For just about anyone that’s read F. Scott Fitzgerald, the term Art Deco conjures up fantasies of flapper dresses, crystal coupes filled with French champagne and bare ankles kicked up to the Charleston. While the dress code may no longer include plumes of ostrich feathers, such flights of fancy remain intact in the very spirit of the Montagu Country Hotel on the Western Cape’s famed Route 62.
Boasting to be the only accommodation of its kind in South Africa, the Cape Country Routes-affiliated hotel dates back to the Thirties and features many of the original architectural and decor details synonymous from that time. Essentially an anemoic adventure for anyone who has ever wanted to exist in a period where one dressed up for dinner, a stay at the Montagu Country Hotel succeeds in realising the reverie. A geometrically pleasing facade shows off the distinctive linear plasterwork from the era whilst the original stained glass doors invite guests to experience the ultimate in old world glamour. Gilt and glass are juxtaposed with fluid marble sculpture and Ruhlmann-esque rounded settees in exotic hardwood, plushly upholstered in jewel-bright tones. If one arrives on a Friday after dark, the old piano in the corner tinkles out jazz from a bygone era – the slim ceramic greyhound keeping a fixed eye on the evening’s proceedings from his perch atop the instrument.
A pre-dinner cocktail is de rigueur, with a mirrored bar serving up everything from mint juleps to a classic G&T. Dinner is served in that formally starched manner that those of us who grew up with Saturdays at Spur have been so sorely denied. Soft candlelight, impeccably set tables and cognisant staff make for an immersively enjoyable dining experience. A wine list celebrating cultivars from the surrounding estates as well as nearby Robertson and Ashton are paired with a menu of seasonal dishes that evoke nostalgia. While I had a serious hankering for steak, the Karoo lamb pie or red wine-braised lamb shank appealed as a hearty option ideal for late July.
Offering up a sprawling selection of suites, the Montagu Country Hotel houses guests in both older and more recent sections. I was fortunate enough to take a room in the Victorian grand dame that houses four garden-facing rooms. High ceilings, spacious bathrooms and antique touches lend each suite authenticity whilst a sun-splashed verandah invites one out to bask in the late afternoon sunshine. An ornately carved dressing table had me taking my time with makeup, as I felt this was the closest I would ever come to being Liza Minnelli in Caberet.
After a deliciously decadent fry-up served in the hotel’s conservatory, guests really have the opportunity to explore Montagu on foot. A market selling farm produce, fresh vegetables, honey, olive oil and light bites is held each Saturday morning in the town square whilst avid thrifters (such as yours truly) can pop in at the various little antiques dealers and charity shops along the main road. But no weekend meander in Montagu would be replete without a visit to De Nagmaal. A relatively new addition to the town, this boutique farm shop joins its parent business – Jonkmanshof Guesthouse – in bringing the same curated country charm to a range of beautiful products both local and imported. Displaying ceramics hand-painted with heirloom citrus, Delft-patterned linen, lemon cordial and artisanal preserves, chutneys and jams made from the Jonkmanshof farm garden, De Nagmaal’s philosophy is one of community – only stocking the shop with their own produce and that from the surrounding areas. Housed in a building that dates back to the mid-seventeenth century, De Nagmaal’s sage green interior provides as much of a sensory experience as it does a materialistic delight for one wayward food stylist with a fondness for bespoke ceramics.
Since we were planning on lunching at the hotel on Sunday, Saturday was spent dipping into the many eateries that line Montagu’s main road. Having settled on The Barn on 62 – a pleasingly rustic restaurant settled at the very end of the town – we proceeded to dig into two equally generous servings of tagliatelle Al Fredo and The Barn’s signature hamburger with moreishly crispy fries. Housed in a beautifully restored farm building, nothing about The Barn on 62 is ordinary. A courtyard offers patrons a leafy green oasis on summer days while a slow-combustion fireplace keeps things toasty indoors during the cooler months. Fresh eggs, bread and pastries are also available to buy and a rather complicated-looking cafetière makes The Barn on 62 a great spot for breakfast too.
Another eatery worth mentioning is Piccolo Tesoro – a family-run restaurant with an intriguing interior and some undeniably appetising pizza. Offering only woodfired thin-base pizza on the menu, Piccolo Tesoro makes for an intimate experience; all candlelight and classic rock.
Speaking of classics, one cannot visit the Montagu Country Hotel without taking a ride in any of their evocatively old-school automobiles as part of the Cape Country Routes American Dream Car tours.Hotel GM PJ Basson took us on a scenic trip around the town in a 1964 candy apple-red Cadillac Sedan deVille and I was treated to the sight of the first almond blossoms blooming in the valley.
Sunday lunch at the Montagu Country Hotel is an event that is certainly worth lingering over. Serving a buffet-style spread in their sunny conservatory, the hotel treats guests and visitors to a casual, convivial afternoon of homestyle cooking, local wine and exemplary service. Curled up next to a roaring log fire, I tucked into a selection of salads, roasted garlic and potato soup, warming chicken pie and rolled pork neck with a delectable apple brandy sauce. Dessert arrived in the form of a baked chocolate pudding and we veritably had to roll home.
All too often I find myself falling in love with a town – daydreaming about what life would be like to finally quit the insipidity of the suburbs and settle down to acres of space and a sense of community. Montagu is a town that is able to conjure up these sorts of thoughts. And when it comes to an unsurpassed experience of country comfort, old-world glamour and unadulterated amiability, there is truly no place like the Montagu Country Hotel.