Grand old buildings—particularly sturdy brick ones that outlived the industries that built them—are repurposed with some regularity. But find a late-19th-century water tower sitting on nearly four acres of open land and you have the ingredients for something truly exceptional. In Dordrecht, 15 miles southwest of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, that is just what Daan van der Have and his partners, Dorine de Vos and Hans Loos, created. Villa Augustus, their six-story folly of a tower, opened in 2007 as a funky 37-room hotel. The space formerly occupied by four massive filtration basins became a formally laid-out organic garden that mixes color and form, flora, and fodder with stylish abandon.
“We thought how nice it would be to be sleeping and eating in a garden,” says van der Have.
“We thought how nice it would be to be sleeping and eating in a garden,” says van der Have. Indeed, the garden is very much at the heart of the hotel, both spiritually and physically. Several of the rooms open directly on to it, and guests walk along gravel paths—past beds of gorgeous flowering perennials, fan-trained fruit trees, and orderly rows of vegetables—to reach the restaurant. In the former pump building, guests sit on a terrace overlooking some of the evening’s ingredients. Though the plot doesn’t produce enough to feed every mouth in the restaurant, it serves as an inspiration to the cooks and keeps them in touch with the seasons.
In contrast to the main garden, the north side of the tower is a coolly formal Italianate box parterre, which leads to a dock on the Dordrecht waterways; a shrubbery and orchard join the two main gardens. “We like the combination of chaos and order; it puts you in very different worlds but still they connect to each other,” says van der Have. “It should be beautiful to look at, should smell nice, and should also be surprising.” From the moment guests enter the grounds through a door in a salvaged brick-and-stone garden wall, Villa Augustus offers one wonderful surprise after another.
To learn more about visiting Villa Augustus, visit their website: villa-augustus.nl.
Caroline Donald is a gardening editor at The Sunday Times in London.