Babylonstoren is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully curated experiences in the Cape. My last trip to this historic Cape Dutch farm and food garden was as a guest of its hotel where my husband and I spent a night sans les enfants. Our hotel stay is a story for another day. For now, the focus is the Scented Room. Previously housed in a small space next to the shop and bakery, three years ago the Scented Room was relocated to a bigger space in a building across the way from the winery when Babylonstoren started distilling essential oils.
I love that a space has been dedicated to essential oils made from fruit, vegetables, trees and other edible plants cultivated on the farm. I love that you can see the distillery through glass panels. I love that soaps, candles, oils and baths salts are displayed in large cupboards along the walls. And of course I love the beautiful scents that permeate through the building. While the wine tasting and farm restaurants allow you to taste the fruits of the farm, the scented room allows you to have an olfactory experience of what grows organically on the farm.
For Babylonstoren’s creative director Maranda Engelbrecht, “Smell is the most emotional of our senses to bring back memories”. Bringing back memories is a key element of the farm. Besides offering guests memorable experiences, Babylonstoren has carefully restored historical buildings and looks to the past for inspiration for its garden. We might not have our own memories of the time, but the Cape Dutch farm which dates back to 1692, according to the farm’s website “takes its cue from the Company’s Garden of Cape Town, which supplied passing ships to the Cape with food in the 1600s”.
Making essential oils is resource-intensive so its important to understand from where the plants come. For the Scented Room, Maranda says, “As much of the raw materials as we can source from the farm we do, like the extra virgin olive oil, honey, rooibos tea, honeybush tea….”
In the past year, Babylonstoren has mastered the skill to make essential oils and hope to make fragrance in the near future. In order not to compromise the quality offered customers, Maranda says some of the products are imported. “When we launched soaps we were not skilled enough to produce as good a quality soap as the French do”. Local products are made by reputable suppliers. Maranda says, “Slowly we are starting to produce more of our own products. This is a very technical and specialised field and we have topic experts monitoring and skilling up our people.”
Maranda explains that French soaps use fragrance, which differs from essential oils. The French soaps have fragrance. According to Eden’s Garden, “Fragrance ingredients may come from petroleum or natural raw materials. Typically, fragrances contain solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes. Whereas pure essential oils are derived from plant parts, fragrances are commonly a combination of synthetic chemicals.”
Since Babylonstoren customers want both fragrance and essential oil soaps, they offer both. Maranda says, “It’s a matter of personal choice and the one is not better than the other.”
The most popular fragrance on sale is waterblommetjie. “We developed this exclusively for Babylonstoren. We discovered this most elusive smell here on the farm while harvesting waterblommetjies for our Babel restaurant. It’s an indigenous water plant that grows here in our ponds,” says Maranda.
You’ll find Babylonstoren between Simonsberg, Du Toit’s Peak and Franschhoek mountains where fruit, vegetables and trees with historical significance are cultivated.