Aerial cover photograph courtesy of Hilton Preston hilton@montagu.org.za

My obsession with Montagu, like many of its visitors, is to get away from the rat race of the big cities to the peace and tranquility of this delightful town, or more correctly village.  A haven for fantastic weather, fun, healthy living, exercise, and great food experiences.

I was born at the southern tip of Africa in Cape Town.  Our family moved to New Berlin on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late 1986.  Milwaukee is located alongside the freshwaters of Lake Michigan, 307 miles (494 km) long by 118 miles (190 km) wide with a shoreline 1,640 miles (2,640 km).  A two-hour drive south takes you to Chicago, Illinois.  The residences of Illinois are known as flatlanders, a reflection of their topography.  South Eastern Wisconsin is equally flat.

My fascination with our annual pilgrimage to the Western Cape in South Africa is to enjoy the many mountain rangers and sheer majestic beauty of the landscape.  I have written about the magnificence of Chapman’s Peak Drive, Boyes’ Drive, and the mountain passes in Franschoek.

When driving from Cape Town to Montagu, a two-hour trip that may take three-hours due to road construction, takes you across Du Toit’s Kloof, and through the Huguenot Tunnel.  You pass through Worcester, Robertson, Ashton, and the Kogman’s Kloof Pass to arrive in Montagu.

Kogman’s Kloof (gorge) is named after Cogmans, a Khoi chiefdom that lived in the area at the beginning of the 18th century.  The Khoi (meaning people) were hunter-gathers that inhabited Southern Africa at the time the Portuguese (Bartolomeu Dias 1488), Dutch (Jan van Riebeeck 1652), and British (1795) occupation.  The Khoikhoi got decimated by the smallpox epidemic around 1774—1677 during the third Khoikhoi-Dutch war.  This gorge is built through the Langeberg (long mountain) between Ashton and Montagu on Route 62 that ultimately takes you to Oudtshoorn.

I have two younger sisters.  My youngest sister and her husband have two businesses in Montagu.  A pip (pit in America) processing plant where they dry and split peach and apricot pips.  The outer husks are used for yard mulch or finely ground and used for abrasive materials, and the seed for medicinal purposes.  Their other business is an Arabian horse breeding farm.  My older sister and my now deceased parents have at some time in their lives lived in Montagu, and reason enough for me to visit this quaint town.

Montagu has a population of 15,500, with an additional regular stream of 30,000 visitors peaking to 40,000 in season.  What is the attraction of this town?  In 1936 Montagu was declared a health resort, attracting an influx of wealthy.  The hot water healing properties at Avalon Springs and Montagu Springs are among the attractions.  Montagu Hot Springs charged a fee dating back to 1873.  My wife and I have walked from town along the fee-paying Badskloof Trail, following the Kogmanskloof River through the magnificent mountain gorges, to the hot springs and back along Route 318 to our home base.  An exhilarating hike if there ever was one.

With health being an attraction, one of my favorites is Carma Lifestyle Hair Salon and Body Wellness.  Salon owner Michael Cole’s 32-year career began in London at Vidal Sassoon.  Mike’s talent supported his global travel as a stylist, manager, and educator.  He settled in South Africa at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  Eventually, Michael started Carma Hair & Wellness in Montagu.  Carla Cole, Michael’s wife, designs a customized body treatment based on an in-depth consultation to target your needs.  I enjoyed head massages, hair cuts, pedicures, and back massages by this highly professional team.

With the significant tourist trade in Montagu, it is not surprising that there are many excellent restaurants.  At last count, a minimum of 16.  I have probably supported each of them at one time over the years.  As a creature of habit, there are two that stand out for me.  BluVines provides all professional aspects of a restaurant with occasional singing entertainment, wine tasting, and a conference room facility.  This restaurant is so impressive that I wrote separately about it. 

My other favorite is Rambling Rose, managed by Sergio and Cay Fernandes.  I have returned to this establishment many times over the years thanks to the great food and friendly atmosphere.  Both restaurants located on Route 62, Long Street, the road as you enter Montagu from Ashton, situated on the right-hand side.  If you are paying in US$, these restaurant prices are ridiculously low, and quality as good, if not better than US restaurants.

