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South Africa's Farm-to-Table Movement

White stucco landhuisies at Babylonstoren.

Photo: DOOK

What Roos has done at Babylonstoren is to merge its authentic, no-frills earthiness with contemporary design to create a sort of “haute Afrikaner” style. Take the check-in area opposite the restaurant. No farmer would require his guests to “sign in,” so the reception is modeled instead on a traditional farm store. There are computers here, but they sit on weathered tables hidden behind artfully placed mounds of fresh-picked beets and lettuce; there are shelves with mud boots and sun hats for sale, but these boots have designer labels, and the hats are stylish fedoras. This playful embracing and defying of tradition continues outside. You won’t find a shimmering blue swimming pool on the property—what farm has that?—so guests cool off in the farm’s reservoir. But this reservoir, as rendered by Roos, has water cascading over the edge, infinity-style, and is lined with chic lounge chairs. Nothing has been left to chance.

Beside the gabled manor house, accommodations are in 14 stand-alone landhuisies—all missionary-white stucco, set under the shade of pepper trees. The interiors, with their white sofas and rugs, claw-foot tubs, and four-poster beds, manage to combine the austerity of a traditional Boer farmstead with the cool minimalism of Philippe Starck. Even here, authenticity rules: each cottage has a library of some 50 books handpicked by Bekker, most in Afrikaans.

The garden, though, remains the centerpiece. Roos gave Taravella license to re-create the geometry of the original Company’s Garden established at the Cape by the Dutch in 1652 to supply fresh produce to their ships sailing between Europe and the Spice Route—the reason for the first Dutch landing at the Cape. To the formal rectangular layout of the garden with its 14 distinct blocks Taravella added his own flourishes: that avenue of dripping grapevines, pollination plants for the apiary, a lotus pond, and a series of pyramid-shaped towers draped in roses. If the history of the Afrikaner people can be traced back to the planting of a single garden, this is a glorious contemporary tribute.

Less than 10 miles from Babylonstoren, another tribute to Afrikaner heritage has gone up, this one at La Motte, a 420-acre wine estate owned by opera singer Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg. The sister of Johann Rupert, billionaire CEO of Swiss-based luxury goods company Richemont (owner of Cartier, Piaget, Chloé, and other brands), Rupert-Koegelenberg is effectively Afrikaner royalty. (In 2005, Johann famously withdrew advertising of his brands from Wallpaper magazine after it ran an article describing Afrikaans as one of the ugliest languages in the world.) The family owns three wine estates in the valley, one in partnership with the Rothschilds, but La Motte has the most interesting aesthetic, especially since Rupert-Koegelenberg unveiled a new museum and restaurant on it in 2010.

Set in rolling foothills near Franschhoek village, the estate’s approach is memorable for its 13-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a woman bearing an overflowing glass of wine; rising out of the vines, against a sheer mountain backdrop, it’s a dramatic sight. The museum and restaurant, surrounded by lawns and giant oaks, are both dedicated to South African master painter Jacob H. Pierneef, who was of Dutch and Afrikaner descent. Revered in his 1930’s heyday, Pierneef’s monumental South African landscapes—formal, flat, drained of color—had faded from fashion over the years. But in keeping with the current Afrikaner vogue, his work is poised to make a comeback. With fine timing, Rupert-Koegelenberg purchased 42 of Pierneef’s paintings for display in a glass-walled museum that faces the lawn.

Pierneef is also the inspiration for the estate’s new restaurant, Pierneef à La Motte, a sprawling space in muted green and cream tones that recall his dramatic landscapes. The menus and high-backed chairs are all embossed with portraits of Pierneef and his daughter. Hanging from barnlike ceiling beams are giant chandeliers made from replicas of porcelain dating from the Dutch East India Company era. The vintage plates, cups, and saucers chime like church bells when a breeze blows through.

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