Jozi: it’s big, it’s happening

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iol travel may 7 greenwood NT abloom

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Abloom

Although the current of tourist vehicles flows pretty solidly out of the highveld and down to the coast, those who reside at sea level will every so often head upstream to the higher, thinner, cooler air of Gauteng.

Whether you are there for business, a wedding, a stop en-route to another country or a family gathering, Gauteng is the real beating heart of South Africa and has accordingly much to offer.

A revived Jozi and its surrounds offer fascinating and authentic cultural experiences, some truly outstanding restaurants and a host population who thrive on the throb and buzz of a melting-pot metropolis.

The best and only way to enjoy Joburg is to embrace it for what it is, much as you would NYC, Sao Paulo or Tokyo: it’s big, happening, it’s constantly evolving.

Nthateng’s B&B

6991 Inhlwathi St, Orlando West, Soweto, Gauteng

iol travel may 7 greenwood NT kashan house

Kashan Country House

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011 936 2676

Snappily dressed in tight jeans and gold jewellery, the glamorous Nthateng happily took the time to talk to me about the history of Soweto before insisting I accompany her to a wedding down the road between a Zulu man and a Swazi woman. “Everyone’s invited,” she said. Between the tribal colours and shaking dancers, Nthateng sat me down with some fried chicken and samp, washed down with a glass of sparkling ginger (apparently it wouldn’t be a proper wedding without it!). Then it was back for a tour of her own place. Optical lighting illuminates the up-to-the-minute sandy-coloured rooms that boast carved wooden bedheads inlaid with red and gold mosaics. One double room also houses a vast Louis XIV-style dressing table; it’s not hard to imagine Marie Antoinette perched on the ornate seat, powdering her wig and applying beauty spots. See Soweto in style – not only is Nthateng’s close to the museums and restaurants, but insist that she takes you backstage on Soweto TV. It’s a hub of creativity, the crew are really friendly and their studios are located just a couple of blocks up adjacent to a talented seamstress and an inspiring art school for children. With the Hector Pieterson Memorial, Nelson Mandela’s old house and Soccer City also within easy striking distance, Nthateng attests “people must stay in Soweto for two or three nights to get the full experience”.

Melrose Place Guest Lodge

12a North St, Melrose/Johannesburg, Gauteng

011 442 5231

Once ensconced behind the electric gates at Melrose you have entered an Eden-in-the-city. The verandah overlooks a large flower garden and enormous swimming pool, all shaded by trees. Eight new rooms don’t crowd it at all. It is such a pleasant environment that you may find yourself shelving projected tasks for a day’s lounging about.

My room was a suite attached to the main house, with mounted TV, huge bed (built up with cushions and pillows), a big bathroom and double doors into the garden. The high levels of luxury in all the rooms are not reflected in the rates. Sue is the sweetest of hostesses, quick to smile and reacting sensitively to the mood and wishes of each guest. On the night I stayed we had a braai with an amazing array of meat dishes and salads which appeared from nowhere, and Sue’s team will cook dinner or, if the mood dictates, a braai for anyone who wants it. Her aim is to maximise the number of happy campers staying.

Vhavenda Hills B&B

11749 Mampuru St, Orlando West, Soweto, Gauteng

Tel: (0)11-936-4275

Soweto born and bred, Kate lives just down the road from Nelson Mandela’s old house in the Vilakazi precinct of Orlando West – one of Soweto’s numerous suburbs, better known as “The Wild West” during the apartheid years.

The great man himself popped around for tea after his release from Robben Island. Clean, white art deco lines make Vhavenda one of the standout properties in the neighbourhood. It is very much a family home with pictures of Kate’s children around the TV and friends of various offspring popping in and out. Kate’s husband, David, grew up on the property, which they converted into a B&B over 10 years ago.

The bedrooms are comfortable with magnolia-decorated walls, baby-blue hues and multi-coloured coverlets. Ask for the palatial double room with its bath on a plinth and pair of double beds where I fell asleep to the sound of cicadas and the buzz of Joburg traffic in the distance, before waking to the smell of sizzling bacon.

Dakalo B&B

6963 Inhlwathi St, Orlando West, Soweto, Gauteng

011 936 9328

The term “township chic” was invented for Dolly’s B&B.

I loved the bathroom tiled with blue-spotted mosaics and the rooms with their red quilts, mini-Zulu shields, strawberry tablecloths and zebra print curtains, handmade by Dolly. Not only is she a wizard on the sewing-machine, but she is also heavily involved with the local tourism association, setting a high standard with her own guesthouse.

She and Kate from nearby Vhavenda were off to a hospitality seminar at one of the Southern Sun hotels on the day I arrived. Not that these women need any tips.

With opera playing in the background and freshly cut arum lilies on the front table, the house exudes calm.

Outside, guests can sit under the lapa, or admire Dolly’s garden, where geraniums sprout from potjie cooking pots and pink bougainvillaea crawls up the walls.

You are right in the heart of where history was made in Soweto, particularly when Dolly can count two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela) among her neighbours. She has some astonishing stories herself of the struggle and is a short walk away from the fascinating Hector Pieterson Memorial and museum.

Or, if you’re interested in the latest chapter in this extraordinary area’s history, the impressive soccer stadium is a 15-minute ride on the new bright-red Rea Vaya bus service.

Kashan Country House, Hekpoort

014 576 1035

From the Cradle of Humankind, and barely out of first gear, I followed the steep track up to civilisation.

And you don’t get much more civilised than Kashan. A pretty thatched house sits beneath the Magaliesberg in mountains with top-notch views of the lush, ancient valley. I had come home (not just historically) – or so I was made to feel by Wilna and the team.

Within minutes my bags had been unloaded into my pristine, white, four-postered-bed room and I was gliding around in no fewer than 22 metres of infinity pool. Peter’s friends thought he was “mad” to install such a massive pool. Well, I think he’s a genius!

I wiled away the afternoon spying on birds and monkeys through the lodge telescope, toyed with the idea of investigating the hiking trail up the mountain or having a game of croquet out on the lawn (I told you it was civilised here).

But instead I opted for a sprawling chill-out on the sofa with books, movies and tea (I felt totally at home).

An unforgettable sunset brought nightfall, together with a nocturnal amphibian choir, Peter, back from the city, and a three-course gourmet dinner prepared by the highly skilled resident chef – cigar optional.

Abloom, Cullinan

012 734 0555

“All luxury spa retreats are created equal,” said George Orwell’s lesser-known, better-groomed, more relaxed sister. “But some luxury spa retreats are more equal than others.”

She was indubitably deferring to Abloom, a bush spa where relaxation and luxury combine so sublimely that I’d go out on a lavender-oiled limb and coin a term for what happens here: relaxuration.

Carmen and Lowie – she a trained beauty therapist and pamper-me junkie, he an ad man-turned-chef – designed and built Abloom with their nimble Dutch hands just outside Cullinan, the quaint, historic mining town where, in 1905, the world’s largest diamond was found.

Four divine, wholly private, high-ceilinged stone-and-thatch chalets pepper 27 red-earth hectares of wild, sweet-smelling African bush.

Sturdy partial walls divide bedroom, lounge, kitchen and bathroom, giving each earthy abode a decadent sense of space, while chunky French windows haul in vast private outside areas, bush shower and hot plunge pool included – thank you very much. - Sunday Tribune

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