It wasn’t on purpose; my intention was to stand in the middle of the quiet road to photograph the orange-tinged mountains that surround the town, but Jo came out of the bookshop and we immediately fell into an easy conversation.
Warm and friendly, Jo featured again the next day at the weekly village market, where I bought a paperback copy of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom for R20, which turned out to touch me deeply when I read it the following weekend.
And all this leads neatly to the fact the Montagu Book Festival takes place this weekend. It’s a good place for the printed word, and we spent a fair amount of time with our noses in our books - at the pool in the weak winter sun, in the small lounge in front of the fire with tea and cheesecake, and snuggled in our beds with the hot water bottles I cleverly had the foresight to pack.
About 180km from Cape Town, Montagu is between Ashton in the Robertson wine valley and Barrydale and smack bang at the beginning of Route 62, which will eventually take you all the way to Port Elizabeth and offers a wonderful alternative to the N2. Its location at the entrance to the Klein Karoo, where it is surrounded by spectacular mountains and rock formations which are popular with climbers, means it has a fairly mild climate, but boy, those overnight temperatures can drop quite dramatically at this time of year.
Famous for its natural hot springs, Montagu was founded on the farm “Uitvlugt” in 1851, and is also an agricultural centre, where orchards and vineyards are in production and herbs are grown. You’ve heard of Montagu Dried Fruit And Nuts, right? The factory shop is here and the prices are fantastic, so do pop in.
Our home for the weekend was Montagu Country Hotel, built in the art deco style of the 1930s and furnished accordingly. I have never seen so many of those fabulous lounge suites with the big wooden arms and nooks for your drink in one place at one time. There must be at least half a dozen of them, or more, scattered throughout the property.
Room sizes vary from the classic, which have walk-in showers, to luxury, which are bigger and most of which have large separate (en-suite) bathrooms. The honeymoon suite is furnished with original early French mahogany masterpieces, and the African Hut - which stands alone - is also popular with newly-weds with its Jacuzzi and double-spout shower.
Our luxury rooms were reached via a pathway through the pretty garden and courtyard, watched over by a giant Maine Coon kitty with a fine collar of fur. There are two swimming pools for when summer rolls around. All the rooms are individually decorated while remaining in the theme of art deco and general olde worlde, furnished with period pieces and dramatic paintings. In the main hotel building there are two lounges - one large one with a baby grand piano in the corner, and a smaller one, which we claimed as our own on the second night, and cast territorial looks at anyone who dared to enter.
There is an abundance of fireplaces - here as well as in the dining room, which harks back to a bygone era when one would dress for dinner, and a pianist tickles the ivories while you tuck into traditional and hearty fare. We spent much time in front of these blazes, in our slippers and sipping hot chocolate.