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I was last in South Africa aged fifteen with my family so needless to say, the country’s beautiful wine country and vino it produced was kind of lost on me. While I was just entering that phase of life where you’re continually trying to smuggle a Smirnoff Ice, I was most definitely not yet old enough to appreciate a really good Sauvignon. So when Faithfull the Brand, as you know one of my favourite go-to labels for holidays, asked me to go to South Africa to shoot their new collection for them, I knew I had to tie-in a trip Franschhoek, a world-renowned wine region less than two hours from Cape Town. And if you’re going to go to Franschhoek, you’ve got to go to Babylonstoren.
I’ve long heard about beautiful Babylonstoren, an almost fabled oasis in South Africa that boasts not only beautiful rooms and sprawling, stunning gardens, but also one of the nicest rosés I’ve ever had (get your hands on a bottle for drinking in the sun this Spring). Babylonstoren really is one big lesson in how to do understated luxury, not to mention ‘farm to table’, in the most literal sense of the phrases. Too often both those expressions get bandied around in the hotel and food industry when in fact a lot of the time it’s more of a marketing ploy than a philosophy. Not so at Babylonstoren, where everything is centred around the flourishing gardens and vineyards. From the soap in your room to the melt-in-the-mouth figs with honey that are served direct to our door with a glass of white wine at sunset, nearly everything is produced and grown on site. Meat and fish are sourced as locally and sustainably as possible too. The white-washed Cape Dutch style architecture of all the rooms, restaurants and outbuildings lends themselves perfectly to all that sunshine and green, flowering surroundings. From the outside, the rooms look thick-walled and cosy, but inside they’re light-filled and lofty with roll-top baths, four-poster white beds and glass double doors at the back leading to a private sun trap complete with wooden hammock and loungers, begging for a glass of wine or a cup of hot rooibos tea in the morning. There’s also an open fireplace for chillier evenings if you feel like getting cosy. After we’d settled in, we strolled over to the Greenhouse restaurant for a chilled lunch (and some of the best potato chips ever) before taking in the gardens. I’d have loved to have done one of the complimentary garden tours but our schedule didn’t allow it this time so we just wandered round and explored on our own, stumbling upon Prickly Pear farms, fruit trees surrounded by blue and white mosaic tiles and row upon row of brightly-coloured flowers and vegetables. It really is magical with the perfectly laid-out, much-loved gardens sitting in front of a dramatic mountainous backdrop. You can also grab a bicycle from reception and roll round the gardens on two-wheels, stopping for an ice tea or lemonade at the Greenhouse. After clearing our heads and rehydrating after a long, horrible, dirty flight (but that’s another story), we headed to the farm’s dedicated wine-tasting bar to try the literal fruits of the farm’s labour. We ended the daylight hours by wandering over to the spa and stewing ourselves in the sauna and the hot tub before dopily walking home and showering before supper. Dinner was pretty special (although little tip, don’t forget to pack some nice light knits or long sleeved shirts; South Africa can get chilly at night as it heads into Autumn and I was always kind of cold in the evenings) with every course seasonally-sourced and packed-full of veggies and flavours. They’re definitely not stingy with the portions either. No pretentious tiny portions here, we barely had room for pudding but I’m glad we squeezed it in; every mouthful from start to finish was delicious.
The next morning, after the most amazing breakfast spread (make sure you try some of the lesser-know fruits like a num-num) including an omelette dripping in basil oil and roasted tomatoes, we roamed the gardens once again, soaking up the sunshine and saying hi to the resident donkeys. One of which we realised soon afterwards had been heavily pregnant so there’s now a sweet little foal bounding around which I’m kind of gutted we missed. Make sure you stop by the farm shop too to pick up some of the farm’s olive oil, jams and textiles, and if you’re heading to a rental in Cape Town afterwards, you can even grab some bread and eggs to take with you. Staying here really is dreamy and I couldn’t think of a better base to explore wine country from if you have a few days. I feel like Babylonstoren is my kind of retreat; wholesome, real food, a dreamy spa, the great outdoors on your doorstep but zero gimmicks involved. Even if you can’t stay here, it’s well-worth swinging by in the day. Anyone can come and take in the gardens, the wine and the farm shop so definitely mark it on your map of Franschhoek.
Full of food, a few new freckles, one new hat (some of the best I’ve found in ages and all-made locally) and taking half a bottle of rosé with us, it was time to leave after just one night but honestly, we milked as much as we could out of our 24 hours at Babylonstoren and it was definitely enough to really fall in love with the place. I got so many messages from people who had been before while I was there, all of whom seemed to feel exactly the same and were pining to go back so I’m definitely not the only one. So even if you have just one night to spare, Babylonstoren is definitely worth making time for. Oh and keep your ears peeled because rumour has it, there might be an outpost of Babylonstoren opening in the U.K this year….