Three writers - Arja Salafranca, Hasmita Nair and Minesh Bhagaloo - check into some exclusive boutique hotels in Johannesburg.
Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa
When I think “five-star hotel in Sandton”, I immediately think “high rise chain hotel” – the ones where the staff have a stock standard greeting for each guest, rooms are decorated in the same way, the service is predictably good, and your stay is comfortable, but not memorable. Fairlawns is the antithesis of this. The fact that it is located on an estate, alone, sets it apart from most of its five star Sandton peers, but the rooms are the key attraction, with each of the 40 suites designed individually – architecturally and decoratively.
The hotel lends itself to a relaxing weekend away, while being perfectly located minutes away from the Sandton CBD. Not short of space in the least, the sprawling, lush gardens are its key attraction- spectacular, even in winter. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and, as one does, headed straight to the spa. An attraction in itself, the Balinese themed spa has recently won the Best Spa award in South Africa in the World Luxury Spa awards. The entrance of the spa is a little dull and dark for my liking, but the couple’s suite we enjoyed our treatment in is anything but. Overlooking the bamboo groves in the Balinese spa garden, the suite comes complete with double massage beds, and a private lounge area to relax in post treatment.
After being massaged into a state of delirium, we checked into our room, an executive suite. We were wowed by the size; in addition to a separate guest toilet at the entrance, we had a huge bathroom with his and hers basins, a spa bath and large shower, which I was later to discover came with a shower head that could adjust to the pressure of my choice.
I spent some time wandering around the room admiring everything from the cosy fireplace to the antique furnishings – each item of decor seemed to tell a story. In addition to a large living area, complete with a coffee table, there was also a veranda overlooking the gardens.
We popped over to Sandton City to catch an evening movie, and were back at the hotel in time for dinner, served in the elegant Terrace restaurant. With all-white furnishings and floor to ceiling glass windows, it’s no surprise that the restaurant often finds itself fully booked – by hotel guests and outside visitors.
We didn’t have a very good start to our meal – the starter special of the day, “roast tomato soup”, was surprisingly green upon presentation. After asking twice to check if it was in fact what we had ordered and having this confirmed by the waiter, we prodded some more (being confident in our knowledge of tomatoes and their range of colours) and discovered the kitchen had run out of tomato soup so decided to serve roasted broccoli soup instead. Informing us would’ve been nice, but considering we are not broccoli lovers, the soup was actually very tasty. The rest of the meal was excellent; a highlight was the “lamb plate” main, R145, smoked lamb loin, lamb cutlet and lamb parcel, on creamed barley, pea puree with a splash of port wine jus and a dollop of café de Paris butter. I also caught a glimpse of a group of guests enjoying a meal in the private dining room, which struck me as great option for a corporate dinner or a sophisticated birthday party.
We requested to have dessert and coffee in the lounge area, close to the fireplace, to which the waiters happily obliged. Sitting in the oversized leather couches, in what felt like a living room, with the fire keeping the chocolate in my fondant dessert just melted; I forgot for a moment that I was in a hotel and pretended that Fairlawns was my home.
This is what I enjoyed most about the hotel – it doesn’t compromise on all the added extras and spoils you get from big five star hotel chains, such as free Wi-Fi, a dedicated concierge and an expansive breakfast buffet, but it still manages to retain a feeling of homeliness, exclusivity and privacy.
Fairlawns is currently running a “Winter Warmer” package – bed and breakfast is priced at R2 795 per suite, with hot chocolate and gourmet cookies on arrival.
Fairlawns is situated at 1 Alma Road, Morningside Manor. Visit www.fairlawns-hotel.co.za. Call 011 804 2540. – Hasmita Nair
Melrose Arch hotel
We felt as if we’d stepped into a European city on our recent stay at the Melrose Arch Hotel. As late afternoon turned to a wintry dusk, we took a stroll around the streets of the precinct.
It felt as though we were far away from Jozi’s crime-ridden streets where you dare not venture out except with extreme vigilance.