Montagu provides accommodation to suit every tourism need.  Approximately 700 people are employed in the tourism industry.  There are 1,900 beds provided through 40 Hotels, Self-Catering Units, Guest Houses, and Bed & Breakfast establishments.  With additional Game Lodges, Caravan Park, and provisions for Backpackers.  Here I am fortunate that my family provides for my accommodation needs.

When visiting the Tourism Office at 24 Bath Street, they provide materials to help with your enjoyment of the many sights and activities in Montagu.  They offer a walking tour map highlighting 25 places of interest in town.  I will name drop by referencing one site.  The Dutch Reformed Church was constructed between 1858 and 1862 by Joseph Barry for an amount of £4,300 (in 2019 currency £520,000, US$670,000, R10 million).  The Neo-Gothic cross-shaped church was design by George Burkett.  The eastern and western galleries designed by John Parker added in 1906. Initially painted in traditional white color, but after complaints by residents that the reflection of the bright sunlight blinded one, was painted in today’s creamy-yellow.  I must recognize Maraletta Mundey, Tourism Manager at Montagu-Ashton Tourism, for providing me with excellent reference materials regarding Montagu and its environs.  Maraletta and her team provide excellent and professional customer service. 

One attraction I enjoy is the Montagu Village Market held on Saturday mornings.  It is my favorite place to find momentoes for my granddaughters and other family members and friends.  I never miss out on freshly made pancakes and coffee.  Here you will find many handicrafts, including clothing, jewelry, beads, hand-painted cloths, etc.  For the locals, they have access to olive oil, cheese, vegetables, loaves of bread, chutney, sauces, and eggs.  Naturally, biltong (jerky) is available—but do not attempt to take this overseas with you.  It could cost you having it confiscated or getting arrested for trying to sneak in food products.  There are specialty booksellers.  How can you afford to miss this exciting and friendly market?

Bird Sanctuary

If you wish to spend alone time watching birds, then the bird sanctuary is a peaceful location to enjoy nature.  Important to know that this is located at the intersection of Bath and Barry streets.

Short Drive through Montagu—along Bath, Barry, and Long streets.

Montagu Mountains

This short video identifies a small portion of the mountain that I had the pleasure of viewing for many days in a row, and appreciate the ever-changing beauty.

The above represents eight photographs taken on different days to show the kaleidoscopic beauty and mood of a single spot in this tiny portion of the Langeberg (long mountain) West mountain range.

Montagu is a springboard for several scenic drives.  I wrote about my trip to Barrydale along Route 62 in my blog.  You can follow a delightful journey in the opposite direction, along Route 318, to Keisie.  Keisie means “sweet water” in the language of the Khoisan.  It is 18-kilometers along the Langeberg (long mountain) valley in the Little Karoo, a semi-desert region, arid, with a unique ecosystem, South Africa’s most significant collection.

History

John Montagu was the Colonial Secretary of the Cape and visited the town in 1852.  The village was laid out on the farm Uitvlucht (escape), beginning in 1841.  The Second Boer War (October 11, 1899, to May 31, 1902) resulted in the English building a fort (9.3 X 3.8 meters 30 X 12 feet) above Kogman’s Kloof, seen as you drive through the short tunnel.  Montagu was founded in 1851.  The first school opened in 1855, and the church in 1862.  The hot springs started operations in 1873.  Montagu banknotes issued in 1861 until the bank’s demise in 1868.  In 1877 Thomas Bain built the tunnel and new road through Kogman’s Kloof alongside the Kingna River flowing southwest of Montagu.  In 1936 Montagu was declared a health resort, and at one time in the early days, boasted five millionaires.  In 1950 Montagu hosted the first South African Wine Festival.  In 1954 the Montagu Nature Garden was inaugurated.  In January 1981, heavy rains in the southern Karoo caused the Keisie and Kingna rivers to flood and meet at the confluence in Montagu.  It resulted in considerable loss of life and damage to property.  It justified the reconstruction of the roads to minimize flood damage.  Construction is currently underway.  In April 1995, Presiden Mandela opened the twenty-first Muscadel Wine Festival.

The reality is that I still have so much more to see and experience in this quaint town.  I will keep looking for additional charm and sites worth exploring on future visits.