ALMOST the first thing I did after we arrived at the hotel and checked into our luxury rooms – and after ordering a bottle of wine to sip at sunset on the front stoep – was to make friends with Jo, the book shop lady.
It wasn’t on purpose; my intention was to stand in the middle of the quiet road to photograph the orange-tinged mountains which surround the little town, but Jo came out of the book shop and we immediately fell into an easy conversation.
Warm and friendly, Jo featured again the next day at the weekly village market, where I bought a paperback copy of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom for R20, which turned out to touch me deeply when I read it the following weekend.
Montagu is a good place for the printed word, and we spent a fair amount of time with our noses in our books…at the pool in the weak winter sun, in the small lounge in front of the fire with tea and cheesecake, and snuggled in our beds with the hot water bottles I cleverly had the foresight to pack.
About 180km from Cape Town, Montagu is between Ashton in the Robertson wine valley and Barrydale and smack bang at the beginning of Route 62, which will eventually take you all the way to Port Elizabeth and offers a wonderful alternative to the N2. Its location at the entrance to the Klein Karoo, where it is surrounded by spectacular mountains and rock formations which are popular with climbers, means it has a fairly mild climate, but boy, those overnight temperatures can drop quite dramatically at this time of the year.
Famous for its natural hot springs, Montagu was founded on the farm “Uitvlugt” in 1851, and is also an agricultural centre, where orchards and vineyards are in production and local herbs are grown. You’ve heard of Montagu Dried Fruit And Nuts, right? The factory shop is here and the prices are fantastic, so do pop in.
Our home for the weekend was Montagu Country Hotel, built in the art deco style of the 1930s and furnished accordingly. I have never seen so many of those fabulous lounge suites with the big wooden arms and nooks for your drink in one place at one time. There must be at least half a dozen of them, or more, scattered throughout the property.
Room sizes vary from the classic, which have walk-in showers, to luxury, which are bigger and most of which have large separate (en-suite) bathrooms. The honeymoon suite is furnished with original early French mahogany masterpieces, and the African Hut – which stands alone – is also popular with newlyweds with its Jacuzzi and double-spout shower.
Our luxury rooms were reached via a pathway through the pretty garden and courtyard, watched over by a giant Maine Coon kitty with a fine collar of fur. There are two swimming pools for when summer rolls around.
All the rooms are individually decorated while remaining in the theme of art deco and general olde worlde, furnished with period pieces and dramatic paintings. In the main hotel building there are two lounges – one large one with a baby grand piano in the corner, and a smaller one, which we claimed as our own on the second night, and cast territorial looks at anyone who dared to enter. There is an abundance of fireplaces – here as well as in the dining room, which harks back to a bygone era when one would dress for dinner, and a pianist tickles the ivories while you tuck into traditional and hearty fare. We spent much time in front of these blazes, in our slippers with hot chocolate.
Chilly as the evenings were, the days were warm. We took advantage of this with a stroll down to the weekly village market filled with books (of course), food, jewellery, clothing, toys, homeware and art. I was delighted to purchase a small watercolour from the artist herself. A homeless man asked us for a kiss, we drank cappuccinos in the sun, and took a photo of the “cat crossing” sign.
Once upon a time, the Preston family moved from Cape Town to Montagu with their cats Fatcat and Heather. Their family and the local authorities erected the signs on either side of Bath Street to warn motorists, which still stand today even though the cats have gone to Jesus, hopefully due to old age.
Perhaps this is what they call “burying the lead” but the hotel has a fleet of what it calls American Dream Cars at the disposal of its guests and anyone else visiting: a 1956 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, a 1956 De Soto Fireflight Sportsman, and a Chevy Impala like the Winchester brothers drive in the TV series Supernatural.
The cars can be hired by the hour to explore the surrounding countryside and wine farms, with a designated driver behind the wheel. We booked our trip, as well as a picnic from the hotel, and headed off to Springfield Estate in the Impala, its engine growling throatily as we sailed out of town, waving regally to anyone who was looking. Even the stop/go roadworks which have been underway since sometime last year couldn’t detract from our pleasure of riding in this classic beast.
We had just a small taste of this lovely little town, which is surprisingly packed with activities, all wrapped up in good old fashioned country hospitality.
Address: 27 Bath Street, Montagu
Telephone: 023 614 3125
Website: www.montagu.org.za for events in and around Montagu
- This story first appeared in Independent Traveller on July 28, 2018