Friday, January 8, 2016

Where to stay near Cape Town

In frozen-solid January (in New York) it is good to think about faraway places. 

What are my favourite things? Food, flowers, foraging, fruit, a Frenchman.

Shake that all up and you get an idyllic 18 hour stopover.

In September, at the end of our wildflower trip up South Africa's West Coast, we cruised back towards Cape Town by way of Babylonstoren, less than an hour from the city. While I have visited on day-trips many times - for lunch, for garden stories - I had never spent the night, before, and we were thrilled to be Babylonstoren's guests for our last stage on the road. 

The transition from the preceeding two days in a remote and very basic semi-desert cottage without electricity to intense luxury in the winelands was an experience that left us both with the best sort of whiplash. It was rough, but we handled it.

The kitchen gardens at Babylonstoren typically combine indigenous South African plants like spekboom ("bacon tree") - Portulacaria afra, bottom right, and succulent waterblommetjies (Aponogeton distachyos, in the pools), with deeply familiar western plants like southern French lavender.

In spring the lettuces were popping.

And the orchards were blossoming. While the central kitchen gardens inside whitewashed walls are planted with plenty of espaliered quince, plum, nectarine, citrus, and more, the larger farm beyond contains big orchards, and while we were there every citrus tree was in bloom, with a perfume that I last smelled on the Mediterranean in southern Turkey. It was like being in a scent-movie.

And when the day visitors left, the overnight guests had the run of the place. 

The grounds are large, and beautiful and we walked, and walked. The clivia show had just begun.

There was no one else to be seen...

(...but some chickens.)

Leaving our cottage was hard enough. Within half an hour of arriving, and our early exploration of the estate-bottled and chilled Viognier waiting for us, a waiter was at the door with smoked trout canapes. Our feet were up, the fire was roaring, and we smiled.

The old Cape Dutch buildings have been renovated to within a glossy inch of their lives, with polished floors, heated towel rails, huge baths, scented posies of herbs, thick towel and robes, silky linen, and baskets of freshly picked fruit.

And a fully equipped - and very sexy - kitchen, with the farm's tea, olive oil and wine on tap. And that roaring fire (with pine cones!). 

New York could go to hell, for all we cared.

Books. An exquisite collection of books.

We were invited to pick what we wanted, where we wanted, but I still felt like a child raiding the neighbor's fruit trees.

The lemons went back to Cape Town with us, as gifts.

Breakfast in the conservatory yielded my favorite fruit, good coffee, farm eggs and invitations to enjoy spa treatments, mountain bike rides and wine tastings.

But we were Cape Town-bound. If we could have stayed I think I would have buried myself in a book and walked in the garden some more, perhaps picking salad for a self catered supper near the fire.

So we shopped for a bit, quickly.

And bagged some more oranges.

We drove away with the windows rolled down, sniffing the last of the citrus blossom.

If you have the time and the opportunity, and you are in the cold North, head south (the exchange rate is very much on your side, right now, you will get very good value for money). Spend a few nights at Babylonstoren. This is the kind of hospitality that needs to sink into your bones. There is so much to do and see on the farm, and in the immediate vicinity that you owe yourself the luxury of coming home to that cottage, in those gardens, every night. 

There endeth my lesson. 


  1. That looks amazing! If you ever lead a South Africa tour, I'll sign up.

    1. Just go. You don't need me...:-) I'll tell you where to go.

    2. Marie have you ever been to Richtersveld National Park? It's on our wish list but eight plus hours from Cape Town. Just wondered if you had and if so was it worth it?


    3. We've driven through it on the way to Namibia and it is worth it in the sense that the landscape is very dramatic. It is a long way but there are places en route and beyond that are very interesting, too.

  2. There are sooo many places I haven't seen, South Africa among them, but I had never given thought to visiting there. Until you and your wonderful pictures and stories!

  3. Marie,
    SA should pay you - a lot - for your tantalizing descriptions of it.

  4. I first read of Babylonstoren from the blog - In fact the blog had two to three dedicated posts just for Babylonstoren. Would love to visit someday.


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