Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and the entry point for safaris and other exotic adventures, is the first taste of Africa for many travelers. The cosmopolitan northern suburbs where most high-end hotels and restaurants are located feel more like Atlanta than Africa: tiny neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe, but blend together to create the total heartbeat of the city. Here you’ll find upscale shopping, trendy dining and luxury hotels. To explore more of the “City of Gold,” book a tour that includes Soweto, where both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had homes and many of the nation’s struggles took place. Below are a few outstanding hotel options:
The spacious Egoli Suite at the Saxon.
Staying at the sumptuous and exclusive Saxon is reminiscent of visiting a private estate where your every need has been anticipated and your hosts have impeccable taste. In fact, the Saxon started life as the residence of tycoon Douw Steyn, who’s best known for hosting Nelson Mandela here when he wrote his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. You can book the room where Mandela stayed—The Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite—which is 3,700 square feet and comprises two bedrooms, an enormous lounge, dining room, butler’s kitchen, an impressive granite four-poster bed, and a luxuriously appointed bathroom, complete with Jacuzzi and steam room.
All of the 24 contemporary rooms are actually luxurious open-plan suites that open onto the six acres of rolling, manicured gardens or one of the pools and reflecting ponds that surround the hotel. The most popular rooms are the 20 Egoli Suites, which are nearly 1,000 square feet. There are also three grand Presidential Suites that have separate entrance hallways, private balconies, butler kitchens, and a separate guest bathroom. Private butlers see to each guest’s every need.
The Platinum Bedroom at the Saxon Hotel.
Freestanding Saxon Spa and Studio combines traditional services with signature treatments such Sound Therapy, which utilizes gongs, cymbals, singing bowls, and bells. Hydrotherapy, a flotation pool, heated jet pool, sauna, cold plunge pools, and two outdoor pools add to the sybaritic experience. The Restaurant at the Saxon serves continental food with African flair; the candlelit wine cellar lends itself to a romantic evening.
The secluded location and private atmosphere of the Saxon make it a favorite of celebrities. Recent guests include Charlize Theron, Oprah Winfrey, Fran Drescher, Kathleen Turner, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt and Prince Edward. For celebrity-worthy VIP services, contact Natasha Cassim, reservations manager (27 011 292 6000, [email protected]).
In the popular shopping area of Rosebank, the Grace has a warm and inviting home-away-from-home ambiance and a clubby British character, as evident in the comfortable lounge and furnishings. The attentive (though never intrusive) service begins with check-in on a comfy couch with a glass of sherry or tea and extends to the in-room coffee service, complete with small pitchers of cold milk in the mini-bar and valets who unpack bags and press clothes. Complimentary perks include a neck and shoulder massage, high tea and evening refreshments.
All bedrooms at the Grace Hotel are warm and inviting.
The Grace is attached by skywalk to the fashionable Rosebank Mall, which gives guests the ability to visit at their leisure. There are a number of shops and restaurants at the mall, but the highlight is the popular outdoor African Market, the perfect spot to acquire curios from all over Africa.
The Dining Room restaurant is popular with locals, especially business people, for chef Raymond Rundle’s braised Springbok shank and local seafood selections. Guests shouldn’t miss the lavish breakfast presentation that runs the length of the room. The fifth-floor Spa offers African-centric treatments, such as an African potato wrap and a technique called “Africology” deep tissue massage in addition to a full menu of treatments using Elemis products.
For VIP services, agents can contact General Manager Bill Frohlich, (27 011 280 7200, [email protected]) or Lesley Mason, the guest services manager ([email protected]).
Melrose Arch Hotel
Trendy Melrose Arch Hotel channels the hippest hotels in New York and Miami—parent company Protea’s inspirations included the Hudson Hotel and the Delano—and translate them into African chic. Although you might feel like you’re in South Beach when you see the whimsical giant potted trees and lounge chairs in the pool, Johannesburg’s Melrose Arch development with stores and restaurants, including popular African Moyo restaurant, are just steps away.
A bedroom at the Melrose Arch Hotel.
The modern rooms all have flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and surround sound. Bathrooms feature double sinks, rain showers and Jacuzzi tubs. The most exclusive room to book is the Penthouse Suite, a private apartment with an outdoor shower, Zen garden, lounge area and bar, and private study. The 12 Executive Suites, as well as the 35 pool-facing rooms, are the most requested accommodations. All rooms can be booked over the GDS.
The hotel’s posh Library Bar is quite popular with locals, as is the stylish March Restaurant where a room-length communal table is “the” place to be seen while nibbling on “world” cuisine.
One of the many unique elements at the hotel is the glass-enclosed media room in the middle of the lobby. Any guest can utilize the high-tech space, and the hotel often surprises honeymooners with a bottle of champagne and a movie here. For children, the ProKids program arranges age-appropriate kid diversions, from chalkboards to Play Stations.
The Melrose Arch Hotel's pool features potted trees, tables and chairs for maximum relaxation.
For VIP treatment, such as the Barbie-themed room created for one 12-year-old guest, agents should contact Marketing Manager Desaree van Eeden (27 011 214 6666, [email protected]). To book excursions and ground transfers, agents contact Head Concierge Gabrielle Abrahams ([email protected]).
Travel Agent Julian Harrison’s South Africa Picks
Julian Harrison, president of Premier Tours in Philadelphia, has been selling South Africa for 24 years. Here are a few of his top picks for a trip to South Africa: “Cape Town is my favorite city because of its diversity in terms of nature (whale watching, shark diving, penguins), access to the wine region, botany, its incredible beauty, and its cosmopolitan feel.”
Julian suggests two special outings in Cape Town: kayaking with penguins by Boulders Beach and walking with a troupe of habituated baboons at Cape Point National Park.
For dining, Julian recommends clients try an authentic ethnic restaurant, such as Africa Café in Cape Town or Moyo in Johannesburg, to get a feel for what traditional African cuisine is all about.