A visit to Babylonstoren is always a treat for the senses. Tucked away in Simondium (on your way to Paarl), this historic homestead is home to one of the best food gardens that you’ll ever come across.
Babylonstoren is a hive of commercial activity, hosting a hotel, spa, wine tasting centre, two restaurants, a deli, decor and scent shops, and even a butcher – but it is of course the magnificent garden which is the focal point for any visitor to the farm.
I have written about this enchanting Cape Dutch farm before, and just like our previous visit, this stroll around the grounds a) took forever and b) yielded an absolute bucket load of photos for me to sort through.
Plus, I finally learned how pineapples are grown.
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The place is like heaven for foodies – no wonder then that Chantelle always lights up whenever I mention that we should pay a visit.
Related Link: Babylonstoren
Dating back to 1692 and boasting one of the best preserved farmyards the Cape, the historic Babylonstoren stands as one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms currently accessible in the Cape Winelands.
As a thriving hub of commercial activity these days, Babylonstoren (situated in Simondium – just outside Paarl) is home to a hotel, a spa, multiple restaurants, a cellar (naturally), and a farm shop, not to mention the fact that it also hosts a variety of functions and workshops.
However, if you need one reason, and only one reason, to visit Babylonstoren then it should most definitely be to wander through their amazing food garden.
Inspired by the historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town, which supplied sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia, the Babylonstoren garden was commissioned in 2007 and handed over to French architect Patrice Taravella to bring to this 3.5 hectare marvel to life.
The resulting, carefully crafted garden consists of 15 clusters covering things like vegetables, stone and pome fruits, citrus, berries and even a prickly pear maze. Dispersed in among the grid layout is a variety of mosaic and other art pieces, and the fruit and vegetable garden as a whole is kept watered by a series of lotus, lily and waterblommetjie covered streams and channels that are fed via gravity from the nearby stream.
Although you are welcome to wander about the huge garden on your own (and if you’re any good, identify the multitude of plants being grown while you are at it), but given that there are over 300 varieties of plants (all either edible or of medicinal value), a guided tour is by far the best option if you want to get the most out of the experience!
Given the beautiful weather on the day of our particular visit, we opted to grab some light refreshments from the popular outdoor Greenhouse restaurant, but as I mentioned at the start of the piece there are other options available, like the Babel restaurant (housed in a re-purposed old cow shed) or The Bakery perhaps.
In addition to the food garden, Babylonstoren also sports an unexpected Cycad section, featuring a large selection of these ancient, digitally chipped fossil plants, as well as a tranquil river walk that is home to an immense number of clivia plants (best viewed in September).
There is also the visually interesting, shaded walk known as The Puff Adder to wander through, with this slatted tunnel often playing home to an interesting plant exhibition or two – in our case its was succulents (and an impressive bonsai!).
We had the girls with us on our visit, but truthfully this is a place best enjoyed by adults, and more importantly, by adults with a keen interest in either gardening or food preparation.
In other words, Chantelle can’t wait to make a return without the kids in tow! ;)
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Definitely worth a visit or two.
Related Link: Babylonstoren
I’ve showcased the fantastic kid friendly The Carnival (at Weltevreden Estate) more than once on my blog before, but seeing as the girls and I visited there recently on one of our weekly weekend adventures again, I thought it worth the while to post this as a reminder:
Lekke Neh and The Carnival are great (especially if you have small kids).
The well manicured grounds, Cape Dutch architecture and dining options available at Lekke Neh means that there is plenty for the adult eye, while on the flip side, the colourful jungle gym, pizza oven and welcoming atmosphere of the Carnival are more than enough to keep the little ones happy.
With the customary stalking of the resident peacock out of the way, the girls and I made our way past Lekke Neh, immediately turned around and marched back to the car in order to fetch their jackets, before heading back in and ambling along through to The Carnival space.
A big glass of beer or two was on my agenda of relaxation for this stop on our day of adventure, while the girls on the other hand were more than happy with the suggested alternative in the form of juice and the chance to make their own pizzas.
Truthfully, the pizza was okay, the beer pretty good, but most important of all, the running around and getting rid of all that extra energy was best.
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Definitely hard to argue against visiting there if you have small kids!
Related Link: Weltevreden Estate
Tucked in among all the old period buildings that form the backbone of the Stellenbosch Museum complex is a rather fascinating little find – hidden around a corner and housed in a beautiful classic Cape Dutch style home is the Stellenbosch Toy and Miniature Museum, home to an eclectic mixture of vintage toys from days long past.
Inside the small museum you’ll find a large collection of antique toys and collectibles for both boys and girls, with some of the dolls on show for example being more than a century old!
The first thing that you’ll see on entry is a large doll house that is actually a replica of the neo-classical, double story, flat roofed Georgian style manor house of the Uitkyk Wine Estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.
The doll house is fully furnished with accurate, to scale dolls, furniture and household wares from the period, similar to the items that you would find in the old house museums that make up the Stellenbosch Village Museum.
Also, as you would expect given the amount of times these things show up in horror movies, a lot of the old dolls are pretty creepy looking – meaning that neither the girls nor I spent too much time looking at any of them!
There are loads of dinky toys, cuddly bears, tea sets, doll houses, room boxes, and model trains to browse through, though of course the most exciting of all is when you spot something that you yourself may have owned or played with when you were young – like this translucent brown United piggy bank that I fondly remember stashing all my coins into back when I was a young boy!
The small toy museum’s biggest attraction is however is its detailed model train build, depicting South Africa’s famous Blue Train and its journey from a miniature Stellenbosch through the Cape Winelands and over the mountains to the Karoo, passing Matjiesfontein before making its return back to the fertile grounds of Stellenbosch again.
(A simple R5 coin is all you need to set the train off, and without a doubt this was by far the best part – and probably only bit they liked – of our visit for the girls!)
The museum isn’t particularly large and you could easily breeze through it in a couple of minutes. However, if you take your time to work through some of the rather interesting exhibits, then you can most definitely while away a bit of time as you dip back into some fond memories of your own youth.
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Honestly, the toy museum is not the greatest of activities when it comes to entertaining one’s kids, but as an adult I did rather enjoy the trip down memory lane.
(Oh, and if you are wondering about that last photo which appears to be a shot of a bowl of chocolate pudding with ice cream, well that is exactly what it is. Thanks Mom!)
Related Link: Stellenbosch Toy Museum
The Boland Earthquake of 1969 wreaked massive damage across the historic town of Tulbagh, but it was also thanks to this very disaster that the restoration and preservation of the town’s history became a reality.
The discovery of a photo taken in the 1860s allowed for the town to get together and restore every historic structure on Church Street to its original state, leading to 32 provincial heritage sites standing in one street alone, the largest concentration of National Monuments in South Africa!
I jumped at the opportunity to amble down Church street over the course of our weekend away at the African Tulip Guest House last December, taking my time to admire all these fantastic, well kept examples of Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian architecture.
Other than those acting as museums, most of these historic houses are privately owned, with many operating as businesses, including the likes of restaurants, guest houses, art galleries, or quaint little shops.
Church street is also home to two churches (on either end of the street), a rugby field, a communal green space, and a organic community vegetable garden.
Outside of each house there stands an official, nifty little signboard, detailing the structure’s history and design style, not to mention the dispensing of some fascinating tidbits of local lore.
Naturally, plenty of photos were taken during the course of my stroll – I mean, who doesn’t love taking photos of classic whitewash and gables!
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Well, well worth taking the time to amble down Church Street, and even better if you can organise to join one of the historic walking tours!