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LOCAL TIME: 09:08 pm | Monday, 27 September
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A river runs through it

Text: Sarah Duff. Article from the September 2013 issue of Getaway Magazine.

Away from the crowds of Kruger and the tour groups of the Panorama Route, the quiet Lowveld town of White River makes an ideal escape.

On White River's doorstep are the wonders of the Panorama Route, such as the views from God's Window ; pick up prints, art and jewellery at Courtyard Framing and Living in the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre; Olivers is the perfect place for golfers to stay - rooms and the charming function gazebo look out onto White River Country Club; practise your swing at the country club, just outside of town; Rottcher Wineries' range of Avalencia tastes like orange-flavoured sherry and is delicious on its own or over ice cream; tuck into Austrian-inspired fare such as apple strudel at Olivers; Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre is a far cry from city malls.White River, named after the milky waterway that courses through town, was established as a citrus-farming project for Anglo-Boer War veterans and retains a strong farming community today. Surrounded by pine plantations and fruit and nut farms, it offers a pretty pastoral setting and a pace of life several notches behind bustling Nelspruit, a few kilometres south.

With temperate weather, art galleries, wonderful lodges and B&Bs, trendy shops and restaurants, and a wealth of outdoor activities and wildlife attractions close by, it’s easy to see why stressed-out city dwellers give up their urban lives to move here, and why more tourists visit each year.

Just outside of old town on the R40 is where most of the action takes place. The open-plan Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre is a former mango plantation that’s now a collection of shops, restaurants, pubs, art galleries, a vintage car museum and a cinema. This is no city mall and it’s stylishly designed with vine-covered buildings and sunny courtyards.

A lot of people pass through White River en route to Kruger and Mozambique, but it’s worth spending a night or two exploring this sleepy ‘Slowveld’ town to explore the riches of the region or do almost nothing.

Do this

Shopping and Art:. White River is a shopper’s paradise. The Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre (tel 013-750-2358) is filled with furniture, art galleries and boutiques that stock unusual African- inspired curios. The White River Art Gallery (tel 083-675-8833) holds regular exhibitions of contemporary art. Eloff Gallery (tel 013-750-1282) sells furniture and well-priced, beautifully carved wooden animals – the kudu heads are great for animal-friendly safari decor. Shop for African bags and jewellery at Africa Joy (tel 013-751-2152); baskets, ceramics and wooden furniture and accessories, such as gorgeous mortar and pestles carved from tree trunks, at Equilibrium (tel 082-900-8041); and interesting 3D framed prints at Courtyard Framing and Living (tel 013-751-1349). Buy chocolate truffles at Shautany Chocolatiers (tel 013-750-2154) – try the Amarula, chilli and crème brûlée flavours.

Try out Rottcher Wineries' range of Avalencia, a sweet alcoholic drink made from oranges.Liqueur tasting: Try out Rottcher Wineries’ range of Avalencia, a sweet alcoholic drink made from oranges. Visit the cellar in Casterbridge and taste the delicious ginger and chilli flavours. Tel 013-751-3472.

Golf: Play a round of golf on the 18-hole White River Golf Course, designed in part by Gary Player, on the banks of the White River. Tel 013-751-3781.

For film buffs: . From Tuesdays to Saturdays, join locals for evening art-house movies screened at the 96-seater Casterbridge Cinema. Take your own wine and picnic. Tel 013-751-1540.

History fix: . Petrolheads will love the vintage cars at the Casterbridge Motor Museum. Tel 082-578-3552.

Day trips: The magnificent scenery of the Panorama Route, including Sudwala Caves, Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window are nearby, as is the historic town of Pilgrim’s Rest. The hiking and mountain-biking trails and adrenaline adventures in the towns of Sabie, Graskop and Hazyview are also a short drive away. Many people opt to stay in White River instead of Kruger National Park – the town is close to Numbi and Phabeni gates.

Eat here

Fusion Food. Offering an unlikely combination of Moroccan cuisine (try the lemon-stuffed baby chicken) and tasty sushi, Fez in the Baghdad Centre, across the road from Casterbridge, is a popular spot with locals for its casual, friendly ambience. Choose a table on the veranda or sit inside the cosy interior. Tel 013-750-1253.

Magnolia Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge is popular with locals and tourists alike for its fabulous food and funky styling.Fine dining. For lunch and breakfast, the chic Magnolia Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge (tel 013-751-1947) serves bistro-style food in its downstairs open-air cafe. Dinner is a more upmarket affair upstairs, a stylish space with minimalist furniture and African touches such as colourful paper animal heads and local art. The extensive Mediterranean-inspired menu covers everything from gourmet pizzas and curries to game dishes. In the Baghdad Centre, tuck into a seasonal menu of creative fare such as impala curry at the intimate Mahois Restaurant (tel 082-788-5171) – don’t miss the raved-about chocolate tart.

