Stay awhile in the country’s biggest city

BY SARAH KHAN — Winter 2018

Many people dismiss Johannesburg as a mere layover en route to the bush; those people are woefully misguided. Founded in the throes of a 19th-century gold rush, the City of Gold now is home to 8 million residents, and it’s still where Africa’s big-time dealmakers and political elite congregate. As one might expect from a high-society playground, the city boasts plenty of luxe reasons to extend a break between flights into a weekend or longer. Yes, it has earned a reputation for crime, but you’re in for an amazing visit if you practice caution and know where to go.

Check in to the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, a favorite of visiting dignitaries and celebrities — most notably, Nelson Mandela retreated here to write his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom. The hotel brims with traditional details with a contemporary touch: a tiered chandelier made with ostrich eggs, framed tapestries, wood carvings, and handwoven baskets, all in an earthy palette of creams and browns. South Africa’s culinary king Luke Dale-Roberts opened a restaurant at the hotel last year, in a stylish dining room lined with whimsical illustrations of proteas, South Africa’s national flower, by artist Shaune Rogatschnig.

With the Saxon as your base, explore the Keyes Art Mile in nearby Rosebank, where you can browse leather accessories from Missibaba, collectible South African design at Guild, and exhibitions by top local artists at Circa, Everard Read, Smac, and Whatiftheworld galleries. Afterward, grab a drink at the sleek bar at Marble, gazing out over the city’s verdant sprawl from the balcony, before settling in for dinner — Marble is the brainchild of Johannesburg’s finest chef, David Higgs, who brings a refined approach to South Africa’s beloved wood-fired cooking.

Other worthy stops in a Joburg sojourn include the cafés and boutiques of the 44 Stanley complex and the theatrical five-course dinner and burlesque entertainment at the eccentric Gentlemen’s Arthouse, set in a beautifully restored 19th-century public toilet. But no matter how little time you have, be sure to see the Apartheid Museum — a powerful reminder of the brutal past South Africa emerged from a quarter-century ago, putting into perspective how far the dynamic young country has come.


Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa: from $495.

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