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An extraordinary 'inkommers' welcome to Montagu

Church Street, Montagu, Route 62

You don’t need me to tell you that Montagu, on the scenic Route 62, is a special place. In fact, legend has it that those passing through for a night or two will either wish they had booked to stay longer, or will end up buying property here. 

Maybe it’s an innate South African yearning to move to the ‘Platteland,’ maybe it's a ‘Klein Karoo’ wanderlust that captivates your soul, maybe it's the scenic charm of Route 62, maybe it’s the mountains, orchards, olive groves and vineyards, or maybe it’s just me, but the legend proved true. 

Not only did we wish we had booked an extra night in Montagu on our Route 62 road trip in April/May 2023, but we returned home to Joburg, (chatted to our kids), put our house the market, bought a house in Montagu and 6 months later ‘semigrated’ to to this pretty little Western Cape town that had cast its spell over us. 

Long street, Montagu vineyards and Langeberg Mountain Range

Waving goodbye to the City of Gold was bittersweet - leaving adult kids and a 3-week-old grandson was not easy - but with dog in tow, we embarked on yet another road trip; this time with a new home and chapter in mind. 

A breather and a place to lay our heads

We arrived on a Friday but could only move into our Montagu home on Monday. So we bunked down with a local friend and had a much-needed pause and weekend breather before hitting the ground running. 

And what a lovely weekend it proved to be. (I would certainly recommend this ‘calm-before-the storm relocation principle’ to anyone moving to a new home, town and province). 

As ‘inkommers’ (that is what you are called if you weren’t born here or haven't lived here for 40+ years), we got to experience the town as newly arrived ‘residents’ and immediately started viewing our surroundings with different eyes. 

Saturady morning village market in Montagu

We browsed the weekly Saturday morning village market, ambled up and down the town’s streets (you can walk everywhere), popped into the 2nd-hand bookshop, had great coffee, were introduced to everyone as newcomers, went to the local Italian restaurant, and were welcomed at Church on Sunday morning. 

This was now our town and our community, and the slow living mindset was quick to take hold, as well as an opportunity to practise our rusty Afrikaans. (We're getting beter - oops, better!). 😊

Scenic view of Montagu trails and Langeberg Mountains

The lovely teller at Montagu Spar and a few tears

Ok, so there’s no Woolworths Foodmarket in Montagu (there are always adjustments to be made when you move), but there is a local Spar. On my first visit to stock up on a few groceries, I got to the till and realised I had forgotten Feta cheese and mentioned this to the teller. 

Now, for those of you who are from Joburg, you will immediately ‘check in’ with the socially acceptable nuances of this scenario. If you dare to leave your stuff at the till and run to fetch something you’ve forgotten, you get a tiresome look from the teller and well-practised self-righteous death glances from those in the queue behind you.  

But here’s how the conversation went between me and the teller at Montagu Spar:

Me: Oh dear, I forgot to get Feta cheese, but never mind, I’ll get it next time.

Teller: You are welcome to go and get it now. I can wait. (The 2 ladies having a ‘lekker kuier’ behind me are unphased).

Me: Are you sure? I’ll be really quick.

Teller: Take your time, no need to rush. 

(So off I rush; it's hard to break entrenched behaviour so quickly).

Me (returning with the feta cheese): Thank you so much. 

Teller: No problem. Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to get? 

And that is when the tears welled up at such unexpected friendliness, kindness and an unhurried mindset that just seem to be part of the slow-living Montagu vibe. It was quite a moment for me.  

A morning walk, a takeaway coffee and no pepper spray

I love to walk in the early mornings with a takeaway coffee from one of the local coffee shops. Surrounded by the soaring Langeberg mountains - with olive groves and vineyards literally on your doorstep - walking about town is a real spoil, with captivating views I am sure one will never tire of. 

Lekker Koffie Montagu Route 62 + Krige Gallery

The architectural beauty adds another layer to the experience. From Cape Victorian and Cape Karoo styles to Cape Dutch and Georgian symmetry, the buildings are framed by roses, bougainvillaea, rambling vines, potted spekbome, and salt box hedges. If you weren’t a photographer before, you will quickly become one as you immerse yourself in the characterful history and prettiness. 

(Because of the ‘kuiering’ nature of these Klein Karoo townsfolk, you do need to set aside a little bit more time for your walk in case you bump into someone). 

Although the coffee shops aren’t as accommodating here (none open at 06h30), there are a couple that open at 07h00. And any barista you meet is soon going to recognise you as a local, pre-empt your order, and quickly become a familiar friend. 

I knew you could take the girl out of the city, but I wasn’t sure if you could take the city out of the girl. (The test? Whether I felt the need to walk with my pepper spray or not). 

Oom Boetie's welcome

One Sunday morning - accompanied by the church bells - we took a walk to get fresh croissants (and an apple Danish) from one of the local bakeries. (It all sounds very romantic and French Provencal). En route, we bumped into the iconic ‘Oom Boetie’ with his walking stick and backpack. 

Montagu West + Langeberg Mountains Route 62

Of course he stopped to chat to us ‘strangers;’ that is simply what the locals do. He’s in his 90s, and having been born here, his first welcome response on hearing that we were new to Montagu was, ‘You are going to love living here.’ (Having lived here for almost a century, he should know).

Apricots and jam

If life hands you apricots…make jam. 😉

In my mind, slow living and moving to the Klein Karoo presuppose a couple of things. One is sitting on your porch with a cup of tea or coffee, enjoying the scenic landscape and mountain breeze, and the other is making jam. 

Long Street, Montagu + Die Boord apricot orchard

Arriving in November signalled the apricot harvest, and although I have never made jam before, now seemed a good time to start, especially with apricots, fresh from the orchard, @R6/kg! (That is not a typo). 

Armed with a recipe from my daughter-in-law that also contained cinnamon sticks, my first batch of apricot jam was a success and there was even enough to share a jar or two with friends and neighbours. 

Apricot jam

The local library and municipality

It was good to walk into a library again; it smelled like home. -Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian.

Public libraries are endangered, so when you stumble across one, the delight and literary nostalgia are almost too much to handle.  

We came across the Montagu public library purely by chance. 

The logistics of relocating entail visits to the local municipality; a dreaded South African experience that is usually fraught with a service mindset that embodies incompetence, rudeness, delays and inefficiencies. 

But that was not the case at the Langeberg Municipal offices in Montagu. Firstly, they are housed in a beautiful historic building built in 1893. Secondly, they are clean and air conditioned. Thirdly, the staff are friendly, competent, helpful and proactive, and fourthly, they share the building with the local public library. 

Opening the door to the library felt like revisiting the innocence and joy of rich childhood memories, a time I thought was forever lost in the wake of the 4th Industrial Revolution. An old-school vibe and a hushed respect for the rows of bookshelves protecting stories and knowledge completely enveloped me and I was instantly drawn in. On the spot I applied to become a member. 

A sense of place

Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground. -Judith Thurman

Montagu vies Route 62

On reflection, the above sentiment is what Montagu has become to me, a place that, a year ago, I had never been to but from the first visit, felt like a place I was ‘homesick’ for. (I must be a dreamer).

And now, thanks to a special and unexplained fusion of people and place - where interactions are both casual and meaningful - Montagu has become home for us ‘inkommers.’  



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