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Decanter’s dream destination: Babylonstoren, Franschhoek, South Africa

Every month Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. In the heart of South Africa’s Cape Winelands, Babylonstoren deserves your attention for its beautiful architecture, sublime food and excellent wines, says Alicia Miller.

In the most basic sense, Babylonstoren is a 17th century Cape Dutch farm that has been converted into a hotel, spa and winery. But that simplistic description doesn’t do justice to this special place, set in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley.

Just a 45-minute drive east of Cape Town, billionaire proprietors Koos Bekker and Karen Roos – who also own a UK outpost, The Newt in Somerset – have created a wine lovers’ destination that is far more than the sum of its parts.

There are vast acreages of manicured gardens, farm-to-fork dining with hyper-seasonal produce and a newly opened wine museum. While chic villas let you wake to views of Simonsberg mountain, Babylonstoren is the luxurious paradigm of a Cape Winelands estate. No question: this place will get under your skin.

A rich wine history

The tasting room at sunset

Wine has always been a major part of Babylonstoren’s story. After all, this is the Western Cape, home to esteemed vineyards producing everything from local Pinotage to Bordeaux red blends. The estate has grown grapes since the 1690s.

Today’s winemaking team, headed by Klaas Stoffberg, uses a state-of-the-art winery to turn out a core range of 10 bottlings. They range from peachy Viognier to brioche-noted Méthode Cap Classique Chardonnay. Behind the scenes, Stoffberg experiments with the likes of amphora and cement fermenters to make small batch, limited-release wines for the estate’s wine club members.

Stoffberg is in good company in the region. Babylonstoren’s doorstep is littered with big wine names from Franschhoek and Stellenbosch – many within 15-20 minutes’ drive of the hotel. Head to Delaire Graff Estate to wander its sculpture-studded gardens and sample its bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit Spier Wine Farm to savour a tangy Sauvignon-Sémillon. Or what about Black Elephant Vintners for an innovative music and wine pairing?

When you’ve returned to home base at Babylonstoren, enjoy a flight of seven wines, tour the cellar, then explore the newly opened onsite wine museum, The Story of Wine.

On the menu

Despite the impressive nature of its wines, the estate’s 94ha of vineyards are only part of the agricultural picture at Babylonstoren. First-class olive oils and rooibos teas are also produced here, and there are bountiful fruit orchards, vegetable patches, cycads, protea and fynbos. Not to mention hens and cows. In short, the rambling grounds – around 200ha in total – are a veritable horticultural rainbow.

With such rich offerings of produce, it’s only natural that good fresh food features in a Babylonstoren stay. The onsite Babel restaurant, set in a refurbished cow shed, serves up whatever is in season in the garden.

That could be heirloom cucumbers, sweetcorn or peaches. Breakfast features eggs from the hens, while meat from estate-reared Chianina cattle is dry-aged in the salt room before starring in lunches and dinners.

It’s not just about the restaurants, either. Part of what gives Babylonstoren its cache is its comprehensive farm shop. It attracts visitors both local and far-flung for its butchery, handmade dairy products, bakery and ‘lekker’ (sweets) room. Regular cookery or gardening workshops let you produce your own nut butter, blend herbal teas or make pasta, too.

Rest and relax

When you aren’t eating or drinking, there are other kinds of hedonistic pleasures in store for guests: namely an excellent spa. Babylonstoren recently launched a new ‘hot spa’, featuring vitality pools, a hammam and a rasul mud treatment room. This is in addition to its existing regime of bamboo stick massages and anti-ageing facials.

True to its roots, the accommodation at Babylonstoren is set in Cape Dutch-style architecture. But here historic doesn’t mean staid. Owner Roos is the former editor of ELLE Decoration South Africa, so reimagined former farm buildings put style at the forefront.

Classic white-washed exteriors meet floor-to-ceiling glass to let in the light, alongside plush minimalist furnishings. Curl up in front of a roaring fire with a book from the tome-stacked shelf, with a glass of Babylonstoren’s delicate Mouvèdre Rosé in hand, and you’ll feel like all’s right with the world.

For more information visit babylonstoren.com

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