Through the vineyards and up a gradual incline, past a dam and on the crest of a ridge, the wheels of the electric carts thrum on the roadway. You breathe the route this way: fynbos, grapevines, untainted air. Guests shed clutter to be here at Babylonstoren: first their fossil-fuelled cars, then the clamour of business and the metronome of a daily routine.
Perhaps the word “cottage” is misleading, because what you discover are living spaces drawn in elegantly clean lines. Light streams in through glass walls; white space on which to draw your own experience. Think of these cottages rather as earth-anchored apartments with views over water, mountains and two-thirds sky, an artistic balance that you register subliminally as calming, pleasing on the eye.
Broad-beamed Oregon pine floors and thick walls make historical reference to the sturdy Cape dwellings of the 18th century, but all else is contemporary symmetry: crisp white linen, panama-Straw fabric tones, and the textures of linen and fine cotton. The bathrooms are lolling spaces, stripped of everything but the opulence of space and cool Marble underfoot. You could keep an eye on the world via a flat-screen, yet more enticing is a floor to- ceiling bookcase, a wall of travel, philosophy, botany and history to engage your thoughts.
Through a low wooden gate, a path leads to a surprise for guests. Quite suddenly you are in an agave desert, but the mirage is real. A pool and low loungers invite you to bake like lizards in a rocky boma with a roof garden spiked with aloes and heat-loving indigenous plants.
Above you is that distinctive Cape blue sky and a sun you’ve sought all year to recharge. A short distance away down through the vineyards, close but almost another country, is the bustling abundance of the farm: the charcuterie and bakery; the roastery where almonds harvested in the orchards are roasted and where you’ll find blocks of artisanal chocolate and nougat; a Healing Garden of fragrant herbs for teas to soothe or invigorate; the new Spice Garden hothouse with arches reminiscent of a classic French gare; and the Factory, where balsamic vinegar in barrels makes the cool air sweet with its promise of a taste in years to come, and where, in the Scented Room, you may play alchemist and mix your own essential oils and fragrant salts.
There are those cottage baths, after all… Forage from the Farm Shop for your evening fare and then quietly retreat to the hill, with Simonsberg, Paarl Mountain, Du Toitskloof Mountains and the distinctive conical Babylonstoren peak etching the skyline. And in that indeterminate time between dusk and night, the owls hunt for booty for their chicks housed in elevated boxes a short flight from the cottage verandas. You’ll not hear their wings, but perhaps if the night is windless and still, you might catch their double hoot and hear the short cry of their prey. They must forage, too, for their fare. By now your senses have been realigned. You will be gentled into a new way of marking time and somehow changed for the better.
There is a subtle conversation to the living-room design: Walk barefoot to feel cool Oregon pine or the delicious texture of jute bouclé underfoot. But then your eye is drawn to books you simply must read. You could connect with the world via your phone or television, but why would you? The room has other ideas.
There can be no more extreme luxury than a bed that strips clutter from your head and comfortably suspends you for eight hours in fine linen. On a chilly night, light a fire, retreat, and listen to the farm’s natural soundtrack.
There is art and science at work in the bathrooms, so often neglected afterthoughts of design. Here, the bath calls for immersion in something fragrant to coax you into a spa-headspace. The light is perfect for everyday rituals, yet, dimmed by night, turns the bathroom into a theatrical space, a stage with minimal props and maximum indulgence.
Behind the cottages and through a discreet wooden gate is a surprise for guests: a desert oasis of rock and a swimming pool and a vitality pool to vigorously jet away fatigue. Commandeer loungers and look upwards at cloud shapes and, armed with chilled white wine or spring water, soak up just enough of the sun to recharge.
Through the glass door of the pool area is a small conservatory refreshment station. Even a gentle signal by hand will summon staff for drinks… or slip inside for a light snack.
One of the Fynbos Cottages consists of two units linked by a glass passage – echoing the juxtaposition elsewhere of glass-box kitchens added on to the vernacular-style Garden Cottages. It’s ideal for two couples sharing, as it gives the option of closing the doors to enjoy privacy.
A short distance from Fynbos Cottages, down the hill by electric cart, the farm offers abundant fare for lunch and dinner, but also the chance to stock up on your own fragrant mixes of oils and bath salts in the Scented Room