The year was 1997 and Louis van der Merwe, passionate about vintage cars, needed somewhere to house a collection – a museum was an inspired brainwave. After consulting with the National Museum in Pretoria, he commissioned landscape architect Johan Louw to design a museum complex at the busy intersection of the R40 and R538.
Ironically, it never became a museum complex. The location was so good, prospective tenants soon came knocking at his door. Sue Green was first with Willowbrook, followed by Equilibrium, both still happily tenants today. Then the first restaurant, Ten Green Bottles, and one of the first Barnyard Theatres in South Africa opened. Casterbridge was up and running.
Jack Brotherton, owner of Seasons in Africa, identified Casterbridge as the ideal spot and partnered with Louis to develop and build the Casterbridge Hollow Hotel and adjacent Magnolia Restaurant, both popular stopovers for tourists.
Visitors are always struck by the lovely gardens, all due to Louis’ green fingered mother, Jeanette. Virginia and Tickey creepers embrace walls, giving them a fiery red glow in winter and releasing a cooling green sigh when summer arrives again.
The stylish décor and features synonymous with the centre are thanks to Louis’ many creative friends, who gave generous input and ideas. The result – a unique, tranquil spot that draws visitors and locals in to eat, shop and play. The lack of large anchor tenants and the large number of independent owner-managed businesses contributes to the centre’s charming, relaxed vibe.
But as Louis says, the centre continues to evolve and he has many interesting plans in the making.
Cnr R538 and R40, White River
Louis van der Merwe: 082 578 3552