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
The Cape Winelands is home to a surprisingly large number of animal-based attractions, in other words great news for tourists and dads with kids to entertain like myself. Situated on Babylonstoren Road in Simondium, an area centrally situated between Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, a CITES registered breeder and tanner of the African Nile crocodile.
Basically, if you want a close up view of teeth on legs all wrapped up in a thick leather hide, Le Bonheur is the place to go.
So, obviously the main crocodile pond tour takes front and center in terms of activities for any day visitor, with eleven such tours taking place on a daily basis.
The tour starts off with a brief introduction to the species in the briefing room, before you are led out onto the ramps that walk you above the open dams and Le Bonheur’s approximately 300 crocodiles who are mostly lazing about beneath you. You will learn more about these animals from an experienced guide, maybe witness a feeding session (primarily during the Summer months), and definitely get to touch/hold a baby croc.
While not particularly exciting as such (crocodiles tend not to move very much unless they really have to), the tour is very informative and certainly worth it if you have never seen a crocodile in real life before.
Then there is the crocodile cage dive, a close encounter experience offered by African Croc Dive that sees you dipping into a pool full of crocodiles with only a steel cage between you and their rather plentiful teeth. (For those of you who don’t relish the prospect of getting wet, an underwater, dry viewing box experience is also on offer).
That said, it isn’t all crocodile on the menu at Le Bonheur. In the main building the team have setup an interesting little self-guided snake centre exhibit filled with both indigenous and exotic snakes, and also on offer is an interactive snake show that includes both an informative talk and touch session with some of their slithery stars.
Then there is the small onsite restaurant/pizzeria that produces a selection of good pizzas, pies, and other light lunch options (like their famous crocodile meat pies). Well priced and a good way to round off a croc viewing experience on a hot summer’s day. You can also pre-book a picnic basket to be enjoyed on their luscious lawn out by the dam, or book the braai facilities if you want to take charge of your own menu for the day.
The dam behind the main building is open for catch and release fishing (you can hire fishing rods from Le Bonheur if needed), and the small kids play area around the back is great for the little ones to run out any left over energy while you laze on the grass under the shade of their big trees.
Finally there is the small gift shop full of Nile Crocodile leather products, and just in case you didn’t feel like making the drive home, Le Bonheur also has self catering/bed and breakfast facilities available.
Oh, and they host kids parties, cater to weddings (their hall can accommodate anything from 160 to 200 guests), and offer conference facilities.
So pretty much everything then.
Anyway, the girls and I found ourselves spending a Saturday there back in December last year (the second time that we had paid Le Bonheur a visit), and as you might imagine, crocodiles were observed, croc skin touching was had, pizzas devoured, and lots of photos taken. So a good day out then.
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(Footnote: Obviously the horrible accident at the start of the year was an absolute tragedy for all involved, but given all the employment that this attraction provides in what is a relatively economically depressed area, I’m really pleased to see the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm still operating and attracting as many visitors as what it does. Tourism still remains the best key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in rural communities at this stage.)
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
At this point pretty much all of our friends and family are married off, meaning that getting the opportunity to go to a wedding (which I enjoy) is becoming a pretty rare thing. Having already missed Retha and Miguel’s South African wedding in December thanks to my injury, I was definitely not going to turn down the opportunity of attending cousin Tian and Monica’s wedding – which in any case was already long overdue according to some family members!
Tian and Monica settled on having their wedding at the Simondium Country Lodge in Simondium, situated on the R45 somewhere between Franschhoek and Paarl. (In other words, this afforded us quite a scenic drive to get there!)
The venue itself is leafy, rustic, peacock inhabited, and comes most important of all with a pretty cool card up its sleeve – this brilliant, artsy, ramshackle chapel that fitted the vintage theme of Monica’s decor perfectly!
The ceremony had everyone’s attention, the company (which for us included the priest and his wife as they were seated by our table) was great, and the food particularly delicious – I mean, oxtail, pork, stuffed chicken, you literally can’t go wrong!
The music had a distinctly 80s/vintage vibe to it, and it definitely had all the old folks finger and toe tapping along, and I have to say, it was great to finally get out on the dance floor and take Chantelle around for a few spins once more! (Amazingly, my knee held up and I only trod on her foot like once or twice max…)
It was a great wedding and an enjoyable evening out, so here’s to wishing the beautiful bride and her groom all the best for the future going forward together!
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Oh, and I even managed to snap a pic of my photo elusive brother for a change:
(Ah, and in case you’re wondering where the girls are, they rather enjoyed their sleepover with Oupa and Ouma back in Bellville!)
Related Link: Simondium’s Country Lodge