• A Cycle to Remember: Montagu, Plunge Pools & Peace

    Big city life, in all its bustling concrete beauty, can contribute to anxiety about venturing beyond what you may know for some peaceful leisure – especially during a global pandemic.

    So, maybe now is the time to do something different under the guise of ‘the new normal’ ,  take the roads less travelled – enjoying the spoils of small town living with less crowding and chatter.

    Just this last week, I enthusiastically cycled towards the opportunity to enjoy a charming corner of the Cape, and what I found may tempt you to have a fitcation, at this delightfully small town – Montagu.

    A large proponent of my travels’ successes is owed to the quest for unique spots – a cute café, or a village favourite; and sometimes I just like the difference of a fitcation, in comparison to traditional leisure or business travels. Timing this adventure to the Montagu area, with a cycling event, was a stroke of genius I’ll admit, because I got the best of what I enjoy on trips: food, fun, and fantastic hospitality.

    Have you ever heard of the term “Cottagecore”?

    In another manifestation of the internets incredible influence, Cottagecore has become the new craze for visual aesthetics, characterised according to Architectural Digest, as “images of nostalgic countryside scenes…hearkening back to agricultural life, skills, and crafts…As a concept, it embraces a simpler, sustainable existence that is more harmonious with nature.” I mention this enchanting visual and lifestyle phenomena, because I got to experience Cottagecore in fine form in Montagu, during my stay at Stone Olive Cottage.

    This farm-style cottage, equipped with 3 friendly dogs to enhance the already warm and fuzzy feeling of secluded romance and history, is a Montagu gem.

    The commendably helpful and hospitable owners showed us into our rustic cottage, and I was immediately struck by the neutral tones and clean lines of the converted space, which evoke the best parts of unfettered countryside’s around the world.

    If the peaceful interiors (and no television in sight) are not enough for you, perhaps the 2.8meter deep plunge pool or outdoor shower will enhance your joy. This place was entirely enchanting, most especially with the olive fields framing every view.

    Finishing off the picture perfect farm setting experience, is also flavours of the country, with guests invited to help themselves to the massive fruit & vegetable garden, having farm fresh milk at the ready, rich coffees available to sip as the need arises, and the owners even making us fresh olives to snack on.

    Walk me through the cycling bit of the fitcation

    Cycling is one of my more consistent sporting loves, and I really love the opportunities I get to take one of my bikes onto roads or paths that will challenge me. The Cape Classic 380 is a cycling event like very few others, where competition isn’t chief, but people and connection are.

    The event had its highest turnout ever though, with 47 entrants, and 52% of them being female riders. To be in such good company, was an incredible experience in itself.

    The start line for the Cape Classic 380 cycling event was at Montagu’s Mimosa Lodge. This was where the event briefing would be (which we may have missed, and subsequently settled in poolside – oops!).

    We also dined there on Thursday evening, with other media folk, and we wrapped up the cycling experience there too. Mimosa was a good base to be introduced to the Montagu area, and establish ones base of service, general population behaviour, and adherence to pandemic protocols. They were rigorous with their no-touch protocols, with really good hygiene and safety principles running from lodge to restaurant. This was mirrored everywhere we encountered in the Montagu community. The service was impeccable, and the food went down easy. You can be sure that you would not regret dining at Mimosa Lodge.

    Everything Mimosa Lodge got right, led to a wonderful start to Day 1 of the Cape Classic 380 cycling event. The cycling distance for Day 1, was 100km in the Koo Valley, with an elevation of 1500m. From 7am, we headed out towards the formidable Burgers and Rooihoogte passes, with a better kick-off pace than usual.

    As an enthusiastic fitness participant and not a competitive athlete, it was perfect for us riders to not be harried, in some tiring echo of the Tour de France. The event let us enjoy the experience of cycling and scenery; flowing with no push to catch up unless you were competing for the sponsors’ prizes.

    Cycling back to Montagu for lunch/a water point and jersey presentations, offered up the chance to explore more of the town and its offerings. I discovered that small town café’s really stay true to their reputation for well-stocked tasty treats (think coffee, sandwiches, date balls and more), a brief respite, and all the charm. Oupa Batt se Winkel is one stop I recommend you take.

    What of Dinner?

