Babylonstoren Hammam – a modern take on an ancient tradition

Early spring is a wonderful time to be in Istanbul – it is not too hot – or crowded. I was determined to experience an authentic Turkish bath in this extraordinary city straddling the Orient and Occident.

On returning to South Africa and waxing lyrical about it, somebody happened to mention that if I wanted another Turkish bath experience  I need not fly to Istanbul – especially in the light of recent terrorist attacks – but could instead drive up the N1 to Babylonstoren, which is exactly what I did.


The entrance to the Hammam in Istanbul


The entrance to the Babylonstoren Hammam









Nowadays, international visitors who are prepared to pay top dollar to stay in 5 star hotels, almost expect there to be a spa on hand. I must say after an international flight there are few things that transport and transcend one out of the daily grind and into an enhanced sense of wellbeing than a spa treatment.

My Babylonstoren Hammam, or Turkish bath experience, in their recently renovated spa, and the authentic one in Istanbul were quite different and yet equally pleasurable.

Arriving on a cold, grey, overcast, rainy day the idea of sitting in a hot steam-filled room and being given various water rituals was heaven. My BFF and I – always good to conduct research – especially of this kind – with a girlfriend – walked through the glorious garden with a few pale pink blossoms making an early appearance. On arrival at reception we were invited to go to the Change Rooms and get into white towelling robes. After a brief wait in the Recovery Room, we made our way across to the Hammam which is situated in a custom built area.


Whilst the Hammam I visited in Istanbul was built in 1777 and had been run by the same family for more than a century, the Babylonstoren Hammam was built in 2013. I’m all for ancient culture but I did so enjoy the sparkling clean, modern and uber stylish feel of the Babylonstoren spa.

Revisiting my Istanbul Turkish bath experience, which my husband and I did together, once we were undressed we were led into the Hammam featuring a heated marble slab where we were instructed to lie. I must admit I felt a bit like I was being slowly poached. In Turkey we were then taken off to separate areas to be scrubbed, and then given a bubble bath. In her broken English my Turkish attendant said as she was shampooing my hair ‘I am your mama, you are my baby! Quite intense I admit, but still I felt like a three year old again! It was incredibly relaxing and we were served traditional apple tea in the central area, before enjoying an aromatic massage by Anna from Armenia. Heaven.

Back to the Babylonstoren Hammam where we took turns having our treatment by Nazlie who made us feel completely at home. Whilst in Istanbul my female attendant was naked but for tiny bikini pants, Nazlie was however suitably covered. Traditionally, Hammam treatments are performed separately according to gender but this is not the case at the Babylonstoren Hammam. The heated marble table accommodates one and we took turns receiving various water rituals, from scrubbing with a Turkish glove and then being washed down and my best – a bubble bath. The atmosphere of the gorgeous blue mosaic tiled Babylonstoren Hamman is very intimate – womb-like in fact with lots of female energy.


The modern, stylish interior of the Babylonstoren Hammam


Beautiful copper basin









After being washed down and soaped and literally ‘tubbed and scrubbed’ we enjoyed fresh apple slices from the Babylonstoren trees. It was a modern take on an ancient tradition but well worth the drive into the Cape Winelands and something I would highly recommend to literally wash away the stresses of everyday life.

Disclosure: The Hammam experience was complimentary and I received a gift of a bottle of wine and the Babel cookbook.

Returning to Cape Town’s Food Garden Roots

Whether it is a tart granadilla or peppery rocket leaves, there are few things more satisfying than picking home-grown produce from one’s own garden and eating it minutes later. I recently visited the newly established Vegetable Garden in the Company Garden’s in Cape Town where an abundant array of magazine –perfect produce is growing slap bang in the middle of Cape Town. Thanks to the innovative Manager of the Company Gardens, Rory Phelan, and his team of 4 gardeners, the move to restore at least part of the Company Gardens to its original Dutch roots has taken seed.

It is a huge pleasure to come across the neatly laid out colourful patchwork of artichokes, quinces, spinach, brinjals, mielies, not to mention numerous fruit trees, hanepoort grapes and berries which the public is free to enjoy and which are thriving in the Company Garden’s – the original site of the Dutch vegetable garden. Over the past 350 years the nature of the Garden has changed. Originally it was established to supply food to the ships sailing around the Cape en route to the East. It then changed to a botanical garden enjoyed by the citizens of Cape Town and during the Victorian era became a pleasure garden. Started as a World Design Project in 2014 and given initial funding by Woolworths, the dream to reclaim hard surface and green the garden is being realised.

Vegetable Garden at Company's Garden

The newly established vegetable garden in the Company’s Garden

Through meticulous research based on etchings and paintings of the time, every detail from the ‘lei water’ system to the sand and pebbles surrounding the gardens has remained true to their Dutch period. There is also an endangered medicinal herb section, a reminder of the local knowledge on the ground which the original Khoi and San inhabitants of the Cape would have shared with the new arrivals. According to Rory, the three main driving forces behind the project were to re-green those parts of the garden which had been turned into parking, provide a snapshot of the roots of the garden and establish an avenue of food security. The spectacular gardens at Babylonstoren are of course based on the Company Gardens and a lovely collaboration project exists between the two. Collaboration is the name of the game and what a fruitful partnership it has been. With the excess produce plans are afoot to have a fresh farmer’s market.

The recently revamped Company’s Garden restaurant is currently supplied with garnishes, herbs and salad greens harvested within a stone’s throw of their kitchen. They are planning a more substantial salad bar in which case the Garden will aim to grow produce according to their requirements. Do yourself a favour and go for lunch in this historic oasis and green lung of the city. Help is at hand for those of us who want to have more food security and become ‘locavores’ whilst reducing food miles. Sign up for one of the Eduplant sponsored morning workshops which will take place on 15 April and 24 June where, in addition to having the theory explained you, you will get practical training and go home with a planted up container all fired up to farm your own veggie patch!

The newly revamped Company's Garden Restaurant

The revamped Company’s Garden Restaurant uses fresh produce from the adjacent vegetable garden

Article first appeared in Food 24