Babylonstoren, Stellenbosch, South Africa: hotel review
Read our review of this Cape Dutch farm hotel, restaurant and garden in South Africa, set in the country's wine region between the pretty towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
Looking for vineyard hotels in South Africa? Want foodie places to stay in Stellenbossch? Read our hotel review and check out where to eat and drink in Cape Town here.
What is Babylonstoren’s USP?
A 3.5-hectare working farm in South Africa’s Cape Winelands (just half an hour's drive from Cape Town) which is the epitome of farmhouse chic. Previously a Cape Dutch stone fruit and citrus farm, the site, at the foot of the dramatic Simonsberg mountains, now houses a formal French fruit and veg garden, well-regarded vineyard and destination farm-to-fork restaurant (along with a tranquil spa and stylish bedroom suites housed in former farmhouse buildings).
And the general vibe?
Having previously worked as editor of South Africa's Elle Decoration, Babylonstoren’s owner Karen Roos has a sharp eye for interiors and attention to detail, resulting in the most stylish farmhouse stay in the Cape Winelands. The 3.5-hectare site is dominated by a luscious, fruitful garden where gnarled olive trees and sprawling pumpkins grow alongside perfectly manicured rows of lemon trees and heart-shaped prickly pears, and where working ducks patrol the grounds to ensure snails don’t undo the hard work of the gardeners.
This balance between rustic and contemporary is a theme throughout the estate – smiley, casually-dressed staff knock on your farmhouse door every evening at sunset with an elegant glass of Babylonstoren’s crisp, cold white wine; guests in fluffy white robes pad from the farmhouse-style Jacuzzi, salt room and sauna to take a plunge in the swimming pool, and visitors take part in bread making workshops in the on-site bakery.
Which room should I book at Babylonstoren?
Book one of the one-bedroom suites tucked away beside the gardens. A track takes you from the reception building and restaurant past ponds of waterlilies, tanks of multi-coloured fish and shelters for tiny dozing hedgehogs down a shady avenue lined with 18th century whitewashed farmhouse buildings.
Here, dark green shutters and stable doors frame bright and airy rooms decorated with modern white furnishings (and made cosy with cast iron stoves and handwoven throws). South African literature lines the bookshelves and framed botanical illustrations add pops of colour to the white walls.
Bottles of red and white wine, homemade rooibos and honeybush tea and biscuits are all complimentary, along with a box of hand-picked fruit left on the bench outside each suite every day.
Each suite is kitted out with small, thoughtful details to make your stay comfortable – from espresso machines and bespoke toiletries made from the garden’s botanicals (lemon verbena, rose geranium and lavender) to umbrellas and wellies left by the door, ready to help you embrace the surrounding grounds.
What’s good to eat?
Babel, the hotel's main restaurant, features nods to its former life as a cow shed – the original trough stands in the centre of the room, and a giant illustration of a cow’s head dominates the back wall. It’s light and airy, with delicate white flowers poking out of coloured glass bottles brightening up wooden tables. Glass walls look out onto shady courtyards where you can eat if you prefer (though take care not to tread on a resident tortoise).
We’ve seldom seen a more evident farm-to-fork ethos, and to call Babylonstoren’s grounds a kitchen garden doesn’t do justice to the abundance of produce that grows under the hot South African sun. Seasonal fruit and veg are shown the limelight at Babel, with a list of what’s currently being harvested written up on the white tiles of the restaurant’s walls.
Little tasters from the garden are brought to diners on sticks as an appropriate amuse-bouche (black paw plums, kei apples and multi-coloured carrots on our visit). Seasonal salads dominate the starters, plated according to colour – green is made up of slices of apple, limes and figs with a vibrant pesto, and served with mozzarella and wine-roasted ham. The yellow plate combines passionfruit and melon balls with super crisp pieces of battered squid and courgette flowers.
