Johannesburg, South Africa

Photo: Dylan Harbour (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Some cities are downright intimidating. Tokyo, São Paulo, and Manila immediately come to mind. So do Mumbai and Delhi. They’re all large and hectic. Their non-stop pace makes it difficult for visitors—especially first-time ones—to get their bearings. While friendly and welcoming aren’t the first words used to describe the people who live there. Johannesburg definitely fits the bill.

Technically, you’ve been to Johannesburg numerous times. You’ve used its airport—Africa’s busiest—to connect to destinations all over the southern half of the continent. You’ve stayed overnight before heading out on a South African safari. You’ve even ventured to the Johannesburg Botanical Garden, on the outskirts of the city, to see the magnificent Rose Garden, which is home to more than 10,000 roses. But you’ve been hesitant to explore the rest of South Africa’s largest city.

Johannesburg is, surprisingly, not one of South Africa’s three capital cities. The legislature is in Cape Town, the supreme court is in Bloemfontein, and the president and his cabinet reside in Pretoria. But it’s still the most powerful city in Africa. Johannesburg’s prosperity comes from gold. After gold deposits were discovered in 1884, the area’s farmland quickly developed into a large, modern city. The City of Gold is now home to many of the tallest buildings on the continent, a busy Central Business District, high-end shopping, and an extensive amount of public art. High crime rates used to deter travelers. That’s no longer the case.

Photo: Saxon

So this time, you’re going to spend the first part of your South African trip in Johannesburg. You’re going to finally see the CBD’s varied architecture, which ranges from Victorian to Edwardian Baroque to Art Deco. You’re going to check out the murals and the sculptures in Maboneng. You’re going to go shopping at the African Craft Market in Rosebank. Plus you’re going to stay in the tree-lined suburb of Sandton.

The Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa is the perfect beginning to your Johannesburg—make that your entire South African—experience. Your butler picks you up at the Sandton Gautrain station. You boarded the train at the airport to avoid the city’s heavy traffic. The station is next to Nelson Mandela Square, where a bronze statue of the former president stands. The hotel, once the private home of a wealthy businessman, isn’t very far away.

It immediately feels like an oasis, though. The landscaped grounds are serene. They feature a koi pond and a vegetable garden. The latter is used by the hotel’s restaurants. A huge infinity pool is the center of the hotel. It has azure water, underwater music, and sunset views. A comfortable terrace is off to the side. It’s where you’ll return for afternoon tea and a sundowner. There are two elegant restaurants, a cigar lounge, and a hydrotherapy-focused spa, as well.

Then there’s your huge suite. Its neutral colors—in the marble, the light wood, and the plush furniture—are paired with subtle geometric prints and artifacts that are clearly African. The king bed looks dangerous, as in you might not reemerge today if you let yourself sink into it. While the bathroom, with its walk-in shower and separate tub, has latticed shutters that open to a large bay window and the garden; the city skyline is in the distance. Just add a bottle of sparkling wine, which is already on ice when you arrive, for a truly warm welcome after a long flight. You’re already feeling much more at home in Johannesburg this time.

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