The Saxon -- an oasis of calm in Johannesburg
I've logged a lot of time in Joburg over my years travelling to Africa, and IMO The Saxon is easily the citys top option. It's located in Sandhurst (30-40 minutes from the airport in normal traffic; 10 minutes from Sandton City). Sandhurst is a very posh neighbourhood populated by mansions tucked away behind tall walls and imposing gates. The architecture is mostly that unique modern South African style a bit like an Art Deco take on neo-classical, with a lot of tall stucco columns and imposing cornices. The Saxon fit this mould perfectly, with large square columns of granite-coloured stucco framing an immense solid wood gate. The only indication that it wasnt a private home were the letters discreetly spelling out the name of the hotel. Past the gates, the road wound through spacious grounds carpeted with green grass and dotted with tall trees.
The main entrance follows the same artistic paradigm as the front gates Art Deco neo-classical gigantism. To be honest, thus far I wasnt that impressed from an aesthetic standpoint, though the number of friendly staff who swarmed around the car to welcome me was certainly impressive. But everything changed when I walked through the door. The interior dcor couldnt be more different to the exterior everything is in warm natural shades. The walls have a sponged parchment look, and the floors are natural slate and polished sandstone with the occasional rug. The theme is Africa in a continental sense, and works of art from countries across Africa decorate the corridors. The atrium, which looks a little over the top on their website, is much nicer in reality grand, yes, but warm and welcoming as well, with natural light flooding down from above. It also featured one of the most tasteful decorative uses of ostrich eggs that Ive ever seen (anyone who has spent time in South Africa will know that this is no mean feat).
The Saxon was originally a private residence, and that history is reflected in the way things were laid out instead of a single large pool area with multiple pools there was one pool at the front and one at the back (next to a koi pond). One of the things I noticed most was the number of little sitting areas scattered throughout the hotel many places dont have much common space outside of the restaurants and the lobby, but The Saxon has a number of areas to sit and relax. There was a lounge with a piano and comfortable sofas, as well as an olive bar and numerous other comfortable nooks. It feels a lot like the home of a very wealthy and gracious friend who happened to build a top-quality spa in the garden.
On the way to my standard Egoli Suite the porter told me a bit about the history of the hotel (definitely a first). My room was enormous, decorated in light birch, cherry wood, and earth tones. In addition to a four-poster king-size bed there was a sitting area with a sofa and chairs and a separate dining nook with a table and chairs. The bathroom had both a shower and a tub deep enough to float in if youre not too tall. Outside there was a private balcony (also with a table and chairs) overlooking the garden, which is really lovely the porter told me that it contains trees from all over Africa, some of them 80 years old.
Hotel food is the butt of many jokes, but this was definitely not your regular hotel or your regular hotel food. The food at The Saxon was better than what I've had in some of Joburg's top restaurants (the lavender crme brulee was brilliant!). I overslept and almost missed out the delicious breakfast buffet, which would have been tragic. Ive stayed in a lot of very nice hotels, and I have to say that this is one of the best breakfast buffets Ive ever seen. Everything you could wish for was there coming from England, where ripe fruits are seldom seen, I was almost overwhelmed by the choice presented here. There was the usual cereals, muesli, yogurt, pastries, and smoked salmon (all very high quality, especially the pastries The Saxon has a separate pastry kitchen) and more unusual offerings like tissue-paper thin slices of parma ham (rarely seen outside Italy) and oysters on the half-shell. At first the idea of eating oysters for breakfast was a bit odd, but I quickly adapted.
The service is on par with the best places Ive stayed. Nothing is too big or too small for the concierge. I had a meeting and needed a shirt pressed, and it was picked up and returned in fifteen minutes. I'd barely put the phone down when they rang back to tell me that my reservation at the latest culinary hotspot had been confirmed.
Im often a bit sceptical of places with august reputations as I find that too many of them skate by on reputation alone, and as The Saxon has featured on a large number of top hotels in the world lists I came in with high expectations. But this is one place that actually lives up to the hype I can see why Nelson Mandela chose it as a place to write his autobiography. Its secluded and extremely restful, which must have been a great help to him whilst reliving some of the more harrowing incidents in his eventful life. The Saxon is ideal if you'd like an oasis from the city -- the extensive grounds give it the feel of a country estate, but the conveniences of the city are only a short drive away, giving you the best of both worlds. For those familiar with SA's safari camps, The Saxon is the Singita of Johannesburg!