For urbanites looking for a back to the land experience Babylonstoren is the place to decamp and unwind for a weekend. A working farm and wine estate, Babylonstoren is an unpretentious place where you can collect eggs for your breakfast or chill with a glass of wine and a good book in the garden. The farm is easily reached by car from Cape Town and while it would make a lovely day trip, I suggest booking a room at the hotel to take full advantage of all of the farm activities. With two restaurants, walking trails, a spa, and a magnificent garden, there is plenty to do. The added advantage of overnighting on the farm is that after all the day guests leave, a stillness descends and you can almost imagine that you have the entire farm to yourself. Plus, the cosy cottages have enormous claw footed bathtubs where you can soak away the stress of city living.
Trying to make the most of my visit, I scheduled a cellar tour upon arrival. I am not sure if cellar tours are as popular in South Africa as they are in the US, Spain, and Chile, but I enjoyed seeing the production facilities and learning a bit more about Babylonstoren’s relatively new winemaking process. In addition to wine, the farm also recently started producing olive oil and the tour involved tasting olive oil and several of the wines. Opposed to leaving the tasting to the end of the tour, we stopped intermittently along the way to try the different wines which was a nice touch. Having sampled the wares, I headed to the Greenhouse, the casual eatery that, as the name suggests, is located in a greenhouse where I feasted on a ham a cheese sandwich, pear cordial, and farm fresh salad served in a Weck jar.
The afternoon was spent wandering the gardens which were modeled after the company gardens and have hundreds of varietals that supply the restaurant with an edible cornucopia of vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit, and berries. This is one of the oldest wine farms in the region and fruit has been growing on this plot for over 300 years. After most of the day guests left, I settled under a tree with a book and I think the afternoon could have only been made more perfect had I taken a nap in the gardens.
The restaurant, Babel, serves a set three course menu for guests staying in the hotel four nights a week. Babel is a popular lunchtime destination that is booked months in advance because of its simple, unfussy food. Dinner started with a pea soup. I detest peas and I mean detest peas. I obligingly ate the soup in my once every three year attempt to break myself of this childhood dislike. It did not work. The restaurant cannot be blamed since they offered an alternative, but in all honesty it put me off of the rest of what was a lovely meal of kabeljou (fish) with tamarind curry sauce and sides of kohlrabi sauerkraut and flash fried pakchoi. As you can imagine, this is a place where vegetables shine and if they had kohlrabi sauerkraut in the farm shop, I would have stocked up on jars. Dinner ended with a traditional South African milk tart dessert.
On Sunday, I joined a group of guests for a farm walk up the small kopje (rocky hill) and while it was only supposed to last an hour we took the long way back spending nearly two hours strolling along the dam, through the forest, and amongst the rows of fruit trees all with a dog in tow. We nearly missed the hearty (and definitely not to be missed) farm breakfast in the greenhouse, but it was a glorious crisp winter morning and none of us had watches or cell phones to tether us. I spent the rest of the morning visiting the farm animals, including a hedgehog with four tiny babes. Then there was an obligatory stop at the store to pick up some preserves so I could enjoy my farm weekend after I returned home.
Wanting to give Babel another chance after the pea fiasco, I dined al fresco on a deliciously fresh farm salad named Red for all of the red or reddish vegetables on the plate. The main protein was thin slices of quail breast and an oddly perfectly paired chocolate sauce. Even though I didn’t think I could ingest another bite, I ordered a chocolate lava cake and cardamom ice cream because as much as I dislike peas, I love cardamom. With the gardens and mountains providing an idyllic backdrop, a delicious meal at Babel was the perfect culmination to a bucolic weekend.