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Nelson Mandela lived there for a time, it’s Oprah’s home from home. U2, Mick Jagger, Prince William and Prince Harry, and a host of the world’s leading dignitaries also stay at what is one of the world’s most exclusive hotels, nestled in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Norah Casey reviews the exclusive Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa.

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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2019-04-26 12:47:33

Stately Retreat_clone

Nelson Mandela lived there for a time, it’s Oprah’s home from home. U2, Mick Jagger, Prince William and Prince Harry, and a host of the world’s leading dignitaries also stay at what is one of the world’s most exclusive hotels, nestled in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Norah Casey reviews the exclusive Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa.

Keywords: africa,johannesburg,sandhurst,saxon hotel,nelson mandela,oprah winfrey,exclusive retreat,luxury hotels



Nelson Mandela lived there for a time, it’s Oprah’s home originally Douw Steyn’s home. In
from home. U2, Mick Jagger, Prince William and Prince 2001 he converted the mansion into a
Harry, and a host of the world’s leading dignitaries also stay 26-suite hotel with a further expansion
at what is one of the world’s most exclusive hotels, nestled of three villas for the much-anticipated
in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Norah Casey arrival of the FIFA World Cup in 2010
reviews the exclusive Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa. to South Africa.

The best boutique hotels make so, like you’re a visiting VIP and the The experience of being a guest
you feel like a personal guest in a home owner is one of the richest men at the Saxon started soon after our
treasured private home. Staying at in South Africa. The grand, 53 all- plane arrived at Jo’burg OR Tambo
the multi-award-winning Saxon in suite boutique hotel and villas has airport. We were fresh from travelling
Johannesburg is like that but more undoubtedly become an inner sanctum the Kalahari Desert and visiting
for visiting dignitaries and celebrities Mozambique and a concierge met us
A series of original sketches by the to South Africa. as we disembarked and whisked us
acclaimed artist, Dean Simon, features through a VIP customs area (bypassing
some of the Saxon’s most celebrated The Saxon is where Nelson Mandela long queues). He managed to get our
guests. One of the most notable of these retreated to when he was released luggage in record time and delivered
is the evocative work titled Foresight and from prison in 1990 to write his us to a waiting chauffeur, ready to
Hindsight – The Five Faces of Mandela, autobiography, The Long Walk to ferry us away from the bustle of the
which traces the progression of Nelson Freedom. It’s Oprah’s favourite home- airport. Myself and my son, Dara,
Mandela’s life from-home and the billionaire owner, settled in with Wi-Fi on board while
insurance entrepreneur Douw Steyn, the driver pointed out the many
founder of astonishing changes to the Jo’burg
(or Meerkat), has hosted some of the landscape. We have visited the once-
world’s most famous people, from maligned, sprawling city many times
Bill Clinton to Mick Jagger. Prince over the years, usually with the aim of
William and Prince Harry, Victoria getting out of it as quickly as possible.
Beckham and U2 have all chosen this But vibrant new areas of Jo’burg,
ambassadorial residence that was regenerated for the World Cup, are
now brimming with cool bars, gourmet
restaurants and exclusive retreats.

By the time we rolled up to the


impressive pillars and the large, imposing front Almost every piece of furniture was
door of the Saxon in the affluent Sandhurst crafted from South African materials by
area, we already felt like pampered house local artisans
guests. The boutique offering is set on ten acres
of lush indigenous gardens with a beautiful The Saxon
infinity pool, well stocked koi pond, features Spa
six swimming pools (the main one plays
underwater music), a world famous indoor- The hotel
outdoor spa, and a fine dining restaurant lobby
among its culinary options.
The terrace is a
Discrete security staff stayed close to the relaxed eatery
smart, sleek fleet of chauffeured cars while for casual meals
we were swept up the stone steps flanked
by candle sconces and large terracotta pots.
Matching staircases and a stunning chandelier
add drama and intrigue to the entrance lobby,
with glimpses of monotone contemporary
African artwork on the spotlit mezzanine above.
After an efficient and pleasant check in, we
left the main house and took an outside lift
that led to a futuristic glass tunnel to the villas.
The unexpectedness of a neon lit, high-level
walkway through the treetops hinted at a clever,
bold design style not afraid to surprise.

The Saxon is more a mansion than a grand
house and you would be hard-pressed to find
the same materials or fabrics used more than
once in the palatial living spaces and connecting
rooms. It feels like the various moods and
passions of the owner are reflected on the
walls, floors and furniture. Interior moodscapes
at the Saxon are varied and multi-layered.
Intimate corners are created through the clever
coupling of chairs and tables in large communal
living spaces, with supersized furnishings and
dramatic architectural floral displays. The
tones are muted but far from tame. There is
a distinctive vibe throughout the hotel. Even
though the interior of the main house and the
villas are quite different, they are connected by
the same artistic amalgamation. The rooms are
home to an eclectic art collection celebrating
photography, wood carvings, stone works,
metals and contemporary paintings. The
multitude of fabrics from rich embroidered
silks to contemporary geometric patterns in
communal living spaces create an ambiance of
luxurious privacy.

Dara and I stayed in separate villas, each had
a distinctive Saxon style and a private heated
plunge pool. The villas can be booked as a
whole for family groups, or conferences, and are

The luxurious suites featuring Frette designed as grand homes rather than an outpost PHOTOGRAPHS BY NORAH CASEY USING CANON POWERSHOT
linens, pillow menu, underfloor of the main hotel. U2 took over all three villas SX710HS; CANON POWERSHOT SX60HS; CANON EOS 100D
heating and a garden terrace during the band’s last visit. Our butler took us
on a tour of the communal areas, the 24-hour
Luke Dale Roberts is the fine dining option bar, and dining area should you wish to eat in
with extraordinary tasting menus the villa rather than the main house. The suite
was magnificent with a king bed, dressed in
Frette linens, taking centre stage.

