Johannesburg Travel Guide
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The Westcliff Johannesburg
You guys, the hotel news keeps rolling in so fast we can barely keep up with it. In order to get us all up to speed, we’ll give you a brief rundown of some of the latest news & rumors for Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, Rosewood and SBE that have us mighty intrigued.
Starting in South Africa, Business Traveller reported last week the venerable Westcliff Johannesburg will move from Orient-Express to Four Seasons, and based on our own investigation, that does look to be happening. If you’ve had Sunday brunch at the glorious La Belle Terrasse, spent time at the pool, and wandered its cobblestone streets and lush gardens, you know this place is easy to fall in love with. If indeed ‘substantial’ renovations will be part of the transition, things will only get that much better.
Surprising as it might be, late next year will be the first time Four Seasons will get in on the luxury hotel action in Dubai, with a 237-room resort at the northern end of Jumeirah Beach. More in the Middle East should follow in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain, Doha, Jeddah, and Kuwait. Like Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons is also planning on Kyoto and Casablanca, and if that wasn’t enough, we’re hearing about South America (with a number of hotels in Brazil) and various rumors elsewhere as well.
Every so often we feature a hotel review from our readers that we feel should be shared with the rest of you dear hotel guests. These reviews are highlighted because they are timely, about cool hotels in cool places and are relatively level-headed. Think you can submit one just like this? Send it in.
This time, a reader sends in a quick dispatch from the Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg.
What a lovely hotel, it's built like a small village on a hillside overlooking the city. Sunday brunch at La Belle Terrasse is a very nice way to while away the day, sitting outside on the terrace above the infinity pool, watching elephants and giraffes in Johannesburg Zoo at the foot of the hill.
While Jaunted takes you on a tour of the 2010 World Cup Stadiums in South Africa, we're interested in where the football players are spending their nights. And for the U.S. team, it's the Irene Country Lodge, just north of Johannesburg in the village of Irene.
The lodge has only 74 rooms (25 of which are new) and the decor is "English Country Manor." Rates start around $170 USD a night and rooms are equipped with wireless internet (for a fee), minibars, 24-hour room service and DSTV satellite television, although we did spy some chunky box TVs in armoires in one of the room photos.
But perhaps the players won't need to use the TV, not when they've got a lake to look out onto and a herd of cows to observe. (Hmmm...but we hope they brought their iPods and laptops just in case.)
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Complete with the sassy new Radisson Blu branding, the former Radisson SAS chain has a new hotel in South Africa. The Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton has just opened in Johannesburg and it sounds cool enough to go with the "Blu" title.
Big flat-screen LCD TVs for all, complimentary WiFi for all, and a big wine bar and lounge, this hotel sounds great except for one not-so-cool (well, to us) feature. As part of its ONEwellness Spa and fitness center, it's got this:
an indoor/outdoor jogging course that snakes in and out of the hotel’s public areas.
So they want us to jog, sweaty and puffy, through public areas of the hotel? The hotel designers obviously have a lot more self-confidence in their jogging styles than we do.
Right now rooms are going for 1600 Rand ($180) for a standard room and from 2450 Rand ($270) for a one-room suite including breakfast. Public exposure to your jogging is included for free.
The Peech Hotel in Johannesburg seems to be going for all the angles. It's a boutique hotel, it's proudly eco-friendly, and it's a loud, proud member of all the biggest social networking sites. How much cooler could you get?
For a start, they've got their own Facebook page and for once, it doesn't look like the only fans are staff, because they've got (a few) fans from across the world. It's early days but they're doing all the normal Facebook stuff like adding photos and events; someone's started a discussion but we're hoping to see more.
The Peech also started Twittering a few weeks ago, giving a few updates on events and advertising links to special rates. And on top of all that, they offer a link on their website to call them by Skype rather than use actual money, so we like that too.
Of course, one day every hotel under the sun will be on Facebook and Twitter, but The Peech is one of the pioneers out there. Now we have to ask: Does this make you want to book a room there?
[Photo: The Peech Hotel on Facebook]
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The Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg takes the meaning of 'surreal' to a new level. It's an over-the-top opulent boutique hotel inside what looks and feels like a high-security prison.
Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, has a reputation for being dangerous--or at least, it's dangerous to be rich. And the Saxon Hotel is where the Really Rich stay. It's a 24-room boutique extravaganza of a hotel, but for security reasons it's set behind a 10-ft. stone wall topped with barbed wire and lined with armed guards.
