If you trust Princes William and Harry, Oprah Winfrey, and former President Bill Clinton to know which is the best hotel in Johannesburg, then you may want to choose the Saxon.
We couldn’t agree more. To put into perspective how good this hotel is, the city's Four Seasons would be forced to come in second (we’ve stayed at both).
Even though Johannesburg itself may not intentionally be on the bucket list of most world travelers, it’s the rare visitor to South Africa who does not spend at least one or two nights there, often because of flight schedules. But by staying at the Saxon, Johannesburg could be one of the highlights of your trip.
Entering through the hotel’s tall front doors (into a space that soars!), it’s hard to believe that this started out as a private residence—that of South African billionaire Douw Steyn and his wife, who “liked to entertain,” we were told.
No doubt, their most famous houseguest was Nelson Mandela, who lived in a suite in the Steyn residence for six months following his release from a 27-year imprisonment. It was at the Saxon that Mandela edited his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
In 2000, the Saxon was converted into a luxury hotel. Guests can now sleep where Madiba slept.
But even the Saxon’s lesser suites are incredible. The smallest (so-called), entry-level rooms—the Luxury Suite category—boast 861 square feet. After a night in our suite, I wondered how the Steyns ever got their guests to leave!
All rooms/suites have 24-hour butler service. Our butler Robert popped the cork on this bottle of bubbly. The sparkling wine is a standard inclusion, as is a fully stocked mini-bar and some delicious snacks that were waiting for us on the coffee table. Turndown service was the best ever, with a small box of macarons for each of us.
One of the things I appreciate about the hotel is its contemporary African décor, so appropriate for its locale. The artifacts and textiles are exceptional.
Shown below is about 60% of the bathroom. A matching vanity is to the right of the closet doors, and there is a separate walk-in shower and enclosed toilet room.
How do they keep those lattice holes—and the mirrors backing them—dust free? (But they do.)
Little extra touches—such as the beribboned sprig of lavender here—were seen throughout.
Shortly after our arrival, our own “Mr. Carson” rounded up menus from each of the hotel’s restaurants so we could make an informed decision about where we’d like to eat dinner that night. We decided on Gunu, where we had Steak Diane, prepared flambé at the table.
And this was our dessert: vanilla, blood orange and chocolate crepes with brandied orange sauce and chai latte ice cream.
Here’s a brief tour of some of the public areas of the hotel.
This open-air lounge is flanked by a koi pond.
The art collection is impressive, including numerous carved screens, masks and framed textiles.
In a city that is known for anything but calmness and serenity, the Saxon is an oasis that nourishes the soul.
Due to its reputation and limited number of suites/rooms, it is recommended to book the Saxon as early as possible.
Four Seasons Johannesburg
If the Saxon is unavailable for your dates, we can recommend Four Seasons, but it is especially wise to work with a travel designer who is familiar with this property and can help with room selection.
Whether staying there or just going for lunch or drinks at sunset, the view from Four Seasons is exceptional, especially when the jacarandas are in bloom (late October the year we visited).
Perhaps none of our photographs demonstrates that better than this one. We were told that, based on the number of trees Johannesburg has per acre, it is technically a forest. The view from Four Seasons made that easy to believe. Looking at this photo, what is hard to believe is that there is a bustling city beneath that carpet of foliage!
There’s a very nice spa for guests.
Out and About in Johannesburg
With some time to spend in Jo’burg, you may want to visit one of the hot new culture spots: Maboneng. It is quite the foodie scene. (Have the hotel order car service for you.)
As the day warmed up, business cooled down for this seller of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee.
But shady spots were busy.
In addition to food and beverages, there are many handcrafted items to be seen, both in boutique shops, such as this one, and on the street.
Maboneng is a place to experience the exuberance of Africa, with its love of music and dance.
Africa is a destination that can change you. If you allow yourself to leave the gated grounds of 5-star properties and see how real people struggle to make a living, you return to that luxury property with a deeper awareness and a heightened sense of gratitude. And that's a good thing.
ScheckTrek Travel can provide the following Virtuoso amenities for the Saxon in 2017, and expected to continue (we also have amenities for Four Seasons Johannesburg):
• Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability • Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests • One complimentary Rasul Chamber Treatment per couple per stay • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability • Complimentary Wi-Fi
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