By Caroline Tapp-McDougall
It’s been a decade since former magazine editor Karen Roos fell in love with the majestic thick white walls and elegant gables of the Cape Dutch-style farm buildings on one of South Africa’s oldest farms. It was and still is called Babylonstoren, and bringing the historic property magnificently back to life has been Roos’s labour of love. Today, the historic fruit and wine farm has been authentically restored with a contemporary twist that makes it a very pleasant place to stay and play.
Babylonstoren now offers charming family-friendly, farm-stay accommodations, fine food and wine, a bountiful fruit and vegetable garden, and the chance to commune with farm animals and nature. From the pasture to the holistic spa there’s an honest sense of sustainability, well-being and the unhurried farm lifestyle.
During our visit, the farm’s honey-bee block is a truly a-buzz with its newly imported Flow Hive system for effortless honey harvesting. Bees here are especially fond of the macadamia nut trees, perennial basil and sunflowers, which give their honey a lovely sweet taste. The introduction of the Flow Hive is a big success; gentler on the hard-working bees as well as time- and labour-saving for the beekeepers.
Looking to the past for inspiration, the luscious fruit and vegetable gardens have more than 300 varieties of edible plants—all used on the property by the chefs in one of three popular farm-to-table restaurants for visitors and overnight guests: Babel, Greenhouse and the Bakery. Each morning, free-roaming, happy Boschvelder and Potchefstroom Koekoeks chickens can be spotted hopping around in the garden as Christo the chicken farmer collects their eggs. He also keeps Leghorns, Lohmann browns and blue-egg-laying Araucanas, so there are plenty of fresh eggs for breakfast. They can also be found for sale in the shop.
Every Wednesday, meat-lovers gather at the long tables in the Bakery for a carnivores’ dinner: A five-course communal feast. Hosted by braai masters Jaco and Eddie, who grill prime cuts of meat from Chianina cattle (said to be the best meat in the world), the reservation-only event is usually sold out. Babylonstoren has a small herd of Chianina, an ancient white-coated Italian breed, with the animals fed an all-grass diet.
Pop in at the Lekker Room for a taste of freshly roasted almonds and macadamias, offered roasted and salted or drenched in honey. Also keep an eye out for Babylonstoren’s decadent chocolate bars, flavoured with nibs of nuts. Or take a hands-on workshop—an ideal opportunity to share what “the experts” have learned and try out a special skills or technique. Starting with a walk through the garden, it’s usually a full-day affair with lunch included.
Hearty fireplaces, walking through farmers’ fields and tree-to-table dining experiences aren’t for everyone. And be forewarned: You might be invited to taste the site’s new wine or pick your own vegetables for dinner. But staying here as a guest is certainly the real thing, and an intriguingly different experience from that found at your run-of-the-