Babel is big on steaks and show-stopping cuts of meat served on the bone (lamb cutlets, whole-roast baby chicken, fillet of beef with roast onion and Babel red wine). Sides follow the seasons, and might include pickled beetroot, butternut squash with orange and ginger glaze, broccoli with cheese and pepper sauce, and crisp potato wedges.
If you can’t get a table at Babel, Babylonstoren’s greenhouse café is an idyllic alternative for an al fresco lunch or afternoon tea.
And to drink?
Babylonstoren boasts a working vineyard, complete with wine cellar, state-of-the-art winery and magnificent glass-fronted tasting room. Sit by the fire while staff prepare tasting flights at the green-tiled bar; the estate’s 88 hectares of vines hosts 13 different grape varieties.
Citrusy yet creamy Burgundy-style Chardonnay is one of the estate's premium wines, along with a dark ruby, fruity Nebukadnesar made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The Viognier is refreshing and floral with zesty lime notes, while sparkling Chardonnay Sprankel has notes of passionfruit and grapefruit.
What’s the breakfast like?
Babel’s buffet breakfast is no ordinary affair. A huge table supports colourful plates of the garden’s produce and exotic fruits that even the widest travelled might not have heard of (tamarillo, num num, or 11 varieties of prickly pears). There’s even a section dedicated to healing herbs – lemongrass for nausea, lemon verbena for headaches, mint for digestion and elderflower for hayfever.
Load up your plate with squidgy bread to dunk into homemade herb oil, dress your eggs with freshly picked leaves of the day, and dollop Jersey milk yogurt onto jewelled savoury granola. Juices are labelled by colour – yellow (carrot, ginger, pineapple, melon, orange) and red (beetroot, red apple, watermelon, plums) amongst others, along with yellow prickly pear (actually more blood orange in colour).
What else is there to do at the hotel?
Join a garden tour and follow one of the enthusiastic gardeners as they weave through rows of olive trees, pick little num num berries, and marvel at giant aubergines and pumpkins. Each corner of the garden reveals a story, whether it be a cutting from Newton’s apple tree in Kent or willow trees from the site where Napoleon is buried.
Don't leave without exploring Babylonstoren's farm shop, complete with a refrigerated charcuterie room where saucisson and bresaola hangs against cool white tiles. The pantry is packed full with homemade biscuits, juices, cheese and preserves, and a treasure trove of shelves full of kitchen utensils and dining room decorations wouldn't look out of place on a front cover of Elle Decoration...
Is Babylonstoren family friendly?
Babylonstoren’s garden provides a magical labyrinth to spark children’s imagination – human nests to climb in, covered pathways to run through and little hedgehogs and tortoises to spot. There’s a small children’s menu available at Babel restaurant, and extra beds and cots can be put up in most rooms.
What can I do in the local area?
We highly recommend a trip to the Bond villain's lair-like Delaire Graff Estate. A dramatic driveway lined with impressive African art winds up to a huge building housing water features, statues of leopards and cases of Graff diamonds and the sprawling estate boasts a 360-degree view of the Cape Winelands (you can even spot Table Mountain in the distance).
Enjoy a slap-up lunch on the terrace of The Delaire Graff Restaurant – a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect pairing for pappardelle with plump king prawns, crunchy greens and a light creamy sauce.
For something a little more casual, but still exquisitely stylish, the deli at Tokara estate over the road is a great option. Peruse the shelves of homemade and locally sourced preserves, oils and chocolates before relaxing on a squishy sofa next to a huge contemporary fireplace with a burger, salad or homemade pie.
The concierge says…
Spend a day hopping on and off the Franschhoek wine tram. There are various routes you can take, each named after a different colour, but the orange line and purple line both stop at Babylonstoren on their journeys through the western region of the Franschhoek Valley.
Stop off for cellar tours, wine tastings and long boozy lunches before stumbling back to your suite and sleeping off the wines by the pool, or relaxing in the jacuzzi with a view of the vineyards.
Make sure you book Babel restaurant well ahead (as well as other restaurants in the area) as it can often be full up two months in advance.
Words by Alex Crossley
Photographs by Alex Crossley and Babylonstoren