It’s not too late to hit the Cape’s best town this holiday

Elaine King is enthralled by Montagu, a little treasure on the R62

SA’s only original art-deco hotel, the Montagu Country Hotel
TOURIST MAGNET: SA’s only original art-deco hotel, the Montagu Country Hotel
Image: SUPPLIED

School holidays are upon us and restaurants, wine farms and all sorts of fun activities are back in full swing but it’s not too late to be spontaneous. There are also fantastic deals to be had on accommodation because foreigners and their dollars are missing this festive season.

A winning choice would be to head for Montagu. 

Why this dorpie? Just for starters, it was voted as the top Cape town in September. KFM radio asked its listeners to nominate their top town based on the best sights and experiences across 30 categories. The people spoke and more than a million listeners voted for Montagu, despite tough competition from towns such as Robertson, Hermanus, Paternoster and Oudtshoorn.

The route to Montagu is a pleasure wherever you started your journey. A gateway to the Klein Karoo on part of the scenic Route 62, it’s only two hours’ drive from Cape Town. It  also takes just a couple of hours from the Garden Route to reach this treasure of a little town, the historical link between Cape Town, Oudtshoorn, the Garden Route and the Eastern Cape. And the stop and go on the R62 between Ashton and Montagu is being finished this week.

Dubbed the Koo Valley, Montagu is SA’s deciduous fruit capital — but its claim to fame is also the wide variety of holiday options and experiences it offers for all ages.

To savour unique Montagu experiences:

• Visit the world-famous hot springs bubbling up about 3km from the earth’s surface. Discovered in the 1700s, these springs have become so well known that the town was declared a health resort in 1936. Enjoy a choice of swimming pools, whether you stay at Avalon Springs or just visit the pools as a day-trip. www.avalonsprings.co.za

• Base yourself at the Montagu Country Hotel —  SA’s only original art-deco hotel. It’s home to period furniture, ornaments and art characterised by the bold geometric shapes of the Art Deco style, which originated in the early 1920s in France and flourished until World War 2. The original hotel was built in 1875, burnt down and rebuilt in 1922. Apart from its fame as an art deco hotel, this “old lady” has always been an integral part of the town for residents (of whom there are fewer than 20,000) and a magnet for the 30,000 tourists who used to flocked to the town each year before the Covid-19 pandemic. There are “loads of rooms available from now until March” and great specials, MD PJ Basson says. Take your pick from 29 individually furnished en suite bedrooms, 13 luxury rooms and 14 classic rooms, including two self-catering units (one of which is wheelchair-friendly), catering for couples and families. Enjoy the Feathers & Flatcaps Coffeeshop and Cocktail Lounge with magnificent views over the Langeberg Mountains — a great spot for Bootlegger coffees or sundowners. The hotel’s Charlestons Restaurant overlooks the garden and chef Werner Blom is nothing short of an alchemist, fusing traditional cuisine with fine dining. A hot tip is to try the prawn and chicken curry. There are two swimming pools and the on-site Wellness Spa offers a mineral-rich jacuzzi from the famous Montagu springs source — guaranteed to banish aches and pains, but also leave your skin feeling like silk.

• The Montagu-Ashton Tourism Office activity hub is conveniently based in the hotel. Right at your fingertips you will find the lowdown on Montagu’s most popular activity operators such as the Cape Dry, Flying Feet and Protea Farm Tractor Trips.

• Ride in an American dream car — either a sapphire blue 1956 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman, a powder blue 1956 or a chilli-red 1964 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.  Your tour guide will probably be PJ, which is great for car enthusiasts, but on the drive around Montagu town he will also point out all the historical and important sites. Ask him to take you to the town’s best viewpoint.

For the sporty/adventure types you are spoilt for choice:

Montagu is renowned for cycling and mountain biking. Get your map, and your bike if you need one, from the hotel and head for the hills. The hotel offers bike storage for the serious cyclists. It’s also a hiker’s paradise and Montagu is one of the top rock-climbing destinations in SA, surrounded by amazing rock formations. Become a dassie. Contact David Webster for guided rock climbing, mountain biking tours or hiking tours at www.rainbowglen.co.za or Tony for guided mountain tours, abseiling and scrambling at tony@samountain.co.za

For the explorer type:

• Walking around the town is a history and art lesson in one. There are 26 historical treasures on the “Historical walk through Montagu” map. See one of SA’s oldest houses while you enjoy the picturesque Georgian, Victorian and Cape Dutch flavours.

• Drive the Tradouw Pass, one of SA’s most picturesque passes which connects Barrydale to Swellendam and Heidelberg. For about 17km you drive through a winding altitude range of 219m. With rugged mountain outcrops and views of the countryside, the Tradouw Pass is a work of art, testimony to Thomas Bain, who had the foresight and skill to build it without modern technology. It would be wrong to mention Montagu or Barrydale without talking of this pass, which Bain built in 1873.

For wine and food lovers:

• Wine fundis are spoilt for choice with more than 50 wine cellars in the valley — complete with olive tasting,, cheese tasting and factories. Go to www.visitwinelands.co.za for more information and stock up from the Montagu Winery before you leave. A must-visit is to the nearby Van Loveren wine estate which, like most wine farms these days, is also child-friendly, offering youngsters a playground of sorts. Go to info@vanloveren.co.za for more information.  Robertson Wine Valley warrants another long, lazy afternoon, but so does Ashton Winery ... and actually most of them.

• When it comes to eating, you can’t miss the Burgundy Gherkin Italian Restaurant in the Main Road, which specialises in alcoholic milkshakes or Turkish delight, litchi, popcorn —  you name it — for kids.

• The Purple Pickle is painted so you can’t miss it in Bath Street. Great for the family, burgers to die for, 400g ribs as good as they come.

For family adventures:

• There are tractor trips to the summit of the Langeberg mountain. It’s the stuff that memories are made of as The Protea Farm pulls its load of sightseers up the mountain, reaching an altitude of 1,500m above sea level — and offering a bird’s-eye view of the Koo Valley, down into the Robertson Valley. Email info@proteafarm.co.za to book. 

• There are many kinds of experiences for the whole family to enjoy, from the Donkey Sanctuary to the Guano Cave.  Just ask at the tourism office.

• Before you leave, stock up on SA’s citrus fruit. Visit Montagu Farmstall in Bath Street or Locarno Dried Fruit and Nuts in Du Toit Street for dried peaches, raisins, sultanas, nuts and fruit sweets at crazy prices.

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