The lights were starting to go on in the precinct as the blue dusk took hold and we wandered through, past Moyos with its scattering of tables looking on to a square, browsing in shops such as Tiger of Sweden, salivating at the Häagen-Dazs, which again made us feel as if we were far away from home.
Melrose Arch Hotel’s setting is a major plus. While some decry the precinct as artificially man-made instead of a natural city creation, there’s no denying Joziburgers crave that authentic city experience – of just walking the city streets in safety. It’s what makes staying in this hotel so pleasurable. Admittedly, most guests would be coming from overseas or from other places in the country – to this end, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle, Mondays to Fridays to and from the Sandton Gautrain station, which makes getting here for foreigners easy.
Foreigners we weren’t, but as I said, we felt as though we had been transported far away, an experience that began with taking the lifts up from the parking lot.
Psychedelic colours change from blue to red as you ascend and, after checking in and taking the lift to the room, we stepped into a lift whose inky interior was lit by starry lights on the walls. Walking the corridor to our room along blue-lit corridors was like walking through the Starship Enterprise as my Trekkie companion noted.
The theme continues in the rooms which are ultra-modern and yet stylishly comfortable with none of the hard edges that true minimalism can impart. Brick walls complement the wooden cupboards with an accent wall and a floor-length mirror on another.
A small work desk with two chairs completed our room with king-size bed. The bathroom is the new fashioned open-plan, but there are stylish bathroom curtains you can draw to maximise privacy.
The bathroom and shower stall are lit by ambient green light – another futuristic feature which adds to a sense of child’s play.
We dined in the signature March restaurant. Our starters of snoek pâté and carpaccio were tasty enough. I enjoyed my salmon with Asian-style vegetables and noodles, but my companion was less than impressed with roast duck which was dry and overdone. We ended our meals with a twist on a milktart, encased in phyllo pastry and lemon mille-feuille. Breakfast the next morning was again taken into the March dining-room with its Alice in Wonderland oversized chairs and potplants, and a medley of music that ranged from soothing familiar sounds to more cosmopolitan numbers.
The full fare is offered – from bacon and eggs to continental offerings, as well as quiches, a nice addition to the usual breakfast menu. I was keen to try the ostrich bacon – as I’ve enjoyed burgers and fillets – but it was a huge disappointment. Rather stick to the more traditional pork if you’re a fan. I didn’t try the duck egg, but full marks for introducing a bit of variety into the traditional morning menus. Special mention too of the yoghurts available at the hotel – courtesy of Deneys Swiss Dairy, a local farm in the Free State. The yoghurts are delightfully retro and come in glass containers, but the taste is the real deal, rich and creamy, as yoghurts are meant to be.
Before leaving we took another quick stroll around the pool and the grounds. While it was too cold for us South Africans to take off our togs, a couple of overseas visitors had stripped to bikinis and were taking advantage of the 20ºC winter weather. Nice touch to see the jars of sunscreen available at the pool. I loved seeing the chairs and tables sitting in the actual pool itself, a wonderful way to cool off if it were actual summer.
Melrose Arch looked lovely that sunny wintry Sunday morning as we took another walk, adding to a feeling that we’d flown far away, and yet that quick overnight stay had refreshed us in a way that only holidays and getting away from routine can provide.
Melrose Arch Hotel: 1 Melrose Square, Melrose Arch, Joburg. Call 011 214 6666 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org to book. – Arja Salafranca
It’s unusual, to say the least, to have a weekend getaway less than 5km from where you live, but it’s amazing how your mind still slips into a relaxed holiday mode even though you’re just down the road.
The Clico is a Cape Dutch-styled boutique hotel situated in a tree-lined residential avenue a few blocks down from the Rosebank Mall, giving guests walking-access to everything Rosebank has to offer. But having said that the Hotel, behind its high walls, does offer a sense of seclusion that many may prefer to the Mall’s hustle and bustle.
The name, by the way, was inspired by owner Jeanette Schwegman’s passion for champagne – with her favourite being Veuve Clicquot.
