The Marine, situated in Hermanus, has a history as colourful as the town itself.
Originally a summer grazing area for livestock in the early 19th century, the area gained popularity as a place for local shepherds to live off the fresh fish easily caught from the expansive Walker Bay, where the town is now situated. Word spread and by mid-century a small fishing village, named Hermanuspietersfontein for the shepherd who had found the area, was established.
Fishermen and travellers were quick to follow with news of the incredible fishing opportunities here and soon accommodation in the town was at consistent capacity. Several hotels came into existence in the following years, starting with Walter McFarlane’s fishing cottage, which later became the Victoria Hotel.
A sanatorium was built in the late 19th century by General Jan Smuts’ brother-in-law, Dr Joshua Hoffman, which led to the notion that Hermanus’ “champagne air” was able to cure a number of ills. This was converted to the Windsor Hotel at the turn of the century.
McFarlane took the next step and in 1902 established The Marine, a modest hotel with just 21 rooms but no running water or electricity in the bedrooms. The hotel did, however, boast modern amenities –two flush toilets on each floor.
The Marine was extended in 1918 to include more bedrooms, a bathroom block and a larger kitchen. In the 1920s the popularity of the hotel grew along with its reputation for hosting grand affairs in its ballroom for the wealthy and well-known, including a visit from Princess Alice in 1923. These were the golden years of The Marine.
In 1947 Continental Hotels and Restaurants purchased The Marine and under the guidance of the general manager at the time, Eric Colbeck, purchased several cottages adjoining the property. The Hermanus was built on the land once occupied by the cottages. After a few years of post-war euphoria, however, business began to wane.
The hotel again changed hands in the 1960s, when the owners of Cape Town’s Arthur’s Seat Hotel bought it. San Marino, which is still a part of The Marine, was established on the land of The Hermanus and included additional rooms, a casino and a ballroom. But the hotel went into decline again in the 1970s, and in the early 1980s was bought by David Rawdon. He closed the hotel for four years for renovations, and reopened it in 1985.
After 13 years of managing The Marine, Rawdon decided to begin the search for a new custodian for this grand old lady, to bring her into a new century. In 1998, Liz McGrath graciously accepted this responsibility, after having garnered international acclaim for her restorations of The Plettenberg and The Cellars-Hohnenort. There was nobody better to oversee the restoration of the oldest hotel in Hermanus, and the second-oldest building in the town.
After a busy eight-month restoration period, The Marine was reopened in October 1998 as a five-star hotel.