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A trip for two to Montagu

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VIEWS
Story & photos by Alexandra Dunsford-White

In much need of an escape from bustling city life, a weekend meander down the historic Route 62 was a perfect escape for us… and ending up in Montagu (a wholesome eco-wellness destination nestled in the bosom of the Langeberg mountains) was simply the cherry on top.

Montagu is the western gateway to the Little Karoo and is the picturesque heart of Route 62, the historic link between Cape Town, the Garden Route and the Eastern Cape. Positioned between the Kingna and Keisie rivers, Montagu was once known as ‘Agter Cogman’s Kloof’, due to its scenic positioning along the breathtaking Cogman’s Kloof pass when approaching from neighbouring Ashton. Today, this little old-town oasis is a sought-after tourist destination and an ideal base from which this unique and agriculturally rich part of the countryside can be explored.

Mother Nature was most certainly kind to this beautiful area, with an abundance of water, mountains, all-year-round sun, rich soil and an agricultural variety that proves ideal for vineyards and fruit growing. It is also blessed with four distinctly beautiful seasons. Ideally situated weatherwise, the town of Montagu finds itself south enough to avoid the heat of the Karoo and yet north enough to avoid the long, wet Cape winters. In winter the days are warm and sunny, and rainfall is rare. During springtime Montagu is transformed into a kaleidoscope of greens, beiges and browns, as the adjacent peach and plum trees bloom and, if visited at the right time of year (during October), then you’ll see it in all its oldy-worldy glory and decorated with colourful bougainvillaea and some of the finest roses the country has to offer.

It’s no wonder that the unfeasibly pretty town of Montagu is a magnet for tourists and locals alike, all eager for a return to old-time values and landscapes. Fitting the mould of a sort-of local Stratfordupon- Avon, the abundance of farm stalls, tea-rooms, wine-tasting spots and galleries are reflective of the town’s heritage. Of course, as far as South African towns go Montagu is not particularly old, but it has succeeded in preserving the appearance of a typical late-colonial era agricultural town, with the town’s main street (Long Street) playing host to an interesting mix of farms, houses, shops, fields of grapes and apple trees.

The envy of everyone who visits the Langeberg region, Montagu offers a lifestyle that is all about slowing down enough to experience the essence of life through all your senses. And after just a few days, I had already started to slow down, unwind and enjoy all the sensory diversity – from the abundance of home-grown fruit, dried and fresh, to the flavours of the local wines and the freshness of the open country air. If I thought my new home, ‘Slaapstad’, was a notch down from my native concrete jungle of Joburg, then Montagu brought a whole new meaning to laid-back, smalltown living – and what a pleasant surprise that was!

MONTAGU’S HIDDEN GEMS

Apart from its central location along Route 62 and its historical significance, Montagu has many attractions that draw people in and which appeal to all the senses of the tourist – with the result that they linger longer every time.

HOT MINERAL SPRINGS
The hot natural mineral springs and baths found above the town of Montagu, high up in the Langeberg mountains, date back to the town’s very early days. They were first discovered by trekkers who followed the course of the river and now they are a ‘must-see’ attraction for all visitors to the area.

HIKING TRAILS
Nearby rock formations make Montagu one of the country’s major rock-climbing venues. The 1 266 m high Bloupunt Peak overlooks the village and offers several hiking trails, as well as kloofing and mountain biking trails further afield.

MONTAGU CELLAR
The Montagu Cellar is situated in the heart of the town centre and has been in operation since 1941. The cellar embraces the fortitude of the town. Montagu is muscadel country and Montagu Cellar has been making muscadel since it first started producing wine. Unlock the ambience of Montagu with a glass of Montagu Cellar muscadel, put your feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet.

MONTAGU MUSEUM
Jouberthuis is the oldest house in Montagu. The building was declared a National Monument in 1975 and was opened and declared a ‘House Museum’ in 1983. It is an excellent example depicting the typical lifestyle during the late 19th Century. Visitors to the Museum are able to appreciate some unique artefacts from this period while they take a look back into Montagu’s rich history.

LEIDAM BIRD SANCTUARY
Leidam, situated in the heart of town, is unsuspectingly nestled among houses and lies just across the road from the church. The Sanctuary is home to a large variety of indigenous birds and will prove an ornithologist’s dream come true. The likes of sacred ibis, herons, cormorants, egrets, shrikes and weavers use it as their breeding ground along with more than 52 other visiting species that have been spotted. If birdwatching or bird photography is for you then you could happily spend hours snapping away at the sanctuary from the lookout deck.

DRIED FRUIT AND NUTS
Drying and packing a wide range of fruit, nuts and olives has become a way of life in Montagu, and the town provides the perfect setting for drying fruit. Everything from apricots, peaches and tomatoes are transformed into delicious sundried products. Visitors are welcome to make use of the Montagu Dried Fruit Route Tractor trips, which takes you through the process of drying fruit.

For more info on activities and attractions in Montagu, contact the Montagu Tourism Bureau on 023 614 2471 or visit their website, www.montagu-ashton.info.

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