Johannesburg - In the 1980s I worked for an NGO in industrial health. On occasion I would reluctantly travel to Joburg to carry out research for the NUM; “reluctantly”, because I would be accommodated by a comrade in the struggle. This could mean sleeping on a two-seater sofa in a smoky lounge.
Saxon Boutique Hotel in Sandhurst is the polar opposite. It is not the kind of place that trade union-affiliated NGO doctors would book into. It is not even a place where authors would usually stay – not unless they also run countries or large corporations. They simply could not afford it on royalties of 10 percent.
I was lucky enough to be invited as a reviewer. On arriving, I discovered that another author had preceded me. Nelson Mandela edited his autobiography at the Saxon as a guest of the owner, a Mr Steyn, while the property was still a family home. Soon afterwards Mandela was elected to run the country.
Watch this space.
The Saxon is one of the top hotels in the world. The management provides proof of this by leaving a 2012 hardcover edition of The Best Hotels In The World lying casually by the bedside with the relevant page bookmarked.
Staying at Saxon Boutique Hotel is exactly the kind of thing you should do if you are considering becoming president. Luxury takes some getting used to, but this is a necessary skill. It is a tough job running a country, and staying at places like the Saxon helps to take the edge off.
There are about 1 000 members of staff for each guest. Pamper is just not strong enough a word. I had chairs shoved in behind my knees every time I looked like I was about to sit down; I had a whole phalanx of people descend on my room each day. They opened curtains, changed linen and toiletries, filled up the fruit basket and bar fridge, washed the huge bath and multiple basins and were gone before I could get through memorising the opening sentence of our constitution. Their polite efficiency gave me a lot of ideas about how one might run a country.
The food, I have to say, is a work of art. Literally. If it didn’t smell so good, then taste even better, I would have been tempted to go hungry rather than spoil the arrangement on my plate. The chef has just won all the awards you can win, and then some, and was about to fly off to Holland to win even more. This is definitely fare you should not attempt in your own home. Leave it to the professionals, have a night off, shoot from the hip and go dine at the Saxon.
The tour of the hotel included a covered walkway constructed at tree-top height, which connects the main hotel to three villas. The accommodation available ranges from luxury rooms catering for common-or-garden deputy CEOs to presidential suites which are huge apartments tastefully decorated with African art. Conference facilities are available, as well as a spa for those upon whose shoulders rest the weighty political and economic decisions that affect our welfare.
The hotel is surrounded by swimming pools and fish ponds, some heated, others rimless. The Nelson Mandela Platinum Presidential Suite has views over the large pools and grounds in front of the terrace, whereas my third-floor room, intended for a lesser member of Parliament, looked out on a mini-forest.
At some point I glimpsed myself in a full-length mirror in passing, and noted that there was no way I could be mistaken for a head of state.I wondered what the staff thought of my presence, and hoped they would not be expecting a R2 000 tip.
During a stroll through the grounds, I got lost, then arrived at what was certainly a staff entrance at the back of the hotel. I was impressed by how the groomed woman who opened it at my distressed knock led me back to the foyer with apparent lack of ruffle.
My exit on the last day thoroughly blew my cover. A friend fetched me; he arrived in what must have been the original VW Golf – rusty, held together with string, the back seat overflowing with tools, boxes and other eccentric paraphernalia. He parked it next to the Aston Martins, Jags and Rolls-Royces, whereupon it refused to start again. It took the valets who attend the front door a few confused moments before they helped us to push-start the car.
It was not a bad end, though. It brought home to me that I will never run our country. I just do not look the part.
Dining at the Saxon
In-keeping with his creative flair, Chef David Higgs has taken the hotel’s existing activities and redesigned them to offer a wide choice of unique foodie experiences. On offer is Breakfast @ the Saxon as well as Sunday Brunch, eaten while listening to live saxophone music. Or have High Tea @ The Saxon, where friends, moms and daughters, and business counterparts can enjoy individually plated sweet and savoury treats crafted by pastry chef Minette Smith, a member of Higgs’s elite team.
For the die-hard foodies, Higgs is orchestrating something truly exceptional in the form of a new, intimately exclusive yet interactive fine-dining experience.
For further information or reservations, contact The Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas & Spa directly on 011 292 6000 or visit www.saxon.co.za. - Sunday Independent