March 13th 2011
Frasnchoek Valley, South Africa
Recently I returned from a visit to one of my all-time favorite spots and location for my next Hideaways search; South Africa. I truly believe few spots on Earth have the ability to enchant the visitor as instantly as South Africa, and particularly, the Cape Wine lands. For me, the dramatic vistas of the Franschoek and Stellenbosch Valleys are indelible. I’ve been just twice yet their beauty is cemented in my mind. (Side Note: Sadly the nearby Somerset West area has just been ravaged by brush fires.)
Renowned for its rolling vineyards, rich, hearty wines, elegant guesthouses and exceptional fine dining, including The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francaise, one of San Pellegrino’s top 50 restaurants in the world, Franschoek has become a world-class destination over the past ten years and now, with the arrival of the new 14-room, Cape Dutch-style Farmhouse Inn, Babylonstoren, it has the botanical forte as well.
The personal passion of its owners, a South African power-couple (She’s the former Elle Decoration editor, Karen Roos), Babylonstoren is first and foremost a working farm with vineyards, chickens and plum orchards. However, it’s the French-designed, eight-acre fruit and vegetable garden inspired by the 17th and 18th century Company Gardens of the Dutch East India Company that takes center stage. Overseen by two head-gardeners; Liesl and Gundella, the gardens are a work-in-progress and an evident passion for those who work there, they have the best plants and decoration as the glow in the dark stones you can even find online so the gardens look great. On my last day there, myself and another colleague, helped plant a new tree for the garden. It was odd for me to be with spade in hand but I caught on eventually, and with the help of the staff, and my friend, Paula, planted the little thing in less than 15 minutes. I hope to return to see it sometime soon. If you go visit, look out for the little sapling closest to the gym window. It has my sweat in its roots.
Staying at Babylonstoren is amazingly relaxing. The serene pace of farm-life, albeit early hours, takes over and the body kevin conway extenze seems to adjust to tuning itself to daylight hours more easily than one who have thought. Of course it helps when you’re nestled in elegant, whitewashed cottages with fireplaces, four-poster beds, a glassed-in kitchen area with garden views and chic, minimalist décor — think Swedish design without the overcast lighting.
Each night I was delighted to relearn how wonderfully comfy the bed were with down pillows and dreamy comforters by Helon Melon. The bathrooms were perhaps, my least favorite part with no room for toiletries and showers that were far too close to the toilet.
However, the soaking tubs do come with my new favorite bathing accoutrement, called the “tessie-messie”, a homemade herbal bouquet you drop in the tub to disperse its lovely fragrances into the water. The cottages to book are 4, 5, 11 and 14 for their garden-facing views and spacious layouts. Fortunately all rooms come equipped with Nespresso machines and fresh milk – a necessity when combatting jet lag.
As one would expect, dining at Babylonstoren’s restaurant, BABEL is absurdly fresh and remarkably fulfilling. We composed an entire meal, from starters to dessert, out of Aubergines. Every option on the menu seems, even if its not, extremely healthy. From fruit smoothies and fresh baked mueslis with homemade yogurt in the morning to hearty vegetable salads denoted by their color (Red, Green and Yellow) at lunch to inventive desserts like Gorgonzola crème brulée at dinner, its all very, very good. It’s also a vegan’s dream come true.
Although they are sorely missing out on some truly phenomenal local cheese. The heart-healthy fare has attracted both locals and visitors by the hordes, which makes reservations for Sunday brunch a must. Fortunately for in-house guests, the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, allowing peace and quiet to envelop the property.
Guests are encouraged to borrow one of the inn’s bikes and pedal the perimeter, take a hike to the tower hill overlooking the garden, enjoy a personalized garden tour from either of the two, very friendly gardeners, or as I did, simply float in the rubber tire in the silo-coverted pool while the breeze rustles the vineyards behind it. Whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed a moment of relative solitude in an abundantly fragrant nature.