Johannesburg is not just all work and no play. If you know where to look you’ll find sumptuous destinations for a break from the frenetic activity. Try these boutique hotels that are perfect for the gourmet traveller in the city of gold
The prevailing wisdom is that there is nothing interesting for foreign guests to see and do in Johannesburg. Well, think again. We’ve rounded up three boutique hotels in Johannesburg’s immediate periphery, each offering something utterly unique in an environment of extreme comfort. Only an hour’s drive (or less) from the city centre, there is game to be seen, raw uncultivated bush to be experienced, beauty treatments to wallow in and superb food, with wines to match, to savour.
This is the equivalent of James Hilton’s fictional Shangri-la from the novel Lost Horizon: “A secluded hideaway of great beauty and tranquillity.”
A feast for the eyes, especially if you time your arrival with dusk when it’s at its glowing best. The restaurant’s menu and wine list are drop-dead delicious.
WHY GO THERE
It’s a five-star fantasy castle that houses one of the best restaurants in the country. Beauty is everywhere, from the way the food is plated to the untouched hills that surround it. Located in a francolin reserve unencumbered by any nearby buildings, it’s easy to forget that Johannesburg is only a stone’s throw away. It’s ideal for the traveller with limited time who wants to get a taste of the bush.
An ochre-coloured Moorish palace with garden pathways, palmed courtyards and trickling fountains.
The Orient, in this sense, does not apply strictly to the East. It is meant to evoke any associations of the exotic imagined by Europeans in the late 19th century. Externally, the hotel takes its cue from Moorish desert palaces. Internally, it is an amalgam of fantasy, combining design elements intrinsic to the British Raj, Byzantine Constantinople, the Orient Express and the silk route.
Opulent and gilded, like a Gustav Klimt painting. Much use is made of heavy dark wood antique furniture, original oil paintings, heavy carved doors from India, ancient photographs, lattice screens, chairs and sofas you can drown in and dimly lit rooms.
As big a draw card as the architecture, the food and wine lists of Restaurant Mosaic are extraordinary. It received the 2008 American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award. Chef Chantal Dartnall and sous chef Izanne Mocke labour intensively over inventive dishes of unparalleled quality and excitement: think fresh girolle mushrooms imported from Europe; white truffles; and breakfast hot chocolate made with pure chocolate and spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. Choose from a six-course tasting menu or à la carte selection. Extensive use is made of edible flowers, fashioned into miniature works of art.
Sleep in one of 12 suites with exotic names like Gujerat, Samrakand or Marrakesh. Feel like royalty in king-size four-poster antique beds with enormous bathrooms to match, private balconies and heavy carved wooden doors that admit you into a room that feels like a suite on the Orient Express.
SEE AND DO
• Play a round of golf at Pecanwood, only 20km away.
• Go for a hike in the deep gorges of the Magaliesburg, just 50km away.
• Do nothing but loll around in the pool with a few rose petals for company.
• Discover the conservancy, with its collection of shrubs, grasses, flowers and francolins. You might be lucky enough to spot antelope such as wildebeest, blesbok, nyala, zebra and impala, or porcupines, genets, duikers and many species of birds.
• Visit the lion park, situated nearby at Lanseria.
Find The Orient in the Francolin Conservancy on the Elandsfontein turn-off from the R104 in the Crocodile River Valley, near Hartebeespoort dam. It is about 53km from Sandton, 31km from Pretoria, 75km from O.R. Tambo International Airport and 20km from Lanseria Airport.
The Orient and Restaurant Mosaic are offering a winter package, comprising one night at the hotel, a sumptuous five-course dinner (excluding wine), breakfast and full use of the mini bar. The package is priced from R2 895 for a luxury suite and R3 295 for a superior suite, for two people. This offer is valid until August 16, 2008.
Call The Orient on 012-371-2902/3/4 or visit www.the-orient.net. Booking is essential for Restaurant Mosaic.
A highly nuanced environment: no hotel in the world takes palaeontology as its focus point. The architecture, food and a prevailing sense of peace are unmatched.
WHY GO THERE
Located in a private game reserve, itself located within the wider geographic area of the Cradle of Humankind, the landscape is the foothills of the Magaliesburg: rolling green hills, tall grasses and cabbage trees. Look out for antelope roaming the reserve. The views are beautiful and calming, and the accommodation is artfully luxurious. It has the added credentials of being a five-star hotel with a killer wine list and award-winning fine dining restaurant.
Architecture and artworks are themed according to the evolution of man in a modern structure of glass and wood, which admits maximum light and fits impeccably into its natural environment.
The Cradle of Humankind is a 47 000 hectare site rich in diverse fossils found in the many caves in the area. These fossils record a great deal about our human ancestors, the hominids, and the environment in which they lived. References to these ancient fossilised remains inform design details.
A touch theatrical. Colours are earthy: ochre, dark green and red, and rooms are lit with stalactite-shaped lampshades, meant to evoke a subterranean feel. Despite the cave-like association you’re in the lap of luxury here. It’s glamorous, modern and warm.
