Situated just outside of Franschhoek, the majestic and highly-regarded farm of Babyonstoren is beloved for its multifaceted garden, which is divided into 15 different sections that showcase a variety of fruit, vegetables, berries, indigenous plants and even a prickly pear maze. It’s this abundance of natural produce which guides the menu at its Babel Restaurant, aiming to reflect the respective seasons through a ‘farm-to-fork’ philosophy of using whatever is on offer in the mesmerising garden.
Time spent at the historic Cape Dutch farm provides a very real sense of entering into a parallel universe. You can wander in acres of intricate gardens overflowing with unique and natural ingredients, or lose an afternoon in the ‘Tasting Room’ – where a wide variety of wine can be enjoyed while overlooking zigzagging mountain tops. Alternatively, head to the rear of the 3.5 hectare garden to find the Greenhouse Restaurant tucked away between the oak trees, or take a bike ride out into the bordering vineyards. At the heart of it all, though, one will find the Babel Restaurant, which effectively serves as the centrepiece of all that Babylononstoren stands for.
On our winter visit, for example, this is just one of the meals we got a taste of: carpaccio of lightly smoked Franschhoek trout seared with warm Babylonstoren Frantoio extra virgin olive oil; julienned candy-stripe beetroot, kohlrabi, radish, baby ginger, toasted sesame seeds and red Russian kale. How’s that for a mouthful?
Before dinner, guests are also welcome to take part in a multi-sensory experience of accompanying the chef as he does his rounds to pick and choose the cultivated fruit and vegetables for that night’s meal. Interestingly, the Babel Restaurant is housed in a renovated cow shed that boasts a mix of Cape Dutch architecture, which is also a trademark feature of the hotel accommodation.
With original buildings having been transformed into sophisticated guest lodging, thick whitewashed walls, elegant fittings and hearty fireplaces add a contemporary feel to an authentic farm-stay experience.Suitably well rested after our memorable night’s stay, we then headed out on a morning walk, with a guide taking us to the top of the conical Babylonstoren hill, through the fynbos, on to the citrus orchards and back past the dam. It’s here that you can also hop into a canoe, indulge in a picnic or while away the time bird watching.
Indeed, it was with the call of a forest-dwelling bird punctuating the silence that we were instead lured to the farm’s modern winery that overlooks some 72 hectares of vineyards, producing 13 different grape varieties. As it is, a sense of history is never too far away at Babylonstoren, and so we learn that some of the vines were first planted by previous owners, the Louw family, who lived on the farm for four generations.
However, in 2007, it was owner Karen Roos who commissioned a French architect to plan the layout of the famous garden, which can be linked back to the mythological hanging gardens of Babylon. Indeed, it is with a walk through this maze of plants and produce that our visit to Babylonstoren both starts and ends, with the apt words of head gardener Gundula Deutschlander ringing in our ears: ‘How lucky can I be, to be here. It’s paradise lost and found.’