In her inspired restoration of one of the winelands oldest estates, Karen Roos and her team have created a new kind of country getaway, a working farm that is also a luxury hotel, where guests can enjoy the ultimate pleasure of picking their own fruit and vegetables
This lovely old estate with its many layers of history remains a working farm, but it has also been transformed it into a unique country getaway. There are cottage suites that provide five star comfort and an innovative restaurant supplied by a magnificent garden, where guests can also enjoy the ultimate luxury of picking their own fruit and vegetables.
Babylonstoren/The farm has a rare integrity about it. The historic werf, with its handsome buildings and pleasing spatial geometry, is among the best preserved in the Cape. Around the H-form house, storerooms, gabled henhouse and pigeon loft, wine cellar, stables and workshops provide a moving insight into a self-sufficient rural past. There are wild olives and oaks that may be nearly as old as the farm itself. Below the encircling ringmuur a stream from the Simonsberg flows, lifeblood of the farm for more than three hundred years.
The house and farm buildings have been renovated in that spirit. This is not a slavish recreation of time past, but rather an evocation: skilful preservation and restoration of the original fabric and feel, combined with an infusion of 21st century life. Simple, modern furnishings and an unerring choice of detail, antique, modern, whimsical make each space a timeless world, but one to be used and enjoyed - and shared.
The interior of a gabled barn in the forecourt has been transformed into an all-white multipurpose studio with a sprung floor - for photography, dancing or yoga. Among the old oaks and olives, a series of landhuisies have been built to accommodate guests. There are fourteen suites, seven of which have their own kitchens. In these cottages we see 18th century-style exteriors boldly yet seamlessly married to the 21st century. Slotted into one wall of each suite, a spacious glass box contains a dining and cooking area, with views over the garden or into the trees.
The interiors are appropriately plain, yet utterly luxurious, a mix of modern basics with antique pieces and stylish touches: a Magis Puppy Dog, a canvas wardrobe, a Xavier Lust hatstand.
These touches are clearly Karen’s, but she is at pains to stress that the revitalisation of the farm is the result a team effort, in which many people have been involved – most of all, Babylonstoren’s dedicated staff.
As a working farm, Babylonstoren’s acreage is divided between fruit orchards and vineyards. The Simonsberg mountains are possibly the finest terroir in the Cape and a new wine cellar stands ready for the 2011 harvest. But the new heart of the farm is a magnificent formal fruit and vegetable garden, 8 acres of abundance that are also a history book and a manual of gardening practice. Inspired by Van Riebeeck’s great supply garden (the prime reason for Dutch settlement in the Cape in the first place), it also makes a playful nod to the fabled gardens of Babylon. Patrice Tarravella, who recreated the celebrated medieval monastery garden at Prieure d’Orsan in France, was another important inspiration.
And this is where staying guests will be able to come down to earth in the pleasantest possible way, not only in exploring the garden’s riches, but also in picking whatever they fancy for preparation in the superbly equipped kitchens of their suites.
There is another tempting option; the old cowshed has been converted into a cool milk-white restaurant, Babel, where the presiding genius, Maranda Engelbrecht ( award winning stylist and food consultant to Woolworths) has come up with a unique new style of menu, which focuses on fresh produce from the garden and the region. Like so much else at Babylonstoren, a meal at Babel promises to be both an adventure and a rediscovery of “the honest essence of things”.
“Above all,” says Karen, “We would like visitors to ground themselves again. We hope they’ll enjoy the mountains all round as much as our team does, pick their own biologically grown fruit and veg, play petanque, swim in the plaasdam, enjoy an hour in the spa, eat a simple fresh dish at the restaurant, walk up the conical Babylonstoren hill, enjoy a sundowners of wine from around the Simonsberg, slip in between sheets of crisp linen and drift away ... More or less.”
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