Chef Philippe Wagenfuhrer heads up a kitchen serving imaginative fouror six-course degustation menus with fresh French, African and Asian influences. The menu changes daily and no course is without its accompanying wine. The food is original and skilfully constructed. The wine list lets visitors to South Africa experience a laudable facet to this country: our wines. The restaurant’s sun deck is a fabulous spot to soak it all up.
There are 14 standard rooms, and a honeymoon and presidential suite, each with a generous bathroom, huge bed, outside shower and views. Grasses, long and short, are cleverly incorporated into its design, serving as both a roof and garden.
SEE AND DO
• Visit the nearby Sterkfontein caves where the most complete skull of an adult female was discovered (dubbed Mrs Ples), or explore any one of the dozen limestone caves in the area containing fossils of plants, animals and hominids.
• The Maropeng Centre is nearby, a one-stop-shop for anyone wishing to better understand the fossil heritage and the basis for the argument for human evolution.
• The nearby Lion & Rhino Nature Reserve provides animal sightings virtually on tap.
• Take a few long, lazy hours to really enjoy the restaurant, with its ingenious food and wine matches.
• Book a massage in the privacy of your hotel suite.
• Go on a hot-air balloon safari.
• Hike in the Magaliesburg. Contact the Mountain Club of South Africa for more information, 011-807-1310.
Forum Homini is about 45km from Johannesburg’s city centre and 75km from O.R. Tambo International airport. You’ll find it at Letamo Game Estate, Bartlett Road, Kromdraai (off the Hendrik Potgieter highway).
Forum Homini is offering a winter special until the end of August: R2 900 for a double room, dinner, bed and breakfast. The regular rate for a double room is R3 500 per night, including breakfast, and R4 500 per night for the honeymoon and presidential suites.
It is essential to book prior to a visit to the restaurant. For the restaurant call 011-668-7000. For accommodation enquiries call 0861 466 464 or visit www.forumhomini.com.
SOWETO HOLIDAY INN
A mixture of Kliptown history and African township culture
The hotel has a unique personal style: a seamless recreation of 1950s interior design simultaneously integrating political-social references. It’s an arty hotel with heart.
WHY GO THERE
An A-grade destination for overseas travellers wanting to get a taste of local colour with four-star hotel accommodation in the heart of South Africa’s biggest and most famous township. It is beautifully put together and overlooks a noisy market. Kliptown is historically important as the place where the Congress of the People was held in 1955. This meeting adopted the Freedom Charter on which the present South African constitution is based, and the hotel is located on Freedom Square, where this meeting took place.
A 1950s-esque grey concrete building with balconies overlooking Freedom Square.
The 1950s, associated with the emergence of black empowerment and defiance, was the decade of jazz. References to 1950s fashion, Soweto homes and African jazz legends are a combined theme in the architecture and interior design.
This is not a typical Holiday Inn, and neither should you expect zebra-skin carpets and porcupine quills. Instead, it is themed to give it a sense of place. The result is a flawless layering of comfort that does not let you forget that you have Soweto on your doorstep: township chic (gogo blankets on the beds with mielie sack scatter cushions) combines with a modern application of fifties style. Colours are striking: ochre, mauve and olive greens. Alf Khumalo photographs adorn the walls. It is stylish but does not take itself too seriously: one of the long passages is dubbed “The Long Walk to Freedom”.
In the Jazz Maniacs restaurant and Rusty’s cocktail bar (named for Rusty Bernstein who assisted with drawing up of the Freedom Charter), everything is 100 percent Soweto, with cooks and waiting staff drawn from the area. The place comes alive over weekends when local jazz band, Thato & Friends with vocalist Bertha Mathews, are invited to play and the restaurant becomes more like a jazz lounge. The menu is a balance of chic presentation with familiar ingredients: butternut, sweet potatoes, maize and roast beef, delicious for local and international guests alike.
46 luxury rooms, including two presidential suites.
SEE AND DO
• Take a seat on the spacious balcony and absorb the busy market scene below.
• Book a tour of Jo’burg with Spotted Chameleon tours, 011-318-1199, including old Parktown homes and local geology.
• Spend a night pub-crawling: start at The Rock for a beer and loud beats, then move on to the sultry and stylish Backroom.
• Pop into Masakeng, a Soweto whisky bar with good food.
• Visit museums of cultural interest in the area: the Hector Petersen Museum, the Nelson Mandela Family Museum, the Alf Khumalo Photographic Museum and the Kliptown Open Air Museum. The Apartheid Museum is also worth a visit.
• Spend the day joyriding at nearby Gold Reef City.
The hotel is on the corner of Main and Union Road in Kliptown. It is easily accessible from the Golden Highway that runs past Gold Reef City, 40km from the Johannesburg’s city centre and 60km from O.R. Tambo International Airport.
Rooms start from R1 590 per night and R2 450 per night for the suites, breakfast included.
For reservations, contact Holiday Inn Soweto on 0800 999 136 or visit www.holidayinn.co.za. To contact the hotel directly call 011-527-7300.
GRAEME BORCHERS and VANESSA GROBLER