It is always worth taking the scenic route. Hit the highway and you miss all the good stuff: The mountain passes and open plains that fill you up with awe and inspiration; The tiny towns where you can indulge in roosterkoek fresh from the braai, plattelandse kookkos or proper melktert; And you can’t browse the farm stalls for local produce and preserves like your gran use to make them.
Recently we were invited by Cape Country Routes to spend a few nights in the Karoo, which meant we could take a road trip up Route 62 to Oudtshoorn. This is one of the most popular South African back-roads, which offers up a series of spectacular landscapes all the way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
As soon as you pass through the Toll Gate on the other side of Paarl, you’re met with sweeping views of the wine valley as you climb up to the Huguenot Tunnel (and if you have an extra hour, the mountain pass is absolutely worth it). On the other side of you’re greeted with spectacular mountains towering on either side of you, which open up to the gorgeous winelands surrounding Rawsonville, Slanghoek and Worcester.
You’ll leave the N1 just after Worcester, travelling past the picturesque Nuy valley and through the Robertson winelands. Route 62 officially kicks off just before Montagu, taking you through Barrydale, Ladismith, Calitzdorp and then on to Oudtshoorn.
Stay over in Montagu
We spent our first evening at the Montagu Country Hotel, the only original Art Deco hotel in South Africa.
The building dates back to the 1930s and owner Gert Lubbe decided to stay true to this era, sourcing antique furniture and retro ornaments from that time, and decorating the space to reflect the period.
The main hotel building offers a selection of airy, spacious rooms while two Victorian buildings at the back have been done in a classic, old-country style. I was instantly charmed by the double volume ornate ceilings, and cozy feel these offered.
Montagu itself is a quaint little town tucked between the Langeberg mountains, bordered by lush farmlands and orchards. After sitting in a car for a few hours we were keen to explore so we pulled on our running shoes for a quick jog. It is worth experiencing the town on foot. We passed some beautiful Karoo houses with broekielace trims, a series of small-town shops stocking delicious Karoo fair, and a classic plattelandse kerk in the middle of it all. This makes way for quiet roads at the outskirts of town where you can breathe in the cool, quiet evening.
We expected to have dinner at the hotel that evening but instead we were treated to some proper country hospitality. Gert phoned late afternoon to invite us for dinner at his house, joined by another couple who were spending the night in town.
Our host was a master story-teller and entertained us late into the evening with anecdotes from his life in the hospitality industry, along with plenty of wine.
Needless to say we went to bed very merry and woke up a little later than planned. We were also eternally grateful for the full farmhouse breakfast that arrived at our table. After this we only had time for a quick tour of the hotel before we hit the road again, but we were full of plans to return for more adventures.
If you can spend a bit more time in Montagu, book an American Dream Car Tour with Gert – who wouldn’t want to explore the Karoo in a Cadillac? You can also taste your way through the Klein Karoo Wine Route, recoup at the hot springs and visit the donkey sanctuary.
Have lunch at Diesel and Crème in Barrydale
The next stop after Montagu is Barrydale, an equally picturesque little town that is also home to my favourite diner on the route. We had lunch at Diesel & Crème on our way back to Cape Town and it blew me away.
The restaurant is crammed full of road-side paraphernalia and ultra kitsch bric-a-brac, with a few feather boas thrown in for good measure, making it feel like a cross between a play park, vintage costume store and an auto-repair shop. It’s mad cool!
They also serve up seriously good diner grub with a South African twist. Try the Cruella de Vil, a viciously decadent chocolate berry milkshake running over the sides of the jam jar glass, topped off with fluffy whipped cream and a waver biscuit. And have the Jack Daniels Burger for lunch, with a beef pattie smothered in a smokey bourbon sauce, topped with blue cheese and a slice of cooked beetroot. You’ll leave with the top button undone.
Diesel & Crème will be closed from 2 May till 23 May, so pop in again after the break.
Grab cheese in Ladismith and Port in Calitzdorp
While Ladismith is famous for making some of the best cheddar in South Africa, they don’t really have a proper spot showing off their produce. You can, however, grab beautiful dairy products at most grocery spots – we found a delicious mature cheddar at a petrol station. Then load it in and head on to Calitzdorp, the home of fortified wine.
I can highly recommend De Krans Wines. You can have lunch underneath the vines, and they make some of the best fortified wines in South Africa. Try the Cape Pink N/V, the first Cape Pink in South Africa. You don’t find this style all that often and this one delights with candyfloss, plum and cherry flavours.
The other obvious choice is the De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve, which rakes in the awards year after year, and from their wine collection you have to try the Pinotage Rosé and Touriga Nacional. Delish.
Sadly this is all we had time for – plus we were stuffed as turkeys by this point – so I will cover more pits tops the next time I hit Route 62. There is so much to taste, see and do!
If you have any recommendations for me, please pop them on the comments below. I would love to hear from you.
Keep an eye out for my upcoming post on our stay in Oudtshoorn.