The cosmopolitan folk of Montagu have perfected the art of enterprising country living in the Little Karoo’s favourite spa town
Words and Pictures: Marion Whitehead
Why did lightning strike the Dutch Reformed Church tower in Montagu, the Route 62 dorp voted South Africa’s favourite town in 2002? Locals were still picking pieces of roof tiles out of the hedge in the street opposite the church when I visited a few days after the big storm.
The area in front of the leaning steeple was cordoned off, but the little Saturday morning market was taking place as usual under big shady trees next door, just opposite the Tourist Info office, housed in one of the town’s many beautiful national monument buildings.
No one looked like a dreadful sinner living in a den of iniquity – just friendly folk shopping for veg and home-baked bread, tasting olives, queuing leisurely for pancakes and chatting about the dramatic week – when a direct hit stopped the church clock at quarter to one.
“There was a loud crack and the wooden steeple burst into flames. They were conveniently put out by a heavy deluge immediately afterwards.” Jo Prentice filled me in, with a glance at the heavens.
She and her family are recent arrivals in this normally tranquil corner of the Little Karoo, tucked into an elbow of the Langeberg, and more famous for its hot mineral springs than its neo-Gothic-style church. Having taken over Montagu Bookshop not far from the church, they’ve settled in easily and were quick to master the Montagu knik or nod. “You tip your head slightly to the side, like this,” she demonstrated. Now they greet like long-standing locals. […]
Where to Play
- Avalon Springs resort and hotel welcomes day visitors to its hot mineral springs and there are plenty of activities for kids.
023 614 1150
- Hiking options range from an easy 2.2km walk through Badkloof to more arduous day hikes to peaks such as Bloupunt and Cogmanskloof.
- Rock climbing: a paradise of sport climbing routes, from basic to advanced, are rated among the best in the country.
Climb ZA 082 696 4067
- Take a tractor-trailer ride to the top of Arangieskop on the Burgers’ Protea Farm for a panoramic view. 023 614 3012
- Birding hotspots include the leiwater dam in Bath Street and Montagu Nature Garden.
- Montagu Village Market on Saturday mornings opposite the info office in Bath Road is the best place to buy local specialities and crafts direct.
- Factory shops: Montagu Dried Fruit and Nuts (023 614 1134) is well geared for busloads of visitors but I found the variety and prices better at Locarno Farm Stall & Factory Shop (023 614 3782).
- Joubert House Museum provides a fascinating glimpse of Montagu’s past. 023 614 1774
- A historic walk highlighting the dorp’s charming national monument buildings starts at the info office where you can pick up a brochure.
- The village is crawling with eateries. Jules & Co in Montagu is the newest coffee shop and serves the best coffee and home-made ice cream and waffles. 076 197 7343
- Die Kloof Padstal Restaurant has the most chilled vibe for Sunday lunch when a local muso strums his guitar in the tea garden on the banks of the Kiesie River and kids run free in the play area. 023 614 2209
- The Montagu Country Hotel is the place to go for a delicious dinner in elegant surrounds, prepared with style and flair by
- Kokkedoor finalist Arthur Wildskut. 023 614 3125
- Ye Olde Tavern family restaurant’s food is consistently good and their potato wedges are a treat. 023 614 2398
Where to Stay
- Airlies Guesthouse is a gracious period home with a pretty garden in the centre of the village from where you can stroll to shops and restaurants. 023 614 2943, www.airlies.co.za
- Montagu Springs is a family resort with self-catering accommodation to suit all budgets. Activities on site include tennis, bicycle hire, a play park on the bank of the Kiesies River and swimming pools. Guests get discounted access to the hot mineral springs next door at Avalon Springs Hotel. 023 614 1050, www.montagusprings.co.za
The story continues in our July 2015 edition, available in print and as a digital download.