Taking it easy along the Cape Country Routes
Unlike brisk, whirlwind tours of several destinations at once, this collection of boutique hotels and attractions keeps you in the slow lane
There’s nothing like a little peer pressure to make you question your lifestyle choices.
We’ve just cycled to Lanzerac Wine Estate near Stellenbosch and I’m looking forward to a wine and chocolate pairing.
But my companions demurely decline the wine and just nibble the chocolate. I carry on regardless, aiming for the sweet spot of sufficient mid-morning wine to erode my cycling nerves without tumbling off in a giggling heap.
On the way back I play the age card anyway and commandeer the one electric bike provided by our Adventure Shop guides. It’s fabulous, breezing along the pretty roads around Stellenbosch with barely any legwork.
I’m exploring with Cape Country Routes (CCR), a collection of boutique hotels and attractions clustered along the roads from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Most of the members are further inland than the busy N2 coastal route, and they’re out to persuade tourists to shun the highway and discover the scenic treasures and quirky gems on less frantic roads.
The initials CCR also stand for charm, character and romance, its members boast, with hotels listed only if they’re brimming with atmosphere. The attractions around them are also carefully curated, to entice people to linger a while before hitting the road again.
It all fits in nicely with the growing global trend towards slow travel, a welcome alternative to rushing through a town, a region or an entire country too quickly to savour the flavour as you tick all the must-see boxes.
Our base for a couple of nights has been Eendracht Hotel in the centre of Stellenbosch. It’s lovely to walk downstairs and then step through the front door into wide, oak-lined avenues that haven’t changed for decades.
The hotel’s soft-spoken owner Daniel Lutz tells us the Eendracht was spruced up last year during a very brief shutdown, and it’s now back up to wildly successful 90% occupancy rate.
All the Cape Country Routes hotels have stories behind them, and the owners are usually around to share them with you. Across town is the Evergreen Manor & Spa hotel, where the owners Riël and Christina Meynhardt recount lovely stories over champagne breakfast. They bought the property when it was a run-down student hovel, and built it up gradually, always just one step ahead of the customers whose deposits were funding the renovations. Now it’s another of the CCR’s individualistic gems where you want to linger in the lounge or wish Stellenbosch winters were warm enough to make the two splash pools a viable option.
A scenic 156kms away, or 210km if you follow an even wigglier route through the Matroosberg mountains, lies Montagu. That’s a town where Joburgers instantly notice the lack of electric fences and burglar bars, and feel tempted to rob somewhere just to keep the crime rate respectable.
I rue that wicked thought the minute I enter the Montagu Country Hotel, because it really would be a crime if anything disappeared from this place. A slow tourist can happily spend hours admiring all its art deco furniture. It’s the only original art deco hotel in the country, the manager P-J Basson tells us, although the original hotel was built in 1875 and demolished later when this art deco upstart took its place in 1922.
Bits of the hotel pop up in various places as you stroll through the gardens, with a spa in a converted laundry block and a wing with bedrooms so plush you can’t imagine that this section was once a jail.
It’s pet-friendly too, with seven rooms that can accommodate dogs and their owners. They don’t encourage bigger breeds or prizefighting pit bulls, Basson says, which must be a relief to Coco, the resident and slightly supercilious cat.
The hotel’s oddball style is enhanced by the gentle notes of pianist Willian Tamani playing the baby grand every evening. He plays by ear because he can’t read music, and got the job because his late mother was a waitress here and he filled in whenever the previous elderly pianist was off duty.
He tinkles away while we enjoy dinner that includes an amuse bouche of smoked trout pate and seared swordfish with saffron foam then a delicious multipart dessert, including brown bread ice cream on salted caramel jelly and caramelised brioche. You can order simpler food too, but the chef does enjoy putting on a performance.
Every room in this quirky hotel is different, and I briefly tut at my ornate desk because furniture made a century ago wasn’t designed with laptops in mind.
But that’s a timely hint to close my Mac, pull on the hiking boots, and go and explore the nearby Langeberg Mountains. A steep path winds to a beacon at the top, and I stop a few times to take photos, partly to disguise the fact that I’m really pausing to get my breath back. The views are gorgeous, but on the way down three of us lose the path and end up scrambling down scree slopes and clinging on to thorn bushes for support, a painful idea but better than planting your face in the shale.
I was on much surer footing climbing into a sleek blue 1956 DeSoto Fireflight Sportsman coupe one evening for a sunset drive. It’s the only car of its kind in the country and American Dream Cars hire it out along with a driver for R630 an hour. Everybody we pass stops to look and wave, and I wave back, trying to emulate a 1950s film star. The car is hired for all sorts of events, except for matric parties, Basson tells me. I imagine the students getting up to disreputable hijinks in the broad back seats, but apparently that’s not the problem. Matric dances involve lots of long, slow-moving queues, and the DeSoto’s temperamental engine would overheat.
The next day we take point our less glamorous but hardier van to Van Loveren Wine Estate, and after lunch in an airy restaurant surrounded by endlessly-explorable gardens we start the wine tasting. I line up a row of Chardonnays, and sip them thoughtfully, like the slow tourist I’ve become.
- Stones was a guest of Cape Country Routes
To plan a tour around the region, visit www.capecountryroutes to see suggested routes, read about local activities and view the accommodation options. You can contact the hotels directly via the website, or contact the marketing department for advice on piecing a trip together.