Heaven’s kitchen garden
For the latest article in our Inspired Series, we’re on the road again, this time exploring the incredible destinations catering to the taste buds of a new breed of traveller.
South Africa images © Babylonstoren
Please note: Barclays Private Bank does not endorse, nor does it have relationships, with any of the companies or individuals referenced in this article.
You’re walking among a grove of apricot, nectarine and peach trees, the soft ripe harvest hanging lusciously among the leaves. You slowly realise that the pathway beneath your feet is made of the stones of those same fruits. As your feet crunch over the stones their fragrance rises to meet you, compelling you to pick and eat the most perfect peach you’ve ever tasted straight from the branch.
You are still on Earth, but only just. This is Babylonstoren - an idyllic eight-acre kitchen garden, laid out in a simple but still bewildering pattern under blue South African skies framed by Franschhoek’s soaring white limestone peaks. You are greeted by scents of lavender and thyme; wander past a patch of the plumpest pumpkins; take in birdboxes and beehives, henhouses and duckhouses.
The estate is the shared vision of media baron Koos Bekker, his wife and former interiors magazine editor Karen Roos, working with French garden designer Patrice Taravella who had previously created the stunning gardens at Prieure d’Orsan in France. Babylonstoren is perhaps the world’s largest and most complete ‘kitchen garden’, with a small hotel (recently voted among South Africa’s best)1 and wine estate surrounding the perfectly restored Cape Dutch farmhouse. There’s also Babel restaurant offering a simple ‘pick, clean and serve’ way of bringing the garden’s fresh produce directly to the table.
Pick, clean and serve
If you’re up early enough- you’ll see straw-hatted gardeners with baskets brimful of the freshest fruit and vegetables heading into the kitchen where head gardener Alex Bosman, and head chef Jeremia de Kock, work together to create menus based entirely on what is being grown on the farm. The Babylonstoren founders have recently applied the same design ideas to a restored house and gardens in Somerset, England called The Newt.
It's this ‘farm to fork’ philosophy which has transformed the way many estates around the world look after their guests. You’ll find inspired owners like the Bekkers or Manfred Bodner, entrepreneur and owner of Finca La Donaira, a near 2000 acre retreat in the Andalusian mountains near Ronda, Spain.
Bodner’s aspiration is to create “A world in which human activity is as beneficial as that of bees and trees.”2 This has involved transforming the way the land is managed following the biodynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner – no artificial fertilisers, irrigation or insecticides are allowed, and farming is carried out in rhythms dictated by the moon and stars. It may sound a little eccentric, but it works; riding one of Bodner’s beloved Lusitano horses through the woods you can’t help being struck by the buzzing of bees and the intensity of birdsong.
The bee sauna
Being in touch with nature is fundamental to the way La Donaira is run. ‘New Nordic’ head chef Fredrick Andersson loves nothing more than foraging in the herb garden for edible plants to add to his creations; very little that is consumed (by humans or animals) is brought from outside the farm. And among other innovations, there are few ways of feeling closer to nature than La Donaira’s Nordic-inspired bee saunas. You lie in a warm wooden box built on top of the hives, lulled (or possibly terrified, depending on your view) by the sound of the bees beneath.
High in the remote hills of Tuscany, Italy, the Oasi Dynamo project not only offers farm to fork hospitality but is also a joint venture with a World Wildlife Fund-affiliated nature reserve covering thousands of acres of pristine mountains and forests. Previously a hunting estate – which is why it has remained relatively untouched – it now offers guests an immersion in the natural environment made better still for the soul by the knowledge that it is being regenerated by their enjoyment. Interestingly, the project is a partnership between industry, landowners, the WWF and the Dynamo Foundation, which is dedicated to ‘venture philanthropy’ and social as well as environmental impact for the local area. It is the first such ‘regenerative resort’ in Italy and only the third in Europe.
From Kenyan wildebeest, to Nordic foraging
There are a growing number of estates around the world being established along similar lines, from the plains of the Maasai Mara to the Arctic Circle. Kenya’s Emboo River camp for example is on the path of the great migrations of wildebeest and zebra, combining traditional Maasai ways of sustainable living with advanced hydroponic crop production and energy-efficient transport technology to provide safari experiences with close to zero environmental impact and a positive social effect on the surrounding area3.
Further north – to 68 degrees of latitude, nearer the North Pole than Iceland – the remote Lofoten Islands are where you’ll find Holmen, home to the ‘kitchen at the edge of the world’4. Like Fredrik Andersson at La Doneira, owner Ingunn Rasmussen and chef Valentine Warner are pioneers of Nordic locally based cuisine. Rasmussen grew up on Lofoten and started baiting the nets with her family aged just five. Now, on the wild, rough and inhospitable coast, backed by crags and ravaged by storms, they prepare food that is fittingly elemental. Cooked on driftwood fires, sliced with knives forged by the blacksmith they serve whatever’s in season from cod and seaweed, mushrooms and berries to grouse and snow hare. Staying in huts far more comfortable than the original fishermen would have known, guests become members of the community taking part in foraging, fishing and feasting.
A growing appetite for change
Perhaps the biggest single example of what can be achieved in this arena is the extraordinary story of Kristine and Doug Tompkins, eco pioneers who used serious private wealth built up through outdoor clothing giants North Face, Esprit and Patagonia, to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of threatened wilderness. Since 2004 more and more land has been acquired, rewilded and donated to the Chilean people. The Patagonia national park is now one of the world’s largest with a network of lodges and trails that give public access to the returning condors, puma, deer and other species that live among the lakes, steppes and mountains. It is a powerful and lasting memorial to Doug Tompkins himself who tragically died doing what he loved, exploring one of the region’s glacial lakes.
The future of luxury travel goes way beyond sustainability or locally sourced ingredients. The collision of field to fork cuisine and regenerative resorts is transforming landscapes and travel habits alike.
In next month’s ‘Inspired’ article, we discuss sustainable fashion in ‘Green is the new black’