is constructed from a converted water tank - cool and eco, yes, but not as stylish as the rest of the hotel
  • You'll need a car or pay for a taxi if you want to eat out or explore the Winelands
  • It's expensive, especially in high season. But it's so unusual and worth it. Generous touches include fridges stocked with complimentary drinks, chilled wine and canapes brought to your room early evening and free laundry

Best time to go

This is a wonderful year-round destination, although bear in mind the reverse seasons in the southern hemisphere - you won’t be lying by the pool in June and July, though it will still be warm. Things can get extremely hot during their summer (December-March), with temperatures hovering around 40C.

Our top tips

Do the morning garden tour. Being shown around their beautiful orchards and plants was fantastic - a real high. If you get up early enough you can help herd the ducks onto their patch for the day. And a row on the dam at sunset with a loved one and a bottle of something chilled isn't a bad way to wind down.

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Suites & Cottages
  • 22
  • Restaurant (open daily); option to self-cater
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

A small avenue of 18th-century thatched cottages makes up most of the guest units. As you'd expect from Karen Roos, décor is stunning and attention to detail is sky-high. There are suites, each with a double bedroom, an ensuite bathroom and a living area; 1-bedroom cottages, which also have a glass kitchen extension that lets in heaps of natural light; and 2-bedroom cottages, which come with kitchens plus an extra double/twin bedroom. All have gorgeous garden or vineyard views.

Step in through a stable-style door and you’ll be in the high-ceilinged living room, with wooden flooring and natural matting. The overall tones are wood, earth and off-white; it all feels very calm. There are plenty of mod cons - a flatscreen TV, a DVD player (borrow discs from reception), WiFi, a complimentary minibar with beers and soft drinks, and a shelf of interesting magazines and hand-picked books. Read them while lazed out on the white sofas. Other thoughtful extras include wellies, umbrellas, a torch and a map of the estate detailing walking trails.

The bedrooms are large and tranquil: we slept like babies. There’s a four-poster bed with angle-poise lamps at each side, a small window and a door to the outside, and a wardrobe.

Your white-tiled bathroom has a full mirror on one side, a rolltop bath in the middle, and a separate shower at the other end. Rather than bath salts, you're presented with a posy of flowers and herbs (locally, a 'Tassie Massie') to put under your running tap to infuse your soak with all sorts of delicious smells - a lovely touch.

In the 7 cottages with a kitchen, you step down onto a concrete floor and are surrounded on 3 sides by floor-to-ceiling glass, which makes it all seem very airy. There’s an industrial-style sink, Nespresso coffee machine, fridge-freezer and oven in one corner, plus a long wooden table and benches.

Since our visit a 1920s farmhouse has been converted to hold 9 welcoming Farmer’s House Suites (6 doubles, 3 twins) as well as it's own indoor-outdoor swimming pool with sauna and steam room. We're yet to personally view this building in it's new guise

For larger groups, Karen's 5-bedroom Cape Dutch homestead is available to rent on an exclusive-use basis; please enquire for details.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Complimentary drinks in fridge
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Fan
  • Fireplace
  • Fridge
  • Hairdryer
  • Hob stove
  • Ipod dock
  • Kitchenette
  • Oven
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Toaster
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

In a word: phenomenal. Organic ingredients - wherever possible from the farm, garden and local wineries - are used to stunning effect. The airy restaurant Babel, with its daily menu written on a tiled wall, serves super fresh food with a twist. Salads are simply laid out as 'green' (with cucumber and courgette), 'red' (with beetroot, radish and guava) or 'yellow' (with butternut squash, corn and passion fruit). Mains veer towards the meaty - rib eye steak or grilled lamb cutlets - but veggies can’t complain when the likes of steamed cauliflower with fresh herb spread, melting gorgonzola, guava, roasted macadamia nuts and deep-fried sage also feature. And save room for pudding: we loved our dark chocolate terrine with olives and toasted walnuts served with a warm burnt-caramel sauce.

Breakfast was even more of a highlight. We kickstarted the day with delicious juices: green pepper, basil and pear and ginger, papaya and orange, accompanied by a stunning tart made with granola, Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit. Feeling peckish during the day? Stroll down to the Greenhouse for ciabatta sandwiches and homemade ice lollies: plum and black pepper or watermelon and mint.

If you're staying in one of the cottages, a wooden box of fruit and veggies from the farm will await you. Your industrial-style kitchen is packed with all the equipment you'd need (the eye for detail continues), and you can wander into the garden and help yourself to whatever takes your fancy - there are 300+ types of edible plants. Basics are also provided (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper) and you can buy fab cheeses, charcuterie, freshly baked bread and wine from the onsite farm shop. Paarl, 10 minutes away by car, has grocery stores, plus restaurants should you want a change of scene.

Note: Babel is open every day for breakfast (guests only), and for lunch Wednesday-Sunday (guests and the general public). Dinner is served in Babel on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On the other evenings informal suppers (guests only) are served in the bakery: gourmet pizzas on Monday and Wednesday, and a 2-course Italian inspired dinner on Sunday. Babel is very popular so book ahead to avoid disappointment. The Greenhouse tea room is open daily 10h00-16h00 (no reservations required).

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Coffee maker
  • Fridge
  • Hob stove
  • Kitchenette
  • Organic produce
  • Oven
  • Restaurant
  • Toaster
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Wander through the large garden (or take a daily tour!), which is made up of different areas such as pumpkin patches, olive and citrus groves, mulberry bushes, berry blocks, a prickly pear maze, stone fruits, and vegetable beds. There are ducks and chickens, too, including 100 snail-harvesting ducks!
  • Guests can join in the harvesting, pruning, planting or picking the gardens and vineyards; just ask. There are various walks in the grounds, too, and the gardeners love to give guided tours
  • Lie by the pool or enjoy the spa - there are 2 treatment rooms offering hot-stone massage and couples' treatments, plus a Jacuzzi, a steam room and a sauna
  • Borrow a bike and cycle along the farm tracks to Babylonstoren koppie (hill) or dam, and admire the fynbos (native vegetation) and views. Ask for a picnic basket and go for lunch
  • Row and canoe on the lake or grab your binoculars - Babylonstoren is home to lots of bird species, over and above the snail-harvesting ducks. Reception has a list so you can tick them off
  • Cycle through the orchards or head out to explore the area’s many vineyards and wineries. Further afield, you can drive to the vineyards of Stellenbosch
  • Foodies will love Franschhoek, with its world-famous gourmet restaurants; don't miss Le Quartier Français and its Tasting Room
  • Play golf: there's a course at Paarl

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Guided garden tours
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Swimming
  • Wine cellar tours
  • Wine tasting

Kids

Families are most welcome at Babylonstoren. Although there are no specific activities for children, there's plenty around the property to keep them occupied. Several families were staying during our half-term visit in February. Babies stay for free.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

A baby cot can be added to all rooms. There are no rollaway beds so families with older children should stay in a 2-bedroom cottage.

Children's meals:

There's no kids menu but the set 3-course dinner served in Babel from 18:30 Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday is half-price for children. On Monday and Wednesday evenings gourmet pizzas are served in their Bakery. Our daughter loved the homeade cupcakes and popsicles served in The Green House (open daily from 10:00 to 16:00). The guest cottages (but not the suites) have their own kitchen if you prefer to self-cater or whip up a snack for little ones.

Kids Activities on site:

Kids will enjoy cycling on the farm paths, helping to pick fruit and vegetables in the garden (or playing hide and seek in it), rowing (supervised) on the dam, scrambling up the koppie (hill), feeding carrots to the donkeys, and collecting eggs from the chickens.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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