Written by: Carrie Hampton
Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. Montagu Country Hotel epitomises nostalgia in all the right ways.
A sense of stepping out of time begins right outside, where a magnificent Art Deco façade places the Montagu Country Hotel firmly in the 1930s. It stays true to this era throughout its main building, with all the furniture and decoration keeping in line, right down to door knobs.
It’s the friendliness of the welcome, prompt attention, eye contact, ready smiles and a willingness to serve that jolts you into remembering that this is how it should be. It’s how it was for Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple, and suddenly here you are in an Agatha Christie time warp that only the Montague Country Hotel can pull off.
One big happy family
Owner Gert Lubbe and general manager PJ Basson have everything to do with this. The staff tell me they think of PJ as the father figure and Gert as their grandfather. Together they create what Dierdre Lekay, a waitress who’s been serving here for 10 years, says is “one big family of 40 staff.” With 31 rooms, that’s a high staff-to-room ratio. The long-standing maintenance man, Kobus Pekeur, was quizzed as to when he might retire and replied, “at the same time as Mr Lubbe; when we both go to our graves.”
Gert Lubbe often says he’s never done a day’s work in his life because being an hotelier isn’t a job, it’s a passion. He has managed to turn this passion into a lifestyle where he glides around the hotel, as only a man of 1.95m tall can, meets and greets everyone, showing as much respect to his staff as he does to his guests.
Proud to be Fair Trade Tourism
Emerentia Stanfliet, now proudly working on the reception after doing pretty much every other job in the hotel, said that when the hotel was accredited by Fair Trade Tourism, she noticed a greater satisfaction in the staff and a busier hotel as well. “The Europeans seem to know about Fair Trade and we are very proud to tell them we are part of Fair Trade Tourism.”
PJ explained that they were already 90% there when they looked at the Fair Trade Tourism criteria, whose vision is ‘global leadership for fair, participatory and sustainable tourism’, and this has always been the essence of Montagu Country Hotel.
Cruise Route 62 in a classic car
Gert is the marketing mind behind Route 62, which has become an iconic tourism route between the Garden Route and Cape Town. It’s a shame that municipalities haven’t embraced it in the same way as the small towns and activity operators along the way. Gert and PJ still struggle to get Route 62 signs installed but won’t give up, even though they receive no tourism marketing budget to represent the route at tourism trade shows like Indaba.
Gert showed me some of the charms of Route 62 in his 1953 De Soto American classic car. It looks so glam parked in front of the hotel and I felt like Jackie Kennedy looking out from behind dark glasses. We cruised through the dramatic Cape mountain scenery, receiving waves from everyone or shouts of, “How are you Mr Lubbe?” He and his car are hard to miss. He never locks it because as he points out, “who’s going to steal this beauty and not be noticed?”
Being noticed is something that the hotel does well too, making an elegant statement in the middle of Montagu. When I asked how they filled the hotel mid-week in the middle of winter, Gert told me that 80% of guests say they were recommended by a friend. PJ believes it to be because of his hard work marketing in Belgium, Holland and Germany.
I met all the local and international tourists and it seemed to me that they were as charmed as I was by the nostalgia of Montagu Country Hotel. My stay here epitomised a rather corny cliché that’s worth the telling, because I really did arrive a stranger and depart a friend.