THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCESM
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES

Babylonstoren review: South Africa’s slice of heaven on earth

A working farm, winery and luxury hotel, with gorgeous gardens, rustic-luxe cottages, serious dining destinations and a heavenly spa

Isabella Sullivan

22 May 2024

babylonstoren fynbos cottages

Babylonstoren Near+Far rating: 9/10

Why stay at Babylonstoren

While dating back to 1692, the Babylonstoren we know it today started life a birthday gift from South African tycoon Koos Bekker to his wife, Karen Roos, former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa. The derelict buildings were meant for a weekend retreat, but the setting stirred something in the couple, who, with the help of the world’s horticulture and design giants, transformed it into the impeccable farm-turned-winery-turned-hotel it is today. And we’re delighted they did. Babylonstoren is an ode to the beauty of rural South Africa – where guests stay in their own mini cottages, bike ride between restaurants, gardens, swimming pools and ice cream parlour and to tastings, talks, tours and more. Thanks to its UK sister property, World’s 50 Best Hotel, The Newt, and partnerships with Chelsea Flower Show, Babylonstoren has become a global success story, and the estate firmly lives up to this reputation. Guests stay in cottages and suites once home to farm workers, transformed into luxe hideaways with modern and antique furnishings, terraces and goodie-stocked kitchens, and days are spent enjoying tastings, talks, treatments and unwinding in its three pools: one steaming, one natural and one secluded. Day trippers are also welcome, and you’ll find a gaggle each day feeding the donkeys and enjoying its subline produce in the farm shops and restaurants. Book in advance, and make sure to spend as long as possible in this corner of paradise – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

Babylonstoren exterior against the simonsberg mountains

Location: 9/10

Babylonstoren lies in the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountains – an oil painting of greens, greys, and, when the sun shines, unimaginably brilliant blues. The star is the land: the vineyards, farmland and the formal gardens designed by architect Patrice Taravella home to seasonal vegetables, edible flowers, cacti, fruit trees, beehives and even its own tropical spice house. The 200-acre estate is a 40-minute drive from Cape Town and 20 minutes from the foodie capital Franschhoek, but it is set up in a way you never want to, or really do ever, leave. Invite friends to meet you there for coffee, wine or lunch instead. All excursions and activities are spaced out and deserve a good few hours of your time each day, so there’s no risk of boredom. 

Babylonstoren cottages
Farmhouse luxury in the Fynbos Cottages

Rooms & Suites: 9/10

Babylonstoren’s residences are dotted across acres of farmland – accessed on foot, by bicycle or golf buggy. Closes to the action are the Farmhouse Suites – romantic enclaves that marry authentic local architecture with modern design, four poster beds, and a communal library known as the ‘Butterfly Room. A short drive and you’ll hit the Garden Cottages, nestled next to a sprawling fruit and veggie garden offering a rustic-luxe farm stay experience with charming gables and fireplaces offset with international design brands Kartell, Magis, Philippe Starck and Bouroullec Bros.

The furthest and most exclusive are the Fynbos Cottage – whitewashed and mini Cape Dutch hideaways hidden by vegetation and looking onto nothing but mountain and vineyards. Ours had me wanting to move in open-plan, minimalist and modern with two bedrooms, our-posted beds, flora-themed art and white marble bathrooms with free-standing tubs. The kitchen is a real treat – home to a long, wooden table and kitchenette stocked with pots and pans to cook, plus a fantastic coffee machine. You can pick up homemade bread, pies, risotto, pasta, the ‘lekker‘ shop (lovely, in Afrikaans) – and the pantry is already stocked with the estate’s cold-pressed olive oil and juices, plus a few complimentary bottles of their famous wines. Fynbos Cottages are a short walk from a hidden swimming pool – designed to resemble a natural pond with an elegant greenhouse stocked with complimentary goodies.

babylonstoren babel restaurant
The estate’s famed Babel restaurant

Food & Drink: 10/10

Babyonstoren sits on the global stage of best hotel breakfasts – and it’s worth a stay to sample this colourful smorgasbord of farm-to-fork goodness alone. We arrive each day to a slightly different spread: a harvest table groaning with freshest fruits – mangos, berries, passion fruit, prickly pear – thick Greek yoghurt, water buffalo mozzarella, cold cuts and more – plus a daily cooked special, which we devour each day. Breakfast is served at Babel, which is open for lunch and dinner and the farm’s culinary star. Led by the gardens and farmland, you’ll find an ever-changing menu of seasonal fair, plus a hefty dose of South African delights like grilled meats. There’s indoor and outdoor seating shaded by trees, and when visiting, we spot an oyster-shucking cart, one of Babylonstoren’s content additions and innovations.

Lunch at the Greenhouse Cafe is a must – a storybook, sun-dappled spot under the trees by an foliage-filled greenhouse serving rose spritzes, loaded salads and charcuterie boards. Another must is one of the farm’s themed evenings in the Old Bakery throughout the week. A four-course Italian feast is served on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, while Wednesdays and Sundays are for Carnivore Night. In this zany, hot-blooded, high-octane event, diners sit at communal tables and enjoy a menu entirely of tartare, biltong, steaks, and more, all washed down with red wine. Surprises along the way show that the estate, despite its global fame, doesn’t take itself too seriously. New is an ice cream parlour serving gelato from the farm’s water buffalo herd.

The new Hot Spa
The new Hot Spa
Cosy, rustic-luxe interiors in the Farmhouse
Cosy, rustic-luxe interiors in the Farmhouse

Spa & Facilities: 10/10

Guests can choose from three swimming pools – a secret nature-inspired hideaway by the Fynbos Cottages and the Hot Spa – which opened in 2022 as an extension to the Garden Spa with a new indoor pool, sauna, salt room and two vitality pools. The spa is a dream, all outdoor, forested and spread across charming little bamboo pavilions linked by lei water channels. The signature deep-tissue bamboo massage leaves us so woozy that we have to call for a driver back to the cottage. There’s also a fitness suite, though you’ll walk a lot more than you do, even without leaving the grounds. Spa facilities aside, Babylonstoren’s real draw is its myriad offerings of wonderful foodies and nature activities. There’s a full roster, written on chalkboards, and includes talks, tastings, workshops, garden walks, and a truly delightful game driver to see the farm’s herd of water buffalos and feed their adorable calves – a hit with all ages. A wine tour and tasting is also unmissable – fully immersive with many delicious samplers.

The verdict?

Absolute perfection and a slice of heaven on earth. Book it far in advance to be sure not to miss out, especially if you’re planning a trip during peak season (December to March). Cancel all plans while you’re there, and don’t make any plans to leave – this is the main event.

Low-season rates from about AED1,500 a night; high-season from about AED2,850 a night; babylonstoren.com; @babylonstoren

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