04 May 2013

Week-end in Montague, South Africa - A Gorgeous Country Towm




Whilst I simply adore living in Cape Town, sometimes there is a need to get out into the fresh country air and allow the body and mind to wind down somewhat. So off we set in the rain on the N1 out of Cape Town. About 2/5 hours later we reached this small hamlet of Montagu surrounded by hills and mountains.
Be warned - there is not much food to be had between Cape Town and Montagu unless one stops in Robertson for lunch or at the Steers Pit Stop (Petrol Station) so were were STARVING by 17.00 hrs. Driving through Montague, trying to decide on a place to eat, we got flagged down by a lady sporting a white apron and a cheerful smile. She invited us into her Restaurant called The Olive House. What a find!. She hails originally from Split in Croatia (another wonderful city) and lived for many years in Germany before coming to settle in South Africa - firstly in Barrydale and then in Montagu. The menu offers South African fare for the tourists and locals - we opted for her delicious Croatian Platte. This consisted of: Bean Soup, Cabbage and Mince Roulade with Sauerkraut, Blitva (Spinach Potato Mash) Beef and Pork Sausage, Raznjici (Pork Kebab) Duvec (Spicy) Rice and a Pita Bake. Seriously interesting and tasty.
Kati displays numerous artists work on the restaurant walls and also has various other things such as jewellery for sale. It's a treasure trove with a warming log fire and congenial company. Two elderly gents came in for a beer, then coffee and muffins and kept us entertained with their chatter about life in Montagu and much more! The one was a virtual chatterbox whilst the other was quieter but has the reputation of being a walking encyclopedia.
It was a great way to start our week-end - in the 2nd oldest house in Montagu - it is now a National Monument.
Early bed was called for as we were told that the Saturday Morning Market was a must!
The day dawned sunny and bright and then the clouds came over. However, the stall holders were all out and cheerful despite the weather. The chap from last night bumped into us again and promised that the sun would be out within an hour. He was right and the day turned out sunny and bright! After some rather risque jokes told to us in Afrikaans by this wonderful character, we met a stall holder selling plants. We discovered that he farms in the Koo Valley approx 46 km from the town. Problems with the farm workers strikes led him to lose approx. 80% of his workforce. The Union bosses still get their huge salaries but their unrealistic demands mean that businesses cannot afford to employ so many workers anymore so who suffers the most? The workers at the end of the day! So one wonders when the Unions will realise that unrealistic huge % wage increases are not sustainable and will result in job losses. But the Union bosses are still well off so what do they care? Any business, no matter whether large or small, has to cover expenses and overheads and make SOME profit otherwise there is no point surely? This point seems to escape the powers-that-be!!!
The Saturday Market is well worth a browse with many different items for sale from old tools, distressed photo frames, cakes, plants, dog beds, jams, stunning green peppers and wire ornaments. I bought the cutest ostrich made from wire - having been raised in Oudtshoorn, how could I resist?
Our next stop was the well known "The Rambling Rose" for a hearty breakfast. We were the first patrons to arrive but the tables filled up rapidly. A whopping omelette was my choice whilst James had the full Monty of bacon, sausage, eggs etc. The service was friendly and we had a free Argus to browse while waiting for the food. Excellent Naartjtie jam and very hot chilli jam finished off the meal. The Chilli jam was far too hot for my taste - my mouth was burning for ages afterwards!
The Montagu Nature Garden is worth a stroll - however, it is not looking it's best at this time of year (May) and we saw a number of used condoms scattered next to a bench and many beer bottles just littering the place. Sad that people have to use a nature garden as a den of iniquity!!! Apparently, the land was donated to the town of Montagu and the local ladies have been active in its care. Now there seems to be a struggle as the local council wants to take over the running of the place. One wonders if they will clear up the mess from the loiterers? So sad when a peaceful place becomes the subject of a struggle - and most probably it will not improve the place.
The  sun was out and the countryside beckoned so we took a drive out of town - firstly to Pietersfontien - stunning scenery with mountain ranges and valleys.
Then we drove out towards the Koo Valley - the scenery is truly spectacular on the way and the mountains are awe-inspiring. The Koo valley is wide and not particularly scenic but the route certainly is, so take this drive and discover secret South Africa!
Our last stop for the day was the view point up Kohler Drive where there are views over Montagu.
Now to find somewhere for supper!!
Supper was at The Mystic Tin - a small restaurant with personal service and great food. I enjoyed a chicken pie with very tasty mushroom sauce, plenty of veg and baby potatoes. James chose the pork which was much to his liking. We were too full to try the desserts which I am sure were also good. These owners have 3 establishments in Montagu - The Vic Hotel, De Oude  Kombuis and the Mystic Tin. Let's hope they maintain the good food "recipe"
Sunday dawned sunny and clear so we set off on foot to view many of the historic houses in Montagu. It says something for the citizens of Montagu that they have preserved these beautiful buildings. Collect a map from the Tourism Office in Bath Street and enjoy the meander. There are also approx. 45 artists in this tiny town - with various galleries to browse, the art also adorns most of the coffee shops and restaurants. Our favourite was No 9 Rose Street. This was originally built to house the parsonage of the Dutch Reformed Church. Built in 1911 for Dr DF Malan, it is not the oldest building but it just grabbed our fancy.
A late Victorian style house with a central passage of 30 metres, set on large, well-kept grounds, it's an iddyllic spot. The house is becoming derelict which is a great shame as the owner lives in Canada. One hopes that the rumours that she is soon to start on renovations will come to friution during 2013 as it is a great shame for the grand old dame to be unloved and falling into ruin.
Many of the local residents have lived in Montagu for many years - we chatted to a few of them and  longevity seems to run in this town. A wonderful lady, who looked not  day over 70, turned out to be 83 - still fit as a fiddle and walking to the shops daily. Incredible.
The Montagu Country Hotel was built in 1875 and re-modelled in the 1930's. This was the first hotel in the town and is still very much a going concern. The elderly gent, Kosie Hanekom, who plays the piano in this hotel has a selection of CD's for sale of all the songs played over the years. We decided to lunch here - Sunday buffet costs R110.00 per person. Service was good and very friendly - however, the food was not great and all I can say is that it took away the hunger pangs! However, it appears to be very popular and perhaps we have too high expectations of tasty food!
After lunch, we set off along the Keisie River (park at the top of Barry Street) and this took us to the Badskloof Trail which rambles towards Avalon Springs Hotel. The route crosses the river a few times and is very peaceful and scenic. Montagu is famous for rock-climbing and the cliffs are awesome. We marvelled at the hooks going up and up and away - not for the faint-hearted, this rock climbing!! But if that rocks your boat - get there to experience these cliffs!  There are 200 Bolted Routes to try, so you are spoilt for choice. The Badskloof trail is easy going and is about 2.2 km each way.
We will certainly go back to Montagu again as we did not have time for the famous Tractor Ride, the nearby River Cruise or the other hiking trails.
An early start got us back to Cape Town in late rush hour traffic - oh well, all good times have to end, sadly.

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