A decade ago Karen Roos, a magazine editor and lover of South Africa’s Dutch Cape history, purchased a fruit and wine farm dating back to the late 17th century. She renamed it Babylonstoren and set about transforming it into the showplace it is today.
Located near Franschhoek, it was in 1692 the land was granted to burgher Pieter van der Byl by the then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. Prior to that, the Drakenstein Valley was inhabited by the nomadic Khoisan communities for centuries. van der Byl planted the first vineyards on the farm and altered the water courses to provide irrigation.
Instead of wandering the property on my own, I take a guided tour through the property; a maze of fruits, vegetables, trees and lovely flowers framed by the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains.
Our guide tells the group that some of the earliest farm structures are still on the farm and used today including a manor house dating to 1777 as well as the Koornhuis (for storing wheat), the old cellar, fowl house, dovecote, the leaning bell tower and the historic gates. A cow shed was transformed into Babel restaurant where I would later have lunch.
Set within 8 acres, the big garden was inspired by the historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town. “The Company Garden supplied sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia in the 1600s,” our guide explains as we set off.
The garden is fashioned into a labyrinth of “rooms” segregating different fruits, vegetables and flowers.
“All of our plants in the garden are edible,” our guide says. “More than 300 different plants are grown here.”
Included in the mix are everything from fruit and nut trees to asparagus and mushrooms. The produce supplies the farm’s two restaurants — Babel and the Greenhouse. As we walk and learn more about the gardens, employees are busy harvesting crops.
When the formal tour ends, I continue to wander through other areas of the garden taking my time to enjoy the scents, colors and atmosphere of these natural rooms and arbors.
Soon it is time for lunch at Babel. The menu is guided by what is available in the garden. The group of women I am traveling with decides to try each of the “color” salads offered — red, yellow and green. Not only are they delicious, but the presentation is amazing.
Babylonstoren also offers luxury accommodations. According to the website, “when new accommodation was added to create the Farm Hotel, every care was taken to ensure that the integrity of the original architecture and its sympathetic relationship with the landscape and climate, were reflected.”
Babylonstoren is a true treasure for anyone who appreciates gardening, farm-to-table dining and the joys of the great outdoors.
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