Being a five-star Boutique hotel, with only nine en-suite rooms (six queen and three king) you know you’re going to get the personal touch from the staff and manager – and that’s pretty much what we got.
The hotel has more of a home than business feel to it, and we had no problem grabbing a couch in the lounge and playing chess while Nicolene, the friendly manageress, put together a very-decent cheese board for us to snack on.
With the cold weather we took the lizard approach and snuggled around the fireplace before and after dinner, but the garden offers a pool with deck chairs for relaxing summer sundowners.
The bar inside works on an honesty system (didn’t have a thing, promise) and offers a wine menu that should satisfy even the discerning palate.
Dinner takes place in an intimate dining room, with seasonal menus that change daily and guests are chatted to about their dietary preferences. I think it’s safe to say that the food was the highlight of the stay, with the chef preparing possibly the most succulent piece of salmon I’ve had yet (and I’ve had my fair share of salmon, it’s a favourite). It was the melt-in-your-mouth kind, grilled to perfection. The eggs benedict for breakfast the next morning would also put a few five-star hotels to shame.
The hotel rooms are cosy and garden-facing, with most upstairs ones offering balconies to varying degrees. We had a large room with most of the luxury amenities you’d expect. I especially liked the under-carpet heating and the heater-element within the bathroom light-fitting, but call me old-fashioned – I would have preferred a bathroom door versus the walk-in layout. The free Wi-Fi was also one of the quickest I’ve experienced to date (sorry about the various iTunes downloads, Jeanette).
Being so close to the Gautrain and business nodes like Sandton and Rosebank, the hotel offers a complete conference facility, with the conference area also ready to host small functions.
You could also arrange just about anything with the hotel, from special wine-pairing menus and tasting dinners to pyjama parties.
It being winter, there are special weekend packages on offer too.
The Clico: 011 252 3300; www.clicohotel.com –- Minesh Bhagaloo
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been obsessed with tree-lined streets. My favourite suburbs to get lost in are definitely the “Parks” – Parkview, Parktown, Parkhurst, Parkwood… each one more beautiful than the next.
Parkwood is located on one such street in the suburb of the same name. Upon driving in, you almost feel as if you’re visiting a family member – you’re greeted by name on arrival, there is no laborious check-in process and after walking through a welcoming lounge and narrow corridor, you’re settled in your room within minutes.
Our room was spacious – an executive suite, overlooking the pool and garden, complete with under-floor heating, an enclosed garden patio, lounge and private outdoor shower, which was a bit of a waste in winter but certainly a “nice to have”. The “home away from home” theme continued with full-size Charlotte Rhys amenities in the bathroom and an “honesty” mini-bar in the lounge area of our room. We had a limited DStv selection with a choice of two TVs – one in the lounge and one in the bedroom; both were much smaller than I would’ve liked though.
We went on a week night, so I assume that most of the other guests there were in town on business – they seemed to be at home; some were relaxing in the plush common lounge while I spotted others working on their laptops over a drink… there is an honesty bar, allowing you to drink as much as you want, as long as you make a note of what you’ve had.
While there is no restaurant on site for dinner, there is a “homestyle” dinner menu if guests don’t wish to leave the lodge in the evenings.
There is secure parking with a guard on duty 24 hours a day, so I’d recommend hiring a car to take advantage of the abundance of good restaurants in the vicinity.
Rosebank Mall, and the 4th Avenue strip in Parkhurst are situated conveniently close.
Breakfast, however, is available and comes complimentary with your room rate, served in the dining room alongside the lounge. The selection is relatively small with cereal, fruit, yoghurt and your choice of eggs on offer – I missed having the option of enjoying a croissant with a selection of cheeses.
Rooms range from R1 850 to R2 150 per room for two people sharing, including breakfast.
