In fashion, in demand: Babylonstoren and Spice Route vying for title of Paarl winelands hotspot number one

The greenhouse at Babylonstoren, Paarl: great place for a snack and a glass of vino,
or for some tea and cake if you’d prefer

THEY ARE TWO of the most talked-about destinations on the wine routes within easy travelling distance of Cape Town, highly recommended on several fronts and each better than the other for this or that. Nobody’s perfect, right! But both have more pro’s than con’s and we can’t wait to go back for more  they’re the sort of places you can’t do justice to in a single visit, such is the diversity of what’s on offer.
On the Simonsberg side of the road from Klapmuts to Simondium (between the R44 and R45) in Paarl, Media mogul Koos Bekker and his wife, décor journalist/author Karen Roos, have established a charming spread comprising pretty gardens, an upmarket boutique hotel and spa, the Babel restaurant and greenhouse-cum-tearoom, a farm shop including a deli, butchery, cheese room and bakery, plus, of course, a winery. It’s early days still in terms of establishing credentials on the wine front, however the first vintages of Shiraz and the Babel red blend have already attracted good reviews and the proprietors are already pretty bold in terms of their pricing  such as R170pb for their 2012 Chardonnay. It’s the restaurant, greenhouse and gardens that are the main attractions  although charging an entrance fee of R10pp just to have a look at them is a bit of a cheek.

Guava avenue, olive and citrus orchards, stream and prickly pear maze, stone fruits and berries, vegetable patches, almonds, bees, ducks, chickens and other birdlife, mice and who knows what else… The lovely gardens with their pathways and walking trails, maze, labyrinth and other features beg to be explored. Actually, so inviting are the gardens that we think they missed a trick in not situating the restaurant so as to present better vistas of the surroundings  the tables at the greenhouse are in amongst the trees and geenery but the tearoom menu is rather limited if you’re in the mood for a good lunch.

The food at Babel is delicious and, as per the wine tasting facility in the farm shop, the list of reds and whites extends beyond the Babylonstoren range to include products from many other cellars in the vicinity. There’s flair in the kitchen alright, and the waitrons on duty when we visited were doing their best  inexperienced and somewhat inattentive but friendly.
La Grapperia: pizza and tapas
on the lawn, under the oaks
On the Suid Agter Paarl Road between the R44 and R101, Cape winelands maverick Charles Back has established a ‘journey of discovery’ just up the road from Fairview, arguably the current title holder when it comes to the most popular wine farm in the district… Along the Spice Route there’s a choice of three lunch venues, an indoor/outddoor wine tasting facility, a brewery (CBC and Jack Black craft beers), a distillery (Wilderer grappa and eaux de vie), a biltong shop, a chocolate roastery cum espresso bar and a glass-blowing studio!

The view from Spice
Route is exceptional

The various Spice Route traders are located on the slopes of Paarl Mountain with a great view of the Simonsberg to the south and Table Mountain to the west. Probably the toughest choice for visitors wanting to linger is deciding where to lunch: pub grub in the beer garden, pizza and tapas under the trees or near the fireside at La Grapperia, or an array of culinary delights either in or outside the main restaurant.

When next we take in the Spice Route, we’ll be sure to spend more time exploring the wines in the underground tasting room or under the umbrellas on the lawn, enjoying the wonderful views and indulging in the delightful food offered on the deck of the Spice Route Restaurant.

The glass shop was a bit of a let-down, but maybe that’s just us. The parking facilities are pretty basic and can get muddy after a heavy downpour. The general standard of service is basic but enthusiastic; this is mostly casual territory, nothing too fancy. Although it was mildly irritating that on the day we stopped by, the brewery had run out of lager (something to do with a large export order) and the Spice Route Flagship Syrah was also ‘sold out’.

Not forgetting that while marketing and sales are now rooted in Paarl, the Spice Route wines come from a cellar in Malmesbury with both the red and white wine cred’ well established over the past 15 years  in fact the Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Flagship Syrah and the Malabar red blend are classified among the country’s best.