Local Travel

What to do on a weekend break in charming Montagu

This Western Cape village, close to Cape Town, boasts a delightful art-deco hotel, delicious eateries and fascinating museums

06 October 2019 - 12:00 By Ilse Zietsman
The Dutch Reformed Church is at the heart of the historical village of Montagu.
The Dutch Reformed Church is at the heart of the historical village of Montagu.
Image: 123RF/Grobler Du Preez

Published in 1970, TV Bulpin's seminal Discovering Southern Africa described Montagu as "graced with several Cape-Dutch style buildings, a museum and the hot springs".

It goes on to say that "Lovers' Walk between Montagu and the hot springs ... is a pleasant, easy stroll, especially at sunset when the birds are tucking themselves into bed with a last twitter as some hen nags her mate for coming in a trifle late."

Almost 50 years on, Montagu has lost none of that quirky charm.

It began as a staging post, where travellers coming through Cogmans Kloof or going into the Little Karoo would rest their horses. In the mid-1800s, the first erven were laid out on the farm Uitvlugt and the town was named after Sir John Montagu, a colonial secretary at the time. Gabled Cape-Dutch homes and quaint white cottages with forest-green shutters and doors still dot the streets.

EXPLORE HISTORY

Since 1975, the Monagu Museum has been housed in three buildings, the Old Mission Church, Joubert House and the KWV Building.

The exhibition of pulpit Bibles and old wedding dresses at the Old Mission Church is particularly fascinating. The church also still has its original pulpit and antependium (pulpit cloth).

Other exhibitions include an Indigenous Medicinal Plant Research Project and a collection of cartoons by TO Honiball (1905-1990), a celebrated South African cartoon artist.

HAVE SOME FUN

Montagu is pedestrian-friendly wherever you go. But if you're not in the mood for walking, Flying Feet (find them on Facebook) in Bath Street offers guided bicycle tours. Each bike has been hand-painted by a different artist, most of whom are local. The tours focus on the town's heritage and art galleries. You could also rent a bike without taking part in a tour and they have a gift shop too - look out for the quirky wooden bow ties.

Want to feel like royalty? Practise your queenly wave, then book a trip in an American Dream Car, starting at the Montagu Country Hotel. Choose between a chauffeur-driven sapphire blue 1956 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman, a powder blue 1956 or a chilli red 1964 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. Rates are calculated per hour and up to four people can be accommodated.

WHERE TO STAY

The Montagu Country Hotel, the only original art-deco hotel in SA, is filled with a superb collection of period furniture, ornaments and art.

The original hotel was built in 1875. That building burnt down but was rebuilt in 1922. It is rumoured that Paul Kruger once wanted to stay over at the Montagu Country Hotel but was shown the door due to his political affiliation.

The exterior of the Hotel Montagu, SA's original art-deco hotel.
The exterior of the Hotel Montagu, SA's original art-deco hotel.
Image: Cape Country Routes

GREAT EATS

At The Wild Apricot restaurant at the Montagu Country Hotel you dine by candle light whilst the tinkling of a baby grand piano in the background adds even more atmosphere. The slow-cooked lamb shank served on mashed potatoes is outstanding.

Mimosa's Restaurant at Mimosa Lodge offers fine dining with mains such as beef sirloin with a honey and bay leaf jus, French-style potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

For a drink, The Rambling Rose has local and Mozambican beer. It also serves an all-day breakfast and a lunch buffet on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

DON'T MISS

The Dutch Reformed Church at the top of Church Street, a neo-Gothic building with seating for 1,000, was consecrated in 1862. To view the inside, contact the tourism bureau or join the congregation on a Sunday.

The Dutch Reformed Church is a photogenic neo-Gothic building.
The Dutch Reformed Church is a photogenic neo-Gothic building.
Image: 123RF/Grobler Du Preez

GET HOLD OF

The tourism bureau's historical walk pamphlet, available here, is invaluable to anyone who wants to explore the streets of Montagu.

It has lovely snippets of information, including the tale of Danie van der Merwe, who owned the green gabled house that later became the Standard Bank. When the bank wanted to buy it, he insisted he would sell only if he was appointed bank manager. He got his wish, and thereafter was known as "Danie Bank". Apparently he was not very good at his job and the bank went under.

DON'T FORGET TO BUY

Montagu is known for its fruit, mainly pears, apricots and peaches, and wine. Stock up on dried fruit, nuts and seeds from Montagu Trusted Quality Snacks at the Die Kloof Padstal (the first building on your left as you enter through Cogmanskloof) and do some wine tasting on one, or more, of the wine farms in the valley or at The Wine Boutique in the town.

FURTHER AFIELD

Montagu is well situated to explore all that Route 62 has to offer. This scenic route stretches all the way to Port Elizabeth. Robertson is a 30-minute drive away, and it's 40 minutes to Barrydale, both of which are towns worth exploring too.