Travel – A Long Weekend in South Africa’s Biggest Metropolis

For some reason, Johannesburg is usually seen as a sort of changing post, a place to arrive only to move on from as soon as possible. Sure, it doesn’t have the beaches, the winelands, or the Cape’s famous mountain – but it makes up for it elsewhere. It’s faster, edgier, and more alive. There’s more of, well, the authentic Africa. There’s the witch doctor down the road, the shebeens where black and white sang freedom songs together, the markets selling tribal masks from the far reaches of the continent.

Johannesburg is a city of surprising beauty, and boasts the largest man made forest on earth. You can best view this literal urban jungle from the pool deck of the Westcliff, the city’s most elegant large hotel. An icing-sugar-pink collection of villas on a rocky ridge, its mildly colonial air is offset by the majestic setting; you can sip a Citric Flower Martini from the Polo Bar’s new molecular mixology menu and gaze out on miles of explosive purple jacarandas, while lions roar in the Johannesburg Zoo below.

Johannesburg Zoo 16-03-09 188



In recent years, the heart of Johannesburg – long considered a no-go zone for tourists, has become appealing and vibrant once again. The old downtown centre, once a widely depressed area, has been revived – making it a wonder to walk around West Street and Diagonal Street. Many old warehouses have been turned into galleries, featuring artists selling everything from clay pots and jewelry to embroidery and traditional Zulu women’s hats. It’s not just the city centre that has been revived though. Young entrepreneurs are restoring old industrial buildings in what were once run-down areas, turning them into buzzing living spaces, galleries, studios, shops and restaurants. Here, $15 will get you some bubbly and Luderitz Bay oysters, or some vintage camouflage kit – if that’s more of your thing.

Fashion isn’t Johannesburg’s strong suit, but when it comes to eating and drinking almost every district now has a selection of charming bars, restaurants and brasseries. For fine, but perhaps a tad bit too formal, David Higgs is the new hot chef at Saxon Hotel’s Five Hundred. The Cube Tasting Kitchen is for serious foodies, whilst The Grillhouse is renowned for serving some of the best steak in the world.

Despite its size, Johannesburg was left without a really great hotel for quite a long time. Now, however, there is a handful of appealing options. When the Saxon opened in 2001, it was a game-changer. Once a glorious private mansion, it was the home of Nelson Mandela after being released from prison. Set in the heart of Sandton, a swanky residential part of the northern suburbs, it is a visual treat – full of African artefacts and vintage photographs. Another option, situated on a hill above the zoo, is the Four Seasons Westcliff – perfect for those who love grand hotels, fancy restaurants – and the level of service that comes with both.