The entrance roads are a kind of maze, with various gates opening at various unpredictable times to throw would-be robbers off the scent--you have to wait for a hotel car to guide your taxi through the maze. The grounds are large so you can't see all this from the hotel itself, but it's an unsettling experience.
What do Luciano Pavarotti, Will Smith, the Black Eyed Peas, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Manchester soccer team have in common? They've all stayed at the Intercontinental Palazzo Hotel in Johannesburg, which means it must be good enough for us, too. Hotel reviewer John Grant felt the same way so he took his wife there for a romantic getaway as the hotel offers quite the package now through December 31st.
If you're looking for romance fit for Pavrotti or even Fergie then check out this deal: King bed Suite, full English breakfast, floating candles in the bath, in-room fruit and chocolate platter, bottle of sparkling wine, and a "gift" from the hotel. With this full recipe for love, the next question is obvious--how's the bed?
Our room was a standard room with warm colours and a comfortable king-size bed - much appreciated at our age as it allows you that full stretch without pushing your partner off the bed. Actually, there is nothing quite like the feel of cool, crisp white hotel sheets with enough pillows to sink a battle ship. I suppose, in some ways, a bed might be considered a battlefield of a kind, or alternatively, a romantic bower.
That last part may have just been a bit too much information.
Anyhow, the only fault John Grant found with the place was the lack of seating at breakfast the following morning. But if the bed is so good, we wonder why he didn't just opt to eat breakfast in it?
This is a quick room tour of the Park Hyatt Johannesburg but the room and bath are excellent and there are killer views of the hotel pool and gardens.
The Guardian recently had a report on the reinvention of Johannesburg, calling it, "A fantastically vibrant mix of brash upstart and grand old dame, where Africa meets Europe via southern California."
Among the hotels reviewed is the Melrose Arch in Northern Johannesburg, located in the "city within a city" Melrose Arch development.
The Guardian writes:
If Virgin did hotels, then Melrose Arch would be the result - hip, urban cool, aiming to a thirtysomething Yuppie crowd. Hallways are lit by a rainbow of subdued lighting. Rooms have wooden floors, and the large, egg-shaped bath is separated from the living area only by a curtain. By the lobby downstairs there's a recreation of a London club complete with fireplace, wood panelling, oversize leather couches and bar.
Meanwhile, over at Gridskipper, they deem the rooms "fine exemplars of upscale chic" but note that the hotel's desire to endear itself to world travelers takes away from the feeling (or lack thereof) of "local authenticity". Sure, maybe the in-room flat-screen TVs with DVD players and surround sound don't really say "South Africa"...but pop in a little safari DVD and who's complaining now?
Johannesburg is one of South Africa's, and the world's, most vibrant and economically progressive cities, and it is also home to at least one boutique hotel that Vanity Fair writer, Victoria Mather considers to have a "sense of place".
In this month's issue, Mather tells her readers of a modern South Africa that is most characterized by swanky bars, nightclubs, and jazz. She affectionately, if not accurately, refers to Cape Town as the "African Manhattan".
Instead of heading for the "bush", safaris, and wine country, like most tourists to South Africa, she spends her days and nights experiencing the energy and music of a burgeoning new metropolis. One hotel in particular punctuated her experience with African elegance.
In her words:
I stayed at boutique hotels with a sense of place. Ten Bompas, in a leafy, smart Jo'burg suburb, has just 10 suites---each with a wood-burning fireplace and effortless WiFi---a superb restaurant, and a front desk full of great knowledge of the local scene. Every morning at little Kensington Place, in Cape Town, I drew my curtains and Table Mountain was glittering in the sun above my balcony. In the evening there was champagne and oysters in the bar. When I left, the staff hugged me. That would reinforce Blanche DuBoise's belief in the kindness of strangers.
No wonder we suggested the Amazing Racers stay there back in March--before the Amazing Race jumped the shark and went family of four.
Karma. In a place as spiritual as South Africa, you don't run around shrieking to the CBS cameras: "I am not losing to the old folks. I look at them as sacrificial lambs."
Oh, and for future reference, you also stop to check on folks who have been in an obviously scary car wreck. Karma, it does count for something, you'll see.
Anyway, last nights episode was two parts, and there obviously isn't much we can say about 14 beds in a desert, thus we will concentrate on South African digs.
Our choice? Ten Bompas Hotel, of course. No, it is really no where near Nelson Mandela's birthplace, however, the property is a cool boutique hotel located in Johannesburg, between downtown and the business districts of Santon and Rosebank in South Africa.
There are only ten suites here, but hey, there are only six teams left, so capacity shouldn't be an issues.
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