Family friendly. Kids can play in the garden at Da Loose Mongoose (tel 083-594-1006), while parents catch the game on the big-screen TV and tuck into wood-fired pizzas, eisbein or beef fillet. In Casterbridge, Gumtreez Pub and Grill (tel 013-750-0334) offers hearty pub grub such as lamb bunny chow and grilled rump in a lively bar with a beer garden and kids’ play area.

Casual eating. Shaded by mango trees in Casterbridge, Ganache Café is a great spot for breakfast or lunch with a range of pastries, sarmies, salads and unexpected dishes such as Camembert bruschetta with tamarillo jam. Tel 013-750-2102.

Stay here

 Lyttle Irving is a great place to stay with kids. There are family rooms and a great garden for the them to play in.Tranquil retreat. You almost feel as if you’re in Provence at Lyttle Irving, a smallholding on the outskirts of White River. Four self-catering units (two sleeping two and two four-sleepers) in converted stables are set around a courtyard shaded by a big avo tree. Each unit, rustically decorated in a French country look with stylish touches such as antique wooden chests, has a small kitchen and dining area. If you’re arriving late, let the staff know and the fridge will be stocked with food.

Costs from R265 an adult and R165 a child (no breakfast). Tel 083-407-1969, email.

Country Living. On a peaceful secure estate just outside of town, Mallard Cottage is a two-bedroom, fully equipped self-catering bungalow with a veranda and garden overlooking a dam. There’s also a two-sleeper suite without a full kitchen (it has a fridge, braai and microwave). The owners live next door, so they’re on hand to give you advice on the area. Costs R1480 for the cottage and R690 for the two-sleeper suite. Tel 013-751-1024, email.

While away afternoons with tea and a book on Jatinga Country Lodge's gracious veranda.Colonial Charm. Arriving at Jatinga Country Lodge at dusk and drinking a G&T on a deck lit up with lanterns overlooking the gushing White River was the perfect introduction to a special property. Set on manicured lawns in a tranquil garden full of trees, it feels like something out of a Great Gatsby-era party. The gracious main building is filled with antiques and has a romantic, candlelit dining room. Look forward to sundowners on the veranda or riverside deck, delicious three-course dinners, and fabulous breakfasts on the sunny terrace. Rooms, which are spread out on the property, are individually decorated in different themes such as colonial (with ball-and-claw bath and old-fashioned trunks) and Provencal (with decor inspired by the French countryside) and have fireplaces and outdoor showers. B&B costs from R1 728 a double room. Tel 083-235-3460, email, website.

Contemporary Cool. If you want to stay close to White River’s shops and restaurants, opt for Casterbridge Hollow Boutique Hotel, which is in the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre. With clean lines and neutral colours, the hotel has a contemporary feel. All 30 light-filled rooms have balconies looking out over a central courtyard with a pool. B&B costs from R735 a person. Tel 013-737-7752, email, website.

The best place to be on a hot Lowveld afternoon: the pool at Olivers Restaurant and Lodge.Gourmet Spot.. With a home-away-from-home feel, attentive staff and gourmet food, Olivers Restaurant and Lodge, on the White River Golf Course, is a cut above your ordinary B&B. Recently refurbished, its spacious rooms ail look out onto the course and have a modern but cosy country feel – think exposed beams and stylish prints – with luxury touches such as heated towel rails and fluffy bathrobes. Even if you aren’t staying here, have a meal at the restaurant, which offers a hearty menu with an Austrian influence (perfect rostis and Wiener schnitzel) and African twists, such as springbok with chocolate-chilli sauce. B&B costs from R990 a person a night sharing (increases to R1 090 from November 2013) and R2500 for a four-sleeper cottage. Tel 013-750-0479, email, website.

Useful Contacts

Kruger-Lowveld Tourism at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre, tel 013-750-1073.

Getting there

From Johannesburg, take the N12 and the N4 to Nelspruit, then drive north on the R40. If you – want a scenic route with fewer trucks, take the Lydenburg/Schoemanskloof turn-off, which leads through forested hills and green valleys. While the roads are in perfect condition to get to White River, many streets around town are in a bad state with potholes and deteriorated surfaces, In particular, the R538 that takes you to the turn-off to Jatinga Country Lodge is in a terrible condition, with deep potholes and lots of trucks – don’t drive it at night.

More info on the town of White River More info on the Lowveld area

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