There is so much to see and do at Babylonstoren – a deluxe working farm hotel in the Franschhoek Winelands – that’s best to arrive with some sort of plan. This is how we’d spend 48 hours at this very unique accommodation.
10am Check in
Franschhoek is an easy drive of about an hour from Cape Town so whether you’ve jetted in the night before or have spent an idyllic few days in South Africa’s most-awarded city already, you definitely won’t arrive at Babylonstoren too weary from your journey – which is great news for those who prefer an active holiday.
The guest cottages are spacious and well-appointed with elements, like the whitewashed walls, that echo the farm’s origins in the 1600s. Each has a compact but perfectly designed kitchen, ideal if you fancy a cup of restorative tea or coffee before heading out to see what your new ‘home from home’ has in store for you. There is also high-speed Wi-Fi if you need to check email or check-in on Facebook before heading out for the afternoon.
Before you arrive, you will be asked to supply your drinks preference so that your mini-bar is ready and waiting with all your favourites; your shoe size so that appropriate Wellington boots can be left in your suite; and you can indicate when you expect to need child-minding services. As far as possible, every detail will be taken care of.
11am Explore the garden
There are over 300 varieties of edible plants in the garden, including weird and whimsical pumpkin species in the specially designed ‘pumpkin snail’ and a prickly pear maze in which to get lost. The space is divided into 15 different areas – all watered by gravity-fed streams just like the farm had three centuries ago. Wander at will, enjoying the unexpected surprises, like giant mosaics that echo 17 century blue-and-white china, at every turn.
Try and find the oldest mulberry tree in the garden and chat to the gardeners - or even help them with their harvest!
12pm Wine cellar tour
By now you will have worked up a thirst and the atmospheric Tasting Room is a great place to have both a refreshing drink and respite from the midday sun. The 350ha farm lies in spectacular wine country so it’s no wonder their Viognier, Shiraz and Mourverde rose are eminently drinkable. The cellar master will take you on the journey of wine, which even teetotallers will find fascinating.
Wine tours start every hour on the hour from 11am to 3pm and, for a nominal fee, include tasting five of Babylonstoren's roster of wines.
1pm Lunch in the Greenhouse
South Africa’s hot summers will make the homemade infused drinks and cordials at the Green House taste that much sweeter (winter calls for hot chocolate or freshly brewed coffee). Your thirst quenched, decide what you fancy from the menu: the kitchen here does unpretentious but flavoursome artisanal sandwiches, fresh salads and cheeses created on the premises. As much of the produce as possible comes from the gardens and the rest is locally sourced from responsible producers in the Winelands.
2pm Sunbathe, watch birds or slip into the spa
While the kids go off on a mountain-bike ride (there are eight bicycles for guests to use) or investigate the exotic chickens and ducks, adults who have ‘time off’ can swim in the pool (which takes its inspiration from a classic farm dam) or check into the spa for the signature treatment: a private hammam water ritual. Manis and pedis are done outdoors in the bamboo garden, and pregnant women are accommodated in the ‘mom to be’ massage options. Those needing a detox can opt for the coffee and mint body wrap, although an African potato option is available for guest with sensitive skins.
If you prefer more time in the sunshine and are a birder (or even a BIT – Birder In Training), then you can be delighted by the antics of Babylonstoren’s 100 slug-eating ducks (part of their green agricultural practices), exotic chickens collected by the owner’s wife (look out for ‘Boots’ who has shaggy black ‘legwarmers’) and, of course, the wild birds that fly overhead. At least 58 species have been recorded, including the iconic African fish eagles. Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten your binoculars – you can borrow some from reception.
And don't forget to feed the donkeys!
5pm Sundowners and photographs
Head back to your private patio for a glass of chilled Babylonstoren Sauvignon Blanc as you listen for the birds starting to roost for the night in the surrounding trees. Photographers should make the most of the late afternoon and early evening light – the farm is a treasure trove of subjects for everyone from serious shutterbugs to fun-loving Instagrammers.
If you’d like to bathe in the massive tub before supper, be sure to toss the herbs from the garden into the water – they’ve been specially selected by the gardeners to release beautiful scents and calming properties.
