“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” Marilyn Monroe
The dress is drop dead gorgeous. It’s a genuine 1920’s flapper frock. Sleeveless, beautifully tailored to fit a curvy body, but quite heavy due to the thick lining and the thousands of sequins and seed pearls sewn into it. I slipped it over my head, gave a final adjusting tug to get it over my ageing hips, slid my feet into a pair of killer heels and threw the attention seeking antique fox fur around my shoulders.
One last self-conscious look in the mirror and I was as ready as I would ever be to go downstairs.
You need to understand that I don’t own a dress. I am a jeans girl all the way, a total tree climbing vintage tomboy, but somehow this outfit felt good. As I walked down the stairs, I stood a little taller, there was a distinct sway of my hips and a definite cheeky attitude just waiting to be activated.
As I joined the six other women in the art deco lobby of the four star Montagu Country Hotel, all dressed up in their Great Gatsby style finery, I was glad I had made the effort. We looked like we could have taken over the world.
PJ Basson, co -owner of the hotel, was our host and driver for the evening, which started with a drive up the mountain for cocktails and sunset. We went in style in a 1956 Cadillac Sedan De Ville and a 1964 De Soto from American Dream Cars. We sipped champagne, draped ourselves over the cars and posed and preened as we decided we were all princesses for the night.
Dinner was a decadent six course meal in the dining room, where the resident pianist created just the right mood for our Great Gatsby night with a selection of jazz and show tunes.
What an introduction to Montagu and the Cape Country Routes.
The town of Montagu is situated 186 km from Cape Town on the famous Route 62. This area was not accessible to the early pioneers due to the seemingly impenetrable Cogmans Kloof, and only developed in the mid 1800’s after Thomas Bain built the pass and tunnel that created access to the valley.
Let’s talk about décor and details of the Montagu Country Hotel.
Not only does the Montagu Country Hotel have the #ArtDeco theme, there are three other buildings on the property each with their own unique style.
The African Hut is a charming Rondavel in the garden, Carrington Villa is a gorgeous 4 bed-roomed house with a wide stoep and the old goal has beautifully appointed rooms overlooking the garden.
The Health Centre on site taps in to the healing mineral water found in Montagu, coming out of the ground at 26 degrees C. Make sure you book a soak, massage or beauty treatment while you are there.
Character, charm and romance are the hallmarks of Cape Country Routes, a collection of the owner operated and managed establishments and activities on the scenic routes of the Western and Eastern Cape.
More than 20 privately owned hotels, lodges and guest houses offer the best accommodation and activity options to suit every taste and budget.
From high heels and cocktails to hiking boots and mountain trails.
Dominated by the Langeberg Mountains, Montagu is a world renowned rock climbing destination and it also has many hikes and trails for nature lovers, so a visit is not complete without spending some time getting up close and personal with the natural environment.
At nine in the morning the sun had started to warm the day, and lathered in sunblock, clutching bottles of water, we set off through the town to the start of the 3,2 km Aasvoelkrans trail. We walked the wide streets, admired the Victorian houses, and looked up at the beacon that was our destination, high up on top of the mountain, with varying levels of enthusiasm. The climb was steep in parts and I was extremely grateful for my camera which gave me an excuse to make regular stops to catch my breath. I made it to the top and the views were breathtaking. On one side the whole of the town was laid out before me and the other side offered a clear view of the road leading into the town accessed through an archway cut into the rock.
The following morning at first light a few of us drove to the famous Montagu Hot Springs which is the start of the peaceful, and thankfully flat, 2,4 km Badskloof Trail along the Keisie River. Silently, in single file we walked in the shadows of the imposing mountains that flanked either side of the river. Birds called and the sun lit the tips of the mountain as it rose, creating the most exquisite light. Reeds and rushes swayed in the breeze, and at one point overlapped and created a green tunnel adding to the delight of this total immersion in nature. Sandy paths led to the water’s edge and cautious crossings via stepping stones or strategically placed sand bags. The soothing sound of water flowing slowly over the rocks was a perfect backing track to this tranquil start to the day.
