Get your (upmarket) kicks on Route 62 in the Cape
Classic cars, gourmet food, spas ... if you want to road trip the Cape Winelands in style, plot your journey with Cape Country Routes, writes Jennifer Platt
It's an earworm worthy of being up there with Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk, Barbie Girl and We Built This City (sorry, not sorry) ... (get your kicks on) Route 66 was the theme song in my head from the moment it was mentioned that we were heading for Route 62. Not the original, gentle piano-led version by Nat King Cole or the bluesy funk performed by Chuck Berry, but rather the Rolling Stones' glitzy rock effort with heavy electric guitar that we have all heard ad nauseam.
But it all soon fades, thank goodness, as we turn right onto Route 62, heading for Robertson.
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This road doesn't need any music jamming in your head or playing from your car stereo. That will only distract you from the scenery - magnificent, craggy, jagged mountains and deep, luscious valleys, shades of blooming greens from the glorious rain the area has had in the past month.
It gives the Lord of the Rings films a run for its money.
We roll down our windows and it smells so clean, sometimes lemony, maybe a bit minty - the fynbos working its magic on the senses.
Route 62 is the tourist route in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape that meanders between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn, the Langkloof and Port Elizabeth, offering a scenic alternative to the N2 highway.
A DIFFERENT CAPE
I'm a bit jaded by the Cape. I've lived in Cape Town. Not all my life, but I have spent a good chunk of time there - and we always holidayed in the Mother City when I was young.
I've been to the wine farms. I've seen the mountains and walked up and down and up and down the mountain.
So it was refreshing to be in a different part of the Cape, thanks to Cape Country Routes, a collection of independent hotels and activities that was started in 1997. They provide small, quirky, otherworldly and often spectacular spaces.
They are all rated four to five stars and the owners and managers are committed to not only their hotels, but also their staff and their towns, as well as sustainability, fair-trade tourism and all those good green things.
We travelled along the Cape Country Route to Montagu, Robertson, Paarl and Stellenbosch, going to places I had not thought to visit before but which still included the necessities: wine tastings, padstals, lunches ...
IT'S AN AMAZING DAY ...
Jason Schwartzman's character says in the Netflix film Wine Country: "It's an amazing day in wine country."
Indeed. Even if it's drizzling, which it is at our pit stop at Rooiberg Winery, a maker of Woolworths' wine (certified organic producer) and home to the biggest chair in Africa. I wonder if one had a bit too much wine to taste, would the task of climbing up to sit on the red chair in the rain seem more or less adventurous? Hmmm ...
Next up, we head for one of the first Cape Country Route places on our itinerary - lunch at Christina's Bistro at Van Loveren wine farm (call 076-862-1995 to book).
The family farm has been run by the Retief family since 1937 and it's something of a family obsession (as most wineries are) as one generation of children are now the owners of the Four Cousins range.
At Christina's, ask for the specials of the day. We enjoy the soft and buttery Patagonia calamari before heading over to Van Loveren to try their award-winning wines.
WE BUILT THIS CITY ON ART DECO
Next is Montagu, the town without an "e" at the end. If you are looking for Montague Gardens, that's a suburb of Cape Town.
This Montagu is a glorious little town. Fine, splendid and graceful with enough florals, chintz and pizzazz to make a Golden Girl jealous. And, like the old TV show's fashion, Montagu is on the cusp of becoming trendy. So get there now (really do!), before it is taken over by 'Grammers looking for the perfect selfie. And there are plenty of picturesque places.
The town is nestled (yes nestled!) in the Langeberg mountain range so there are all sorts of activities for the adventurous - hiking trails up little hills, up bigger hills and up the mountains. Do go with a guide, as it could be quite easy to go off the paths if you are not paying attention.
We stay at the charming four-star Montagu Country Hotel, a homage to art deco.
Every piece of curved furniture, every bold coloured painting, every gilded sculpture has been picked to give you the distinctive feeling that you are walking into a 1920s Baz Luhrmann dream.
We are welcomed by manager PJ Basson, who certainly knows his stuff as he has been at the hotel for over 15 years. He can answer most queries about the hotel, the town, and the surrounding mountains (there are two ranges).
WINE WITH CHAUFFEUR? PLEASE!
Selling the time-warp nature of the town is American Dream Cars, a service offered by the hotel.
The American Dream Car Tour offers a special way of showing off Montagu and the surrounding areas. We take a drive in one of the classic cars, which include a 1956 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, a 1964 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and a 1956 De Soto Fireflite Sportsman.
