For laidback luxury in an underrated city. Johannesburg’s history and vibrant downtown district make it a must-visit for culture vultures. And that’s all before you set foot in The Saxon…
If it’s privacy, expert spa treatments and next-level food and wine interspersed with city jaunts for a pop of culture, you’re onto a winner at The Saxon. More country retreat than urban hotel, all the five-star trappings reveal themselves: beautifully manicured lawns, staff who appear genuinely pleased to help and lunches and suppers you’ll be raving about anniversary after anniversary – but it’s the home-from-home sensibility of The Saxon that makes it so enticing for newly weds.
Set the scene
South Africans are known for their laid-back style and The Saxon, a private bolthole in Johannesburg’s affluent Sandhurst district gives just the right dose of chilled charm for honeymooners, albeit it a meticulously choreographed one. When you hear that Nelson Mandela chose these serene surroundings for editing his best-selling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, you can see why.
Entering the spectacular lobby, guests are greeted by two traditional African fertility statues – just two of the myriad African artworks that are dotted around the hotel. Rather than the corporate reception, a smiley team tuck under a table and encourage you to kick back, perhaps poolside (there are a total of six at The Saxon), with a glass of house sparkling wine as soon as possible.
It’s worth addressing that Johannesburg has suffered with its crime reputation, and while it’s worth remaining vigilant in any big city, at no point during our stay was safety a concern, be that within the hotel or exploring the city.
Perhaps surprising for its size, The Saxon has just 53 suites ranging from standard suites (still, they are sprawling at 800 sq ft) and presidential suites, over double the size and with their own dining room and lounges, that sit within the main hotel, alongside villa suites – a short walk from the main reception along a tree-top walkway. There are three villas which all contain up to 11 suites, along with a communal lounge area, bar, 24-hour butler, and private pool. Whether you book a luxury or villa suite is down to personal preference; are you happy to wander to dinner or do you want to hot foot it from room-to-table, and would you prefer a patio (in a villa) or a balcony (in the main hotel)? Decór wise, the luxury suites pip it for that true African charm; just be sure to ask for one on the garden side for maximum privacy.
Inside each room are gigantic beds, free-standing baths, dining tables for in-room honeymoon breakfasts and complimentary mini bars complete with an impressive array of spirits: the Rooibos Gin is a must try for a pre-dinner aperitif.
Food and Drink
The menus at The Saxon have been carefully crafted by the team under executive chef Matthew Foxon – everything from the fluffy breakfast pancakes to the 5-course tasting menu – and many of its ingredients come directly from the hotel’s vegetable garden. When dining at Qunu, the wagyu fillet is a must-try, as is the pumpkin and bourbon soufflé. But the afternoon tea is where the chefs really show off. Expect smoked salmon chervil blinis, chicken liver parfait vol-au-vents and melt-in-the-mouth opera cake. Whether you’re vegan or not, the vegan afternoon tea, complete with vegan milk chocolate creations, is well worth saving space for.
Be sure to book a wine tasting in The Saxon’s wine cellar. South Africa’s wines are world-famous for good reason, and head sommelier Lloyd Jusa will guide you through the best.
Brilliant as the hotel is, it’s worth venturing into Johannesburg one evening to the Marabi Club in the basement of the effortlessly cool Hallmark House hotel, whose head chef is a Saxon alumni. It’s a jazz club, but no matter your musical leaning, a good time is firmly on the agenda. Expect tapas sharing-style plates, including fresh oysters and zesty seabass ceviche alongside more experimental twists. The ‘African Carrot 3.0’, a whole carrot roasted in ras el hanout and duck fat, carrot purée, fermented apple and pickled pineapple, gives you a good idea. Book early, as by 8.30pm the dance floor comes alive with couples and friends – and it’s only a matter of time before waiters in bow ties and braces can’t help but be drawn in by the atmosphere.
The Saxon was once a private residence; and the team have worked hard to ensure that the hotel preserves its home-from-home character. Many visitors twin a visit to sister property Shambala Private Game Reserve, for a superlative luxury safari experience.
Many guests visit the Saxon for its two-storey spa alone. The menu is extensive but its Signature Therapies should be your first port of call. Try the Himalayan Signature journey for squeaky clean skin and deep relaxation – hot stones are alternated with cool rose quartz to soothe muscles. The couples rooms are particularly striking, with spectacular recycled glass chandeliers hanging above the cloud-like beds. What’s more, little extensions of the spa experience – the brand’s own toiletries ‘Soul’ – are a unique touch in each bedroom.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re settled into a sprawling country estate, not a city hotel, but some of the best of Johannesburg is mere minutes away. Everything is done by car and a private tour is highly recommended – Joburg 360 offers brilliant insights and access you won’t have as an independent tourist. History lovers will find Constitution Hill fascinating; it tells the story of the country’s tumultuous journey to democracy. It’s worth a trip to Johannesburg’s newly regenerated districts, including Maboneng and Braamfontein – 44 Stanley is a cool shopping spot and artisan market The Playground should be on your ‘go sees’.
Rooms start at ZAR 10,395 / approx. £381 per night saxon.co
Virgin Atlantic flies direct between London Heathrow and Johannesburg with return fares from £587 per person, including complimentary food, drink, inflight entertainment and taxes.
For further information visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747. This fare is available for selected departures in 2023 and is for seven nights. Prices given are correct as of 24th May 2022 and are subject to change.
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