A gleaming white bath beckoned in the
bathroom where I soaked away the jet lag
with Molton Brown amenities. The soothing,
darker wood hues of the elegant bedroom and
living area, adorned with stark silver bowls,
contemporary African artefacts and overstuffed
armchairs, flowed beautifully through to the
private terrace where I sipped a glass of the
complimentary sparkling wine delivered to all
guests on arrival.

Dara (18) was in heaven after weeks of being
in the bush, with free Wi-Fi, iPod docking
station and international chargers. And,
as though designed just for me, there were
beautiful, single stem bird of paradise flowers
(my favourite) in the bathroom, bedroom and
living area. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

“Luke Dale Roberts x The Saxon is a
showcase for the British-born chef,
who owns what is largely regarded
as South Africa’s best restaurant,

The Test Kitchen in Cape Town”

Within moments of landing at the Saxon, I
headed for the spa for a well-earned treat after
so much time bush-trekking and sleeping in
tents. The Saxon Spa, with eight treatment
rooms, a Hamman, thermal spaces, flotation
pod, hydro pool and sleep zone, is considered
one of the most luxurious in the city. It has
already won international acclaim, most
recently being voted South Africa’s Best Hotel
Spa 2017 at the World Travel Awards. Designed
by Stephen Falke, the contemporary dark wood
and healing copper décor across two floors
features a zen garden, cascading water, and an
all-glass outdoor massage room.

Treatment rooms are ionised by an
extraordinary, locally hand-crafted Himalayan
salt and recycled glass chandelier, while the
walls of the sauna are also made from the
locally handcrafted mineral. The pinkish salt
lumps are said to purify the air, stimulate
circulation and increase energy levels. So,


my choice of treatment was made! and local sourcing of ingredients. and fresh salmon with curried carrots
The Saxon Himalayan Signature Our gastronomic journey began with compressed apple honeycomb and
Journey (approx.€100) is 90 minutes a delicious array of starters from lime (matched with Karen merlot rose)
of blissful indulgence starting with the kitchen, breads, chilli oil butter, followed and then a langoustine and
a milk foot ritual followed by an caramelised onion and cashew nuts. lamb risotto (much lighter than you
all over exfoliation with Himalayan Then the main extravaganza began, might imagine) with a standout pinot
salt – badly needed after the Kalahari each plate paired with a superb local noir from Creation. The savoury finale
Desert air. A full-body massage using wine match delivered expertly by of springbok with ash-baked beetroot,
expert rhythmic strokes with a hot Riffel. The menu was precise and pine needle, ricotta and peanut
granite stone eased aching muscles and innovative with some really courageous almost defeated us but we soldiered
soothed stiff joints. flavour and texture combinations. Dara on, bolstered by a glass of the Rust n
generally has a good palette (raised by Vrede Cabernet from Stellenbosch. We
The final part of this sumptuous spa a father and mother who love great chose one each of the desert course
journey was the application of cooling food) but we were both blown away so we could sample both. First was
anti-inflammatory rose quartz crystal. by awesome combinations of tastes apricot and almond with apricot
Skin glowing, muscles eased and and the enthusiasm of our waiter just mousse, frangipane, apricot crème
feeling energised I was ready for the added to the experience. We had the and rum ariette served with Graham
next adventure – this one was of the
culinary kind – at the fine dining Luke Stephen Falcke designed the Saxon’s striking interiors
Dale restaurant. featuring oversized furniture in double height living
areas to create dramatic common areas
THE SAXON whole evening ahead and it was worth Beck’s Demi-Sec. While the guava
The Saxon’s fine dining restaurant lingering over this tasting menu which delice featured guava halva mousse,
Luke Dale Roberts x The Saxon is a required a pretty robust constitution. white chocolate fondant and halva
showcase for the British-born chef, We started with beef tataki with goats ice-cream served with Paul Cluver
who owns what is largely regarded as cheese served with a smoky paprika riesling. One of the best tasting menus
South Africa’s best restaurant, The Test and a tomato aubergine puree and for inventiveness. Luke Dale Roberts
Kitchen in Cape Town. It was our final it was perfect served with Overberg x Saxon, Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa;
night in Africa and we had already Ataraxia’s light sauvignon blanc. Next [email protected]; tasting
decided to splurge on the eight-course came wafer thin slivers of seabass menu, approx. €150, including wine.
tasting menu matched with local South tartare with umami flavoured rich
African wines from the Saxon’s superb pickled shimeji mushrooms and lovage Want to visit?
cellar. The menu is innovative and the pesto served with a glass of 2016
wine matches were superbly chosen De Wetshof Chardonnay. A smokey, The Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa,
by William Riffel (who is cousin to flavoursome lamb scottati with Luke’s 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst;
the world famous Franschhoek chef, special XO dressing was perhaps the
Reuben Riffel). arc of the menu for me served with a Book through NI
rich smoked bone marrow and radish based travel company
The restaurant is elegant and sleek salad and a robust Southern Right or email:
with its open plan kitchen as the centre pinotage from Franschhoek. Light
point. With just ten tables, the space [email protected].
feels intimate and sophisticated. While
Luke Dale provides the inspiration and
leadership of the culinary experience,
the head chef Candice Philip is the
woman in charge on a day-to-day
basis. Before I came to the Saxon I
had read about her love of the hotel’s
rooftop garden inspired by Raymond
Blanc’s food garden at Belmond
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in
Oxfordshire, England. It shows in the
varied herbs, flowers and vegetables
that featured on the menu. Our waiter
was exceptionally knowledgeable
about the various courses adding in
interesting anecdotes about the garden

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