“As the sun colours flowers, so does art colour life”
So said John Lubbock in “The Pleasures of Life,” and when you display art in nature you get something quite special. I had seen a poster for Art in the Garden, and I was keen to see it. It was one of those lazy, still Saturday afternoons, where the atmosphere buzzed, the air was warm, and I was very inclined to doze in the sun. Instead I found myself wandering around the town of Montagu, feeling slightly overheated when someone called my name.
It was PJ from the hotel. Being a small and friendly town, he saw me passing the garden restaurant where he was finishing lunch with his family and invited me to join them for coffee. Laughing, he told me I was going in the wrong direction to see the art, insisted I accept a lift and join him and his family at the exhibition.
The Montagu Nature Garden is on the very edge of the town on the slopes of the mountain. For an entrance fee of R5, placed in an honesty box, this reserve is like a mini Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.
Paths meandered alongside ponds filled with lilies, fantasy styled paintings were tied to the sides of a wooden bridge. Easels under trees and on the sides of tree lined tracks displayed exquisite pencil drawings, wildlife paintings, café scenes and landscapes. A stained glass window hung suspended between two trees and at the tea room on top of a hill a pottery class and ceramic display was paired with tea and cake.
The artists sat in groups, sipping wine and ready to answer questions, chat or make a sale. If this is country life and small town living, count me in, as I absolutely loved it. PJ tells me they also host music concerts in this gorgeous garden filled with indigenous trees, flowers and fynbos.
Montagu deserves more than 2 or 3 days to explore and appreciate. It has a thriving tourism industry, plenty of restaurants and coffee shops with gardens or street side seating, many eclectic shops to browse and a couple of wine estates in town with loads more in the immediate vicinity.
“Wine is the only artwork you can drink” – Luis Fernando Olaverri.
The Van Loveren Family Vineyards are situated just outside Robertson, some 20 km from Montagu. Part of the Cape Country Routes collection they are well worth a visit when exploring this area. More than just a wine estate, Van Loveren offer MTB Trails, a 7,5 km circular hiking trail that includes two river crossings, many scenic photo opportunity stops and a biodiversity interpretation route. On the property there is Christina’s Bistro for a top rate meal, gorgeous gardens where every tree has a story, all planted over the years by the owners to commemorate weddings, graduations, births, the end of a war, the birth of our democracy, recovery from an accident, awards and success of the farm and many more. A guided tour of the garden complete with all the stories is offered.
The tasting venue is a light, modern building and the pairings available were inspired. Think cheese and wine, remembering this is a great cheese area, but for those seeking an epicurean adventure, the wine and chocolate or undiscovered gems pairing is a must. Visitors to South Africa should try the Taste of Africa that celebrates Pinotage paired with local treats like beef dry sausage, cinnamon date balls and locally grown olives. They even have a non-alcoholic pairing and being family friendly, the kids can enjoy a Papillon non alcoholic blush, and a white paired with a Smartie Mallow, caramel covered popcorn and a mini fruit roll. Hmmm, I wonder if grown-ups to request that?
For those who love bubbles, the Brut, chardonnay and demi-sec are paired with a variety of nougats filled with almond, lemon, macadamia or mango, and Turkish Delight.
Enough variety to excite every palate.
Family matters, South Africa’s most famous cousins.
As you enter Robertson, Four Cousins invite you to come and chill in their stunning building and enjoy Boet Beer tasting, whisky, wine or gin pairings, wood fired pizzas and delectable house specialities. This family friendly venue has indoor and outdoor seating and a secure playing area for children. This most ‘chilled’ spot in the valley is open seven days a week.
In case you are wondering who these four guys are, they are the Retief cousins from the Van Loveren family farm. These guys know what they are doing. Come and taste for yourself.
The next time you are planning a road trip, a weekend break or an epic adventure, take a look at the Cape Country Routes offerings for something a little different, where comfort is promised, the personal touch is the norm, and character, charm and romance are the cherry on top.
Disclosure. My trip to the various Cape Country Routes establishments was a hosted media trip. As always, opinions are my own. Thanks to all members for the great hospitality .