How many towns in South Africa can boast two former film sets that have become tourist attractions? Hartbeespoort in the North West province is probably unique in this regard and bills itself, tongue-in-cheek, as ‘Hartiwood’ – South Africa’s answer to Hollywood.
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Bringing Hollywood to Harties
French Toast, which styles itself as a ‘coffee café’, is the better-known of the two and is teeming with visitors at weekends. Pretville has a lower profile but is certainly worth a visit. Film-maker Paul Kruger owns both venues and used them as sets for his 2012 rock ‘n roll movie Pretville – a kind of Afrikaans Grease – and the 2014 feature film French Toast.
“Pretville came about because we couldn’t find anywhere in SA that looked like a 50s-style town with a diner, so we decided to build our own town to be a movie set with a rock ‘n roll theme,” says Paul. “After the movie was produced, we realised that there was no official film set in South Africa that you could visit as a tourist. So we opened the venue at the time of the movie release in November 2012.
“It really took off. Then we started showing the movie there. So you could watch the movie on the actual set where it was filmed.”
Pretville is colourful, over-the-top and somewhat kitsch, but it is fun. And you shouldn’t miss the authentic-looking, 50s-style hair salon or the great milkshakes in the diner.
From Harties to Paris and back
The movie French Toast tells the story of a pastry chef and was filmed in both Paris and in Hartbeespoort. “So the restaurant, as it is now, was part of the film and we shot the cooking scenes, dining scenes and café scenes there,” Paul explains.
The café embraces the Parisian theme wholeheartedly. There are buskers dressed in character who play French-themed music, a replica Eiffel Tower and a mock-up of the Pont des Arts – the famous Parisian ‘bridge of love locks’. You can even buy locks and have them engraved with your own message of love before you attach them to the bridge.
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In one corner there’s a replica of the Wall of Love, which is found in the trendy Parisian neighbourhood of Montmartre, on which the phrase ‘I love you’ is featured 311 times in 250 languages. This one has a South African twist, though. Look carefully and on one tile you’ll see ‘kom ons braai’.
There’s also an open-air theatre where free movies are shown, and a take-away area (called a ‘bake away’) for those who don’t want to brave the hour-long wait for a table during peak periods.
“French Toast is now in its fourth year. It has gone from strength to strength and is one of the places in Harties to visit,” says Paul. “We never anticipated that and I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would be so popular. The movie kick-started it.”
And what of the menu – does it feature French Toast? “Absolutely,” he says laughing. “The menu concept is based on it. We do French toast sticks, cheese grillers in French toast, even our fillet steak comes with French toast… ”
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Words Mike Simpson
Photographs Jeanette Simpson and OlivePink Photography
A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.