Montagu and Swellendam are historic towns to the east of the winelands in an area known as the ‘Overberg’, literally ‘over the mountain’. These days, the Hugenot tunnel on the N1 offers a faster route through the mountains to the east of Cape Town. On the other side lies a huge area of fruit and wine farms, a scenic land of mountains and valleys, giving way to the drier Little Karoo to the north, and the coastal plain to the south.
On the east side of these mountains, lies the Breede River Valley, an area of fruit and wine farms, which marks the start of Route 62. This is one of South Africa’s hidden secrets - a most scenic drive through to Oudshoorn and George which takes you through fertile valleys and spectacular mountain passes, known as kloofs, built by British engineers in the nineteenth century. The first of these, Cogmans Kloof, is a five km route cut through red and ochre rock between Ashton and Montagu.
Montagu, situated between two mountain ranges, is famous for its hot mineral springs, and is a town of great natural beauty. With its wine farms, its orchards and its fresh clean air, Montagu makes an ideal stop over between Cape Town and the Garden Route.
The town was founded in 1851 by John Montagu, a British administrator who commissioned the building of Cogman’s Kloof. The town features many 19th century buildings, as well as a lifestyle museum which has a serious section on the medicinal properties of plants – herbal remedies passed down from the original Khoisan inhabitants.
There are a number of hiking trails, which begin at the north end of town, and for those who are less hardy, there is a three-hour tractor-train which takes you up to the top of the Langeberg Mountains (ask us to check departure days and times).
For a small town, there are a number of good places to eat, as well as an excellent farm stall selling local produce.
Swellendam, to the south of Montagu, on the other side of the Langeberg Mountains, is one hundred years older. The town was founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1745 as a means of regaining control over those Boer farmers who had moved away from the Cape, to avoid taxes and controls. It is the third oldest white settlement in South Africa.
Two hours out of Cape Town on the N2, Swellendam makes a great base for touring the Overberg region. In town there are historic buildings – the Drostdy Museum is actually a complex of historic buildings – and out of town there are wine farms, and in particular, the Bontebok National Park which preserves the rare bontebok antelope and is also home to several other unusual species. It’s a lovely park, with nature trails and the Breede River running through it.