A hotel can stand alone as a destination anywhere in the world. While traveling throughout South Africa I stayed at several hotels and resorts that were much more than a place to hang my hat and get a good night’s sleep. They had history, character, and charm.
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa in Johannesburg was originally a private home. Many esteemed and honored guests — including Nelson Mandela, when he was finishing his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom — stayed in the home. After it became a hotel, villas were added, each like mini-hotels with private lobbies, a bar, and service staff.
In addition to the beautiful grounds, luxuriously appointed rooms, and excellent restaurants, the staff is one of the best attributes of the hotel with their friendliness, professionalism, and willingness to help no matter what is requested by a guest.
Located in the residential area of Johannesburg, it is quiet and serene, very peaceful and relaxing.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Two hours south of Cape Town, almost to Africa’s southern tip, is Gansbaai and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
The Garden Lodge has 11 freestanding suites, and the Forest Lodge where I stayed has 16. There are also private villas. My suite was located in an enchanting Milkwood forest with a view of the Atlantic Ocean and featured a living room, bedroom, and two bathrooms.
Everyone was friendly and helpful, from the gift shop clerk to the restaurant wait staff.
Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate
There are two options at Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate in Franschhoek: The Owner's Cottage, where I stayed, and La Provençale Villa in the Vineyards. Both offer luxury accommodations, beautiful and welcoming décor, and impeccable service.
Wine production can be traced back to French Protestant Pierre Joubert, who hid his Bible in a loaf of bread and fled his hometown of La Motte-d’Aigues in Provence to avoid religious persecution. In 1694, along with other Huguenots, he arrived in Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner; later to be renamed Franschhoek) and began the farm where Grande Provence is located.
In addition to wine tasting and winery tours, there is the lovely town of Franschhoek with gift shops, art galleries, and sidewalk cafes.
In 1924, a grain silo opened near Cape Town’s waterfront and served its original function until 2001. Most recently, the grain elevator portion of the silo complex was turned into a hotel, restaurant, and rooftop bar above what will become the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Silo has 28 rooms, including a one-bedroom penthouse. Each room was individually designed and decorated by Liz Biden. Bright, colorful, and eclectic pieces contrast with the modern, industrial architecture. Rooms are bright, colorful, and offer either a view of the water-front or the city and Table Mountain.
There are so many different things to do in South Africa, but it would seem sinful to leave without witnessing the magnificence of this country’s animals. Voted one of the top 50 resorts in the world by Conde Nast Traveler readers in 2016, Royal Malewane is a perfect base for game drives.
The luxury safari lodge in Greater Kruger National Park offers amazing game viewing with the most qualified guiding teams in Africa.
My guide, Noelle, and her tracker, Lawrence — both exceptional at their jobs — allowed me to witness the Big Five (elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, and leopards), all manner of antelope, gazelles, exotic birds, wild dogs, and hippos, as well as other African wildlife.
South Africa has so much to offer including luxury accommodations where surroundings and service are exceptional destinations in their own right.