Located about 40 miles outside Cape Town in the renowned wine region of Franschhoek, the lush 500-acre Babylonstoren feels more like a utopia than a farm. Originally cultivated by French Huguenot refugees in the late 1600s, today the former estate's historic grounds house a staggeringly beautiful maze of gardens and vineyards populated by crisp, traditional Cape Dutch-style buildings.
As the name suggests, the ethereal landscape is inspired by "the mythical garden of Babylon", as well as its geographic heritage as the halfway point for merchants traveling between Europe and Asia. Diverse vegetation containing more than 300 varieties of organically grown plants, including prickly pears, peach trees, indigenous passion fruit and water lilies, pumpkin and more, supplies Babylonstoren's restaurant, Babel, which offers up a rustic menu of seasonal fare in its glass-enclosed dining room or outside on the lawn.
On a recent trip to Babylonstoren, we noshed on a feast of sausages, beef and fish, along with fruit, vegetables and wine, a vibrant spread that reflects what you'll find walking around the functional "werf" (farmyard). Meanwhile, free range pigeons, turkeys and other birds roam around their whitewashed fowl house in a sunny courtyard.
If you walk past the petanque court and into the well-structured garden labrynth, you'll also come across several of Porky Hefer's cocoon-like woven nests. The South African designer based the large-scale nests on those typical of the weaver bird, and climbing inside one gives you a bird's eye view of the delicately towering flowers surrounding it.
Babylonstoren's bucolic oasis is also home to 14 cottages among its restaurant and gardens. As a vacation destination, designer Karen Roos' converted property goes well beyond traditional agritourism and instead offers visitors an unexpected retreat among the South African countryside.
Photos by Karen Day