Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

March 13th 2011

Frasnchoek Valley, South Africa

An aerial view of the property taken from the 'Toren' on the hill nearby. Its a nice 25 minute hike to do from the property

An aerial view of Babylonstoren taken from the 'Toren' on the hill nearby. Its a nice 25 minute hike to do from the property

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.)

The entrance to the property

The entrance to the property

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 Main Farmhouse available for full buy-outs

The original Cape Dutch Architecture of the Owner's House; available for full buy-outs

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.

The 8-acre gardens

The sumptuous 8-acre gardens

Head Gardener Liels chasing the pesky geese out of the garden

Head Gardener Liesl chasing the pesky geese out of the garden

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.

Cottage 8, where I spent my first 2 nights

Cottage 8, where I spent my first 2 nights

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.

The bathroom in cottage 4 - one of the best bathrooms

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.

The cottages and their glassed-in kitchenettes lit up at night

The cottages and their glassed-in kitchenettes lit up at night

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.

The simple interior of the restaurant allows the food to do the wow-ing

The simple interior of the restaurant allows the food to do the wow-ing

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.

The gardens in the morning

The gardens in the morning

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.

Posted in: Africa

Published by Meg, Friday, April 1, 2011 1 Comment

Cape Town and Franschoek, South Africa

March 8-15th, 2011

The beautiful Cape Grace Hotel and polished old schooner tied alongside

The beautiful Cape Grace Hotel and polished old schooner tied alongside

This past week I spent a glorious, though somewhat hectic, time running between appointments and site-inspection tours in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands.  Despite it being my third visit to the area, (I am ridiculously,  hideously spoiled by this fact, I know), I remain as enchanted as my first visit by the raw, sheer beauty of the city and lush winelands. The mountains, especially Table Mountain, whose omnipotence seems undeniable, provide an indelible mark to the landscape, ensuring a humble and respectful perspective from all who view them.

The mountains and the Garden at Babylonstoren in Franschoek

The mountains and the Garden at Babylonstoren in Franschoek

Enough of my ramblings on nature, however, I must implore any and all able to visit the southern area of South Africa and see for yourself, the natural, rock awesomeness that abounds. And if  you’re savvy, you’ll make the lovely Cape Grace Hotel, your lodgings of choice, where such luxury amenities as a chartered yacht, the Spirit profollica scam of the Cape, is available for private tours, meals and sunset dining anchoring just outside of famous 4th Beach in the Clifton area of Cape Town. As you can probably tell from the candid photo below, the food served onboard is delicious, fresh and abundant, plus it comes with excellent Cape Classique bubbly.

Dining aboard the Spirit of the Cape at Sunset

Dining aboard the Spirit of the Cape at Sunset

Our view that evening was exceptional. To choose between the setting sun and the glorious 12 Apostles range behind us, was a sincere challenge. The fact that this visual glory is a nightly affair for local Cape Townians seems like an embarrassment of riches, fortunately the locals are equally as impressed by their city’s topographical excellence and frequently gather on the beach with picnics to witness the epic affair. After all, ‘sundowners’  – a drink at sundown – are indeed, the local custom.

Our Sunset view from the yacht

Our Sunset view from the yacht

MORE TO COME ON THE CAPE GRACE HOTEL, CECILE & BOYD’S SHOWROOM IN CAPE TOWN AND THE NEWEST AND MOST VERDANT PROPERTY IN FRANSCHOEK, BABYLONSTOREN.

Posted in: Africa

Published by Meg, Thursday, March 17, 2011 No Comments

Marrakesh Crush

Africa, Hotel Reviews

Apr
15
2010

Marrakesh, Morroco

April 12-16th
A large, toothy grin followed by subsequent nods to myself  – I fear I even paused mid-route to the my room. Yup, I am positively smitten with this hotel and have that wonderful, googly, love-at-first-sight in Marrakesh’s La Mamounia Hotel.

The popular guestroom shot of La Mamounia. The real thing is as good as it looks here.

The popular guestroom shot of La Mamounia. The real thing is as good as it looks here.

Spoiled beyond my dreams (and my very high, professionally-based expectations), being a guest at this bountiful hotel has been a truly exceptional treat of my job.

The revamped pool and pool pavillion, which serves breakfast and a tremendous mediterranean buffet cuisine at lunch

The revamped pool and pool pavilion, which serves breakfast and a tremendous Mediterranean buffet cuisine at lunch

Every detail – from the Bernardo the proextender system china to the Porthault linen to the 20 acres of gardens abloom with a lipstick color collection of roses – has set me into a swoon. I hate to wax poetic, it goes against my well-honed critical nature, however, my admiration for this 210-room hotel has yet to falter in the three nights I’ve been here.  Tonight is my final night and I’m already dreading packing.

One of the standard rooms. If you can, splurge for a suite as the moroccan detailing - tilework, paster carvings, arched doors and copper lanterns are deliciously more abundant.

One of the well-adorned standard rooms

I promise to include more anecdotes and specifics – including the spa, fantastic fitness area with clay tennis courts and a panoramic gym with loads of LifeFitness (!) equipment and posh pool scene. In the meantime, I leave you to these professional, drool-worthy photographs.

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Posted in: Africa, Hotel Reviews

Published by Meg, Thursday, April 15, 2010 No Comments

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About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.