The rugged beauty of white-washed walls, typical of Cape Dutch architecture, is revealed in contemporary perfection at Babylonstoren farm and hotel.
The centuries-old white walls of South Africa’s traditional architectural buildings have brought countless cameras to attention. They have even inspired a collectors’ book of that name, The White Walled Beauty of the Cape, comprising early 1960s photographs exhibited by the former Simon van der Stel Foundation, established to promote conservation of South Africa’s national heritage.
Very few examples of these history-redolent white walls – and their spectacular interiors and verdant surroundings ‒ are, however, as Instagram-worthy as those of Babylonstoren. This extraordinary estate, a mere 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, is a highly individual interpretation of an idealised, contemporary farm lifestyle.
The farm’s unusual name refers to a prominent hill or koppie that previously sparked references to the mythological Tower of Babel. According to that tale, the tower had a “top in the heavens” and work was disrupted when builders were unable to understand one anothers’ languages.
Clearly there was no such confusion among the specialist team gathered by the owners, media billionaire Koos Bekker and his wife, former magazine editor Karen Roos, who acquired the farm about a decade ago. Under Roos’s cultivated and well-travelled eye, the farm has evolved to house a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden stretching over more than three hectares. This produce feeds the appetites ‒ body and soul ‒ of both day visitors and longer-term guests enjoying the restaurants and updated farm cottages that comprise part of the hotel.
Babylonstoren’s garden was inspired by the functionality, formality and abundance of Cape Town’s Company’s Garden, planted to grow provisions for sailors travelling between Europe and Asia. It was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. Forty years later, the then Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, granted Babylonstoren farm to Pieter van der Byl. He planted the first vineyards and altered the water courses to provide irrigation.
Our cottage was only a few steps from laden lemon trees that marked the border of the extraordinary garden. The architects had retained the original white walls, but the contemporary take spanned a vast marble-floored bathroom with wraparound views, thick white bedlinen, an overhead book case stocked with interesting literature, and furniture that referenced designer names such as Philippe Starck and Kartell.
Guests can relax here in front of a blazing fire, or read to their hearts’ content in a green-walled, eclectically-furnished library, complete with Nespresso machine and help-yourself bar. A young couple played cards in front of a roaring fire; a photographer sprawled on a vintage leather couch, deep in thought, assiduously jotting down notes.
An Italian-inspired dinner was served in the bakery, with glorious antipasti of homegrown, sweet cured pork, succulent black olives, homemade mozzarella and an array of freshly-picked salads. Charming waitresses scooped up pizzas straight from the oven and cut slices at our table.
Breakfast was at Babel restaurant, where white-washed walls of the old cowshed met contemporary glass. The “pick, clean and serve” foodie philosophy was at its peak with just-blended juices served up in glass lab jars. A vast table was laden with the farm’s produce: homemade yoghurt and cheeses, honey from the orchards, a long oval platter laden with blueberries, nut-packed bread fresh from the bakery, pear preserve, even a local is lekker touch of a plate of biltong (dried meat).
Then time for a final, nostalgic garden walk. The lasting gift of Babylonstoren is that it inspires one to live better, long after you have waved farewell to its white-walled serenity.
To find out more: https://babylonstoren.com/
Photographs Judy Bryant