Follow Us Through Africa: The Winelands

Heading to the Winelands, we had big plans.

Africa wine countryWe had mountain bikes coming in a few hours and were looking forward to biking around the area, heading into the adorable town of Franshoek for lunch, maybe stopping at a few of the stunning wineries to take in the views and sip a glass here and there. In this area, the French Huguenots came in and grew grapes to make wine, and the Dutch came in with their colonial architecture—a combination that dotted an unbelievably beautiful area with farms and wineries nestled in between the mountains.

Our driver on the way out asked about our plans, and, when we told him, he was surprised. He said, “You’re not going to just enjoy the farm and gardens?” We laughed and explained, sure, but we like to get out and up.

Were we ever wrong.

Babel Restaurant at Babylonstoren Hotel and FarmsTo call Babylonstoren a “hotel” is incorrect. To call it a “farm” is an understatement. To mention the winery, you have to try and describe the cellar and tasting room—good luck. To describe the gardens, you need a thesaurus for all the superlatives.

Babylonstoren has 37 rooms, including new Fynbos cottages that are getting national attention for their design. It boasts a full winery, tasting room, and a Scented Room that displays the herbs grown on the farm, as well as the products made from them. There are two restaurants, casual Greenhouse and internationally acclaimed Babel. It is a full working farm that smokes its own meats and makes its own cheese. It’s comprised of more than 200 hectares of gardens (500 acres) and a full farm that is somewhere north of 750 hectares (about 1850 acres)—they grow literally everything and use it all in their restaurants.

Did I mention the full bakery, in production from early morning to mid-afternoon, the meat shop, the cheese shop, and the well-curated retail store, where the Babylonstoren logo sits proudly on hundreds of items that are pure tourist candy?

The animals are also trained in tourism. I can just imagine the cows are out there to greet guests before heading into the barn to tell the show chickens to strut around for a while, just until the baby donkey is ready to go on. The big turkeys in full regalia? Don’t get me started.

Lunch at the Greenhouse meant fresh-baked bread filled with house cheeses and vegetables—and (of course) their wine. We found our enthusiasm for mountain biking to be waning (imagine that), so we took a walk through the gardens. Heading back to our room, we debated between biking, hiking up the hills, and checking out the tasting room.

Our light-filled room had some pretty inviting lounge chairs and patio that faced that beautiful gardens. So we— wait for it—actually sat outside. Granted, we were also drinking more of the wine that was thoughtfully left for us in our room, along with snacks of fresh fruit from the farm. And dinner at Babel convinced us that this place has fully embraced the real farm-to-table idea better than anyone else in the world.

Okay, so there’s always tomorrow to get out and explore the whole area. There certainly can’t be enough land and places to bike on this property, which is what the staff recommended.

Yes, wrong again. After breakfasting on the most amazing spread of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, yogurts, and breads (all made there, naturally), we were ready to venture out. We spent nearly three hours mountain biking up and down, hiking some small hills, going through vineyards, orchards, lavender and rosemary fields, meeting the prickly pear trees, and watching the farm workers harvest any number of vegetables. The people were so incredibly friendly, warm, and hospitable, even the farm workers smiling and waving in the 90-degree heat.

We were challenged, hot, and sweaty—and we never left their property.

Another abundant lunch, followed by a wine tasting and cellar tour, then happy hour on their mountain top via Range Rover (they have views all the way back to Table Mountain, about 50 kilometers away).

For dinner, the production bakery was transformed into a full-service restaurant, serving a family-style, multi-course Italian meal with antipasti plates that were ridiculous preceding pizza hot out of the wood-burning oven, and, yes, more Babylonstoren wine.

We never left. We’ve never done that. Never. We were, dare I say it, content where we were. A first for everything.

The area of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch is not to be missed for it incredible beauty (and even more incredible wineries and well-designed tasting rooms). The town of Franschhoek is one of our favorites, yet we never made the 20k trek.

You don’t have to stay at Babylonstoren to enjoy it, but there are a lot of day visitors. Staying at the hotel gives you access to whatever you want without any wait, and allows you full access to this stunning property when everyone leaves at 5:00. Coincidentally, just in time for happy hour.