7pm Dinner at Babel
Truly one of the highlights of a stay at Babylonstoren is a meal in their flagship restaurant, Babel. A clean but casual white space, it consistently offers innovative flavours and exciting textures from the kitchen. The menu depends on what’s around but heavenly bread and fresh olive oil always feature. Salads are divided by colour – the delicious ‘red salad’ will have all the red in-season ingredients like pomegranates, radishes and even Franschhoek salmon.
9pm Nightcaps and board games in the Green Room
Just across the gravel courtyard from Babel is the Green Room where adults can sample South African gin or brandy and anyone can enjoy slouching on the chesterfield with a good book or challenging the family to an old-fashioned board game. Now’s the time to request a picnic basket crammed with fresh goodies if you want to have a picnic lunch tomorrow.
If you prefer, head back to your room for movies in front of a crackling fire with a tipple from your complimentary personal bar, which can be filled with your local favourites before you arrive.
7:30am Yoga on Friday mornings
End off the week with a relaxing yoga class led by an instructor. This is a lovely way to start the day and is usually something we’re always promising ourselves we’ll do on vacation!
If you don't fancy Downward Dog this morning, put on your Wellies and go for a farm walk to help collect the freshest-ever eggs for breakfast.
8am Breakfast in your room or a workout
After a blissful night, have a breakfast tray delivered to your room to enjoy on your patio. You also have the option of having breakfast at Babel between 8am and 10am, which is a gourmet’s delight and makes the most of superb produce like fresh farm eggs, cheese, oak-smoked bacon and butter.
Runners may already be up, tackling the slopes of Babylonstoren kopje or the various hiking tracks that encircle the farm (you can pick up a track map at reception as well as a backpack with water, sun protection lotion and a small first-aid kit). Farm life starts early and the gardens will already be out and about harvesting produce, watering, weeding and cranking up the tractors.
9am Morning meditations
Head for the mulberry orchard to meditate or walk the fragrant labyrinth to centre yourself. Meander through the various herbs and spices found on the farm. Stroll down to the river and walk among the 9 000 blooming clivias in spring, saunter through the olive and citrus orchards (pro tip: do not be tempted to try an olive straight from the tree - they really do need brining!) or dare the family to enter the mysterious ‘House of Shadows’…
10am Garden tour
There is so much to see, smell and taste in the garden that a formal tour is really worth doing. Head gardener Gundula Deutchlander, who is followed everywhere by her loyal pooch, has created a botanical wonderland that is bursting with history, fragrance and heirloom varieties. All the gardeners are very knowledgeable and regularly visit historic gardens in France to learn more about advances in horticulture.
1pm Enjoy a picnic lunch & rowing on the dam
Collect your picnic basket and head for a quiet and scenic spot on the farm. The more energetic can hike or mountain-bike to the picnic spot (there are child-sized bikes, too) – the less energetic can stroll slowly, enjoying the views of the craggy Franschhoek mountains. There are three canoes (with lifejackets) at the dam if you feel like an afternoon paddle; the views are spectacular. Don’t forget your camera!
4pm Your choice: spa, nap or pool & beach?
It’s not much of a holiday if you don’t have some downtime where nothing is scheduled. Perhaps you want to catch up on your sleep or sunbathe on the sandy ‘beach’ near the pool?
7pm Dinner in the bakery on Monday, Wednesday & Sunday nights
The cosy bakery is a great place for a casual supper: feast on charcuterie, pizza topped with nibbles like Serrano ham, oak-smoked bacon, avocado, smoked trout or shavings and grana pandano. Keep space for dessert, which is likely to be inspired by Italy.
Your bags will be collected and you bid farewell to the room that’s been home for the past two days. It’s easy to see why Babylonstoren has so many guests who return year after year. Either continue with your self-drive journey back to Cape Town or further afield to the world’s whale-watching capital of Hermanus.
11am Stock up at the shop
Pop into the shop to pick up a memento or two: we loved the donkey masks for the kids (also lovely to frame once you get home), mini tins of olive oil and, of course, the wine!