    The media dinner at 22 Church Street Restaurant, was honestly one of the highlights of this town. While being brilliantly strict on their Covid-19 hygiene protocols, their resident chef (and owner)

    Sanel delivered a foodie dinner of note. In the middle of Montagu, chef Sanel serves up what one could argue is fine dining in pleasant portions, including: ceviche, well-seasoned grilled meats, chilli poppers, kimchi, and Korean barbeque lollipops too.

    She’s creative with the food, and taking the adventures of the world, and then grounding them in South African sensibilities – an impossible to resist dining offer. Seasonal wares make up the bulk of the ingredient list, and the food is plated wonderfully and delivered with world class service. Eating at 22 Church Street means a feast of the eyes, before the flavours even hit your tongue, that’s for sure!

    Was there another day of cycling?

    Another day in Montagu, meant more cycling – and I could not wait to kick-off from Mimosa Lodge once again, to explore more of this area during my fitcation. You may worry about the weather being more of the Cape Town temperament here, but Montagu has some ideal conditions, that are neither too hot or too cold.

    At 7am, we headed out to Cogmans Kloof Pass, and were bound for Swellendam in some surprisingly tough conditions.

    The cycling route we took, is part of the Double Century route – one of the biggest climbs, and good training for my upcoming 202km attempt there. It was awe-inspiring to see how the organizers of the Cape Classic 380, had worked along with the Swellendam Provincial Traffic department as well as Think Bike, to ensure the riders safety, while negotiating the rolling roads towards the stunning Tradouw Pass.

    Day 2s water point was at Joubert-Tradauw wine farm, where lunch catered for everyone, including those gluten-free folks, vegans, meat eaters, and more.

    This is also where I discovered the local trampoline and had even more fun for my fitcation.

    Also a perfect recovery for wary legs after a long morning of cycling.

    Once the digestive system had done its thing, we were bound back to Montagu, climbing the Op de Tradouw – considered the longest stage of the cycling event, climbing at 1870m. It was rewarding though.

    What else went on at this cycling event?

    The end of Day 2s ride meant massages, and a group dinner at Mimosa lodge with their cleverly done dining safety protocols , like individual serving spoons.

    We rewarded our cycling efforts, with healthy servings of salads to start, and then stews, chicken, meats, vegan options etc.

    The Cape Classic 380 also has a pretty fun tradition of a prize giving, with categories like ‘King & Queen of the Mountain’, and ‘Top rider of the Day’.

    I was in charge of the ‘fines’ – data mining silly things like who tried to take a selfie on the bike that day, finding out that one ride captain wouldn’t let the back riders push his wife (which is a helpful way of steering someone forward in a ride event); there was the guy who tried to get his warm clothes off while on the bike, which could have caused an accident – and this was also the same thing he did last year!

    Day 3 is basically the cherry on top, for this cycling event. Aptly named “A Cruise around the Breede River”, this 105km cycle is picturesque, and could probably qualify as a therapeutic treatment in the lush terrain.

    Our peloton crossed trestle bridges as we cycled towards our Bonnievale Cellars waterpoint, as well as the magnificent Breede River.

    The finish climb over Remhoogte really put your legs to the test after already braving over 300  kilometres, which made the  champagne at the reception a welcome finish; Cape Classic 380 did not disappoint this year.

    It wouldn’t be an outdoor adventure, if I didn’t tell you about the blunder, of the wind taking my bike from under me, and having to make the decision to tumble into a bush. Naturally, your favourite giraffe ended up with nothing more than one scratch and a smile – very on-brand!

    The verdict?

    Montagu in the Western Cape is wonderfully welcoming, for singles, couples, and families too. You can enjoy activities or settle in for some rest and relaxation. Additionally, the people In Montagu were being exemplary in their helpfulness, warmness, and genuine kindness.

    This cycling ride experience specifically, is all about the social…the comradery – it is not a race, but rather an opportunity to do a sport you love, while getting to know others. Its not rooted in mass participation, but is superbly well-organized. People riding are driven by the scenery more than a finish line.

    The Cape Classic 380 is utterly enjoyable in its meaningful connection-making in that most of the participants have returned annually for the past 3-4 years.

    Its lovely to have an environment where you pickup where you left off with people – fostering community and fitness fun.

    The event will take place again next year, and entries will be opening in January at www.capeclassic.info