Tours are chauffeur-driven and start at the hotel. They are R630 per hour and can accommodate up to four people (excluding the driver) per car. So one can tour the vineyards in absolute glamour and style, and can actually drink the wine and not be forced to use the spittoons.
Indeed, it can be a beautiful day in wine country.
Better yet, do as we did and stay for the weekend and have a gander at the market in the park on a Saturday morning, visit the hot springs, pop into the coffee shops, or gawp at the magnificent quilt museum/shop that absolutely needs to be seen. If you still feel the need to destress even further, there is a spa at the hotel.
Do stay and have supper in the hotel, as much for the food as the soothingly pleasant, old-school movie vibe.
There's a piano player, crisp, white table cloths, and a lovely à la carte menu (the French onion soup is understandably popular).
Or take a drive to Robertson to the @Four Cousin's restaurant if you want a more family friendly, laid-back, sports-bar feel.
There's rugby on the big TVs, Boet Beer on tap, gin and whisky pairings, wood-fired pizzas and a load of other food to cater for many tastes, plus a secure playing area for children.
THE EGGS AND THE OLIVES
The next morning after the best creamy scrambled eggs for breakfast at the hotel, we head off to Cascade Country Manor in the heart of the Paarl winelands.
The beauty here does, for realsies, take your breath away. It's set against a backdrop of the majestic Klein Drakenstein Mountains, with 23ha of olive groves and buchu fields.
This is pure luxury and indulgence, where the owners, the Goetze family, feed us a hearty Mediterranean feast in the shade of the grove (I can never go back to ordinary olives now after trying theirs - slow roasted with cumin; citrus-infused; the showcase in a chicken puttanesca .).
Munching silently (you know it's good food then), we can hear the small stream nearby and the gentle bubbling of the cascading waterfall, where we are encouraged to relax, lie on the grass or laze in the hammock. We do, and none of us want to leave.
Another worthwhile stop in Paarl is the d'Olyfboom Family Estate owned by Danny and Garitha de Wit, a heritage site set in the mountain and overlooking the vineyards and the town.
If you are looking for a healthy meal (a scrumptious Boland-breakfast), they use spring water which comes from the estate to make amazing coffee and also offer delicious smoothies and freshly pressed juice.
We leave Paarl with bottles of olive oil from Cascade, produced from the century-old olive trees on the estate, and onwards to Stellenbosch to the Eendracht Hotel, right in the city, right on Dorp Street in the oldest part of Stellenbosch.
It's small and grandiose at the same time - the building epitomises the town's beginnings.
The hotel was rebuilt by Daniel Lutz, who kept it true to the original architectural style but made sure that all the rooms have up-to-date modcons: my favourite - they had plenty of mirrors and makeup mirrors (which lit up!) in the room and bathroom.
The best part of staying in the city is that you are surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops and bars. But as one does, we still wanted to tour the winelands, and Adventure Shop was the way to go (021-882 8112).
Take a guided tour through the town and surrounding vineyards on one of their e-bikes - apparently you can do a 50km ride on the e-bike and it's not too hectic.
Another place to stay in the historic part of Stellies is the Evergreen Manor and Spa. The owner, Riël Meynhardt, has magnificently restored the 1904 manor house himself, down to its old glory, even reusing the old broekie lace that he found buried in a store room.
One does get a feel for the old city, peeking out through the windows, but thank goodness we are not stuck in that time, as you can enjoy the benefits of the spa. Don't forget to book!
It is indeed an amazing day in wine country with so much to explore. There's plenty to do on the well-trodden path, as well as off it on Route 62. Roll down your windows, smell the fynbos, and don't fight the earworms.
WHERE TO STAY
MONTAGU COUNTRY HOTEL, MONTAGU
From May to September, they have an affordable special: their classic rooms cost from R600 per person sharing, bed-and-breakfast.
CASCADE COUNTRY MANOR, PAARL
There are various rooms to choose from: the classic garden room is from R1,150 pps and the deluxe suite is from R2,780. All include B&B.
• See cascademanor.co.za
D’OLYFBOOM FAMILY ESTATE, PAARL
They offer conferences and functions (weddings and all) and they also have charming guest suites. Rates on request.
• See dolyfboom.co.za
EENDRACHT HOTEL AND APARTMENTS, STELLENBOSCH
There are hotel rooms and apartments —all different prices ranging from R999 pp B&B to R1,659 pp B&B.
• See eendracht-hotel.com
EVERGREEN MANOR AND SPA, STELLENBOSCH
There are 15 en-suite rooms — double, king, twin — from R1,295 to R2,295 pp, B&B.
• See evergreenmanor.co.za