The Parkwood is situated at 71 Worcester Road, Parkwood. Call011 880 1748 – Hasmita Nair
The Peech Hotel
Being a self-confessed travel snob, I usually turn up my nose at anything less than a five-star property in South Africa (obviously this luxury doesn’t apply when travelling overseas). While others love adventure and new experiences – even if it means staying at a campsite with no electricity – for me, a holiday is more about basking in luxury. I’d rather stay home than rough it elsewhere. You can imagine my dismay when I arrived at the Peech, which I’d neglected to Google beforehand, and saw a four-star plaque mounted on the wall.
The friendly faces at reception and the cosy brick-walled lobby area, really more a library lounge, added to the appeal of the spot, so we decided to check out our room before making a judgement call. The Peech started out as a private residence and was converted to a small hotel with only six rooms in 2004. It now has 16 – spread out between the garden and the house, the house rooms being the original bedrooms of the property.
After a brisk walk through the leafy estate, we climbed a flight of stairs and found ourselves in a garden suite; a modern, inviting space which really felt more like a studio apartment than a hotel room. Bathrooms are oversized, and the room has luxury touches which are hard to come by in even five-star hotels, such as heated towel rails, an electric blanket, iPod dock and premium Gilchrist & Soames bathroom amenities. The high ceilings added a feeling of airiness and space, and after a member of staff showed us around the room, we immediately nestled into the fluffy couch and decided we’d be staying.
Hotel restaurants are notoriously underwhelming, so I planned in advance and made a dinner reservation at Melrose Arch, a stone’s throw from the hotel. As we were getting ready to leave, I had a look at the Peech’s Bistro menu, which impressed me enough to cancel my booking. It’s always a bonus to be able to indulge in a glass (or bottle) of wine and not have to worry about driving home. True to the traditional Parisian definition of a bistro, a small restaurant serving simple meals, the Peech’s bistro menu is simple, laid back and chic – reflecting the Peech’s general vibe.
To start I had a fragrant prawn salad, while my partner opted for a butternut and feta tartlet – both light and delicious. For mains, my chicken schnitzel served on mash, with beetroot puree drizzled across the plate, was particularly memorable. Instead of simply being dunked in oil, the crumb on the schnitzel was perfectly flavoured, with hints of black pepper and herbs. My husband went for lamb on baby veg, which he, too, enjoyed thoroughly. Dessert was chocolate tart, and we opted to share. This may just be in my top three desserts of all time. Made mostly of dark chocolate and cream, each silky bite was pure decadence. What the bistro lacks in ambiance (we were one of only two occupied tables), it makes up for in food. We enjoyed our meal so much, that I actually requested a reservation a week or two after I reviewed the hotel, only to find out that bistro caters for in-house guests only.
In the morning, I huddled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a magazine while my husband braved the cold and popped next door to the Planet Fitness gym at the Wanderers Club – the hotel offers free gym passes to guests.
It’s great to feel as though you’re making a difference to the environment simply by your choice of hotel. The Peech prides itself on its sustainability policy centred on recycling, energy conservation and green design. A range of initiatives have been implemented, some high impact, such as solar water heating, others lower impact, such as the use of rechargeable batteries. Recycling is a priority, with recycling bins for paper, glass and tin, and an on-site probiotic waste facility ensure that minimal waste leaves the premises for landfills.
Although I have a terrible habit of overpacking, I do often plan to “travel light and return heavy” when travelling to shopping destinations like New York or Paris, so I was thrilled to hear about the “Pack for a Purpose” initiative, which the Peech is a part of. This creative system encourages international travellers to positively impact communities around the world by taking meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit. By setting aside as little as 2kg in your luggage, you can make a huge difference. The Peech supports Little Eden Children’s Home, and encourages visitors to drop off new or used children’s clothing, underwear and shoes, bed linen, toiletries and blankets. The rate per room is approximately R2 000 for two adults sharing, including breakfast.For more details, visit www.thepeech.co.za
The Peech is located at 61 North Street, Melrose. Call 011 537 9797. – Hasmita Nair
l All writers were hosted by the hotels for the purposes of writing these reviews - Sunday Independent