I shouted it matter-of-factly, as it seemed like this result would soon be upon us.
Ever since we had left the tar of the motorway for the gravel road we were now travelling on, it sounded like every component of the car was rattling. From the windows in their panes to the pebbles bouncing off the exterior to the boot, which currently sounded as though we were transporting a cargo of heavy chains and metal armour – the noise was deafening.
To be fair, we were taking on a questionably long stretch of gravel with the first car I’d ever owned: a bright-yellow number that saved loads of cash on petrol but was laden with flaws in every other facet.
I looked over at my companion, Lance, whose face looked as horrified as mine.
Over the next 25 minutes, we would proceed in setting a new world record for the slowest journey on this road. Any attempt to go faster just resulted in more clattering and, at one point, a Jeep raced past us, showering our car with gravel as it went.
Eventually, our shock transformed into tears – tears of laughter. We must have looked ridiculous. There were the two of us, crawling along this road at what can only be described as a pace even slower than a below-average garden snail’s, and we were shaking with silent laughter as we went.
Luckily, there are other ways to get to our final destination – we just happened to take the very worst one.
After what felt like an eternity, we saw Babylonstoren at the end of our drive.
|The first sighting of Babylonstoren.|
Even with that first glimpse, I knew that the comical, emotionally scarring and internal organ-jostling drive had been completely worth it.
Babylonstoren is one of the most well-preserved Cape Dutch werfs (farm yards) in the Western Cape. An hour’s drive from Cape Town, the property still has many of the 17th Century structures from when it was first founded.
The farm was built by Pieter van der Byl and has endured until today. I had heard of Babylonstoren from the enthusiastic reviews of friends and family, so I coerced Lance, one of my closest friends, to join me on this adventure during my last trip to Cape Town.
Paying the admission fee of ZAR 10 per person (£0.50), we parked the much-abused car and perused our maps of the farm. Very quickly, we realised that there was much to see.
But, since we hadn’t eaten yet, that was our first priority. Having just missed the breakfast timeslot, we settled for freshly made sandwiches in the farm’s aptly named Green House. Why was the name so apt, you ask? See below for clarification!
|Babylonstoren’s Green House restaurant.|
Newly nourished, we decided to get on to the business of exploring the grounds.
Since the gardens alone span eight hectares, we had a lot of walking ahead of us.
|The gardens of Babylonstoren.|
To explain the gardens, the real focal point of Babylonstoren, we need to rewind back to when the Cape attracted its first European settlers. Along with the buildings they put up in the area currently occupied by the city of Cape Town, these settlers also introduced the Company’s Garden.
The modern-day Company’s Garden is filled with tree-lined avenues, many inquisitive squirrels and some spectacular rose gardens. This is where people stroll during their lunch break, take wedding photos and go for a run.
In the 1650s, however, its role was a much more practical one. With Cape Town serving as the midway point for shipping voyages between Europe and Asia, this is where ships would stop to take on more food supplies. And so it was that the Company’s Garden really started out as an extensive vegetable garden.
Babylonstoren has tried to recreate this on its property. With a nod towards the Cape’s first official vegetable garden, as well as the mythical gardens of Babylon, over 300 varieties of plantlife here are edible. And, as you may have already guessed, much of the produce is used in Babylonstoren’s two restaurants.
|At Babylonstoren, we found vegetables both familiar…|
|…And wholly alien in appearance!|
The garden is divided into 15 different clusters, including types of vegetables and berries, as well as areas for farm animals, such as chickens, ducks and bees.
|Since I’m allergic to bees, I thought it best to leave this door unopened.|
While Babylonstoren can get busy during the summer months, I imagine that it’s easy to escape the crowds. There are many paths to choose from, and we found a tranquil spot along the stream.
It was here that the path, lined with bright orange flowers, gave way to a bridge over the fast-moving water. With only the sound of birdsong and the stream around us, it felt like the city, which we had only left a few hours before, was much, much further away.
Once we left the bridge, we came upon what was to be our favourite section of the garden: the prickly pear maze.
Having just spent two years living in the UK, where mazes consist of walls made of hedges, I loved seeing this alternative take on the traditional garden feature.
|Try to get out of this one…|
|Selfies inside the prickly pear maze.|
Babylonstoren is also home to its own vineyard, a farm shop (I’d recommend a stop here, although your wallet may not be pleased), accommodation and a spa. In addition, it can be hired as a wedding/event venue.
I could easily envisage a relaxing, slow-paced stay at Babylonstoren, exploring the 200-hectare farm or reading a book in the extensive garden. I guess I’ll just have to save that experience for my next visit to South Africa.
|I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this piece of garden art – complete with strategically placed citrus fruit!|
|I assure you that donkeys always look *this* happy.|
With a fine rain starting up, we realised that the stony paths before us would soon become a mudbath, so we took the inclement weather as our cue to leave.
For the rest of our day, Lance and I proceeded to the nearby town of Franschhoek, where there are many other vineyards and farms to explore.
For those looking for an interesting, memorable day trip out of Cape Town, you should look no further than Babylonstoren.
I, for one, was completely captivated by the idea that I got to catch a glimpse of what Cape Town’s first garden, the Company’s Garden, may have looked like in the 1650s.
A word of caution, though: learn from our mistakes.
Look at the website for the best possible route (stay on tar roads for as long as possible) or, unlike me, drive a car that doesn’t threaten to disintegrate at the very sight of an approaching speedbump!
Find out more about Babylonstoren, its offerings and the all-important directions on their website.