Off to Africa

Elephants South Africa Safari - 04linz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Photo by 04linz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg’S Royal Suite (here) offers 2,174 square feet of space and extends over three floors.
Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg’S Royal Suite (here) offers 2,174 square feet of space and extends over three floors.

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg

From the posh cliffside perch of South Africa’s first Four Seasons Hotel, everything is green as far as the eye can see; palm tree-lined streets give way to the largest human-made forest in the world, seven million trees deep, a verdant landscape that dazzles even longtime city residents. “It’s so beautiful here,” a waiter at the hotel’s Flames restaurant confides, “you’d think it was Cape Town.” Johannesburg, the economic center of South Africa, always seems to be cast as ugly stepsister to cosmopolitan Cape Town, but with the opening of this international luxury hotel and a newly revitalized downtown, Jo’burg is writing its own Cinderella story. And the Four Seasons is acting in the role of fairy godmother, a revitalized crystal palace crowning the city.

There’s a lot to like at this contemporary property, formerly the pastel pink landmark Westcliff Hotel, including the new color scheme of crisp beige walls, the stacked sleek glass restaurants that rise over the city accessed by a transparent elevator, and the spacious modern rooms that use a palette of soft colors with winks to African decor (think celery green, zebra stripe wall coverings). Rolling across 7.7 acres comprising low-rise “residences,” the property feels more like a resort than a city hotel, especially with the golf carts that take guests around the hilly property and to the destination spa.

THE VIEW RESTAURANT (above right) is the hotel’s romantic reservation offering multicourse tasting menus paired with South African wines.
The View restaurant is the hotel’s romantic reservation offering multicourse tasting menus paired with South African wines.

When booking clients, note that rooms in the Melville residences have the best views, called “Zoo” views since they face the Jo’burg Zoo located in the city forest. For A-listers, the Royal Suite is where visiting Saudi royalty stays; it boasts a private entrance, five bedrooms, personal gym, a dining room, kitchen and spacious living quarters.

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The View restaurant is the hotel’s romantic reservation, offering multicourse tasting menus paired with South African wines. For couples, reserve a window table before sunset for best views. Flames is where local business people gather after work for sundowners (drinks at sunset) on the patio, and for locally raised steaks and filets. For small groups, the Cellar Door hosts private dining for up to 18 people in a sleek modern wine cellar tucked into the side of the property; it overlooks the Jo’burg forest with floor-to-ceiling glass walls (wine is protected with tinted glass).

The spa at Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg, is a resort-style urban retreat with nine treatment rooms.
The spa at Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg, is a resort-style urban retreat with nine treatment rooms.

Another top spot at the hotel is the spa, a destination onto itself with nine treatment rooms and a sybaritic relaxation room inside, a pool, sun terrace, bar, and deli restaurant outdoors. Laying on a lounge chair with a cocktail in hand, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve been transported to a tropical resort. Advisors can contact Spa Manager Julanda Marais ([email protected]) directly to book treatments, including the most popular: the Gold of Mapungubwe body treatment, a full body massage using antioxidant baobab tree seeds and oil.

With 330 international flights going through Jo’burg every day, the hotel is positioning itself as the gateway to Africa, says General Manager Sebastien Carre ([email protected]). Carre says he wants to let guests ‘touch’ experiences, and enrich their entire stay in Africa by providing them with exclusive access to experts who will provide background and access to sites and information.

Head Concierge Ahkaash Babulall ([email protected]) can arrange these bespoke experiences, two of which, we hear, have been extremely popular: “Shoot Like a Pro” a pre-safari photography course with local photography experts; and, for families, a private tour of the adjacent Jo’burg Zoo with a conservation expert, an excellent intro to wildlife for children, so they’re prepared for safari.

For a different type of excursion, the Four Seasons has an exclusive arrangement with the Royal Johannesburg members-only, championship golf club, 10 minutes away. The concierge can also arrange a 45-minute helicopter trip to Leopard Creek golf course, famous for its location on the edge of the Kruger National Park (the 13th hole is particularly memorable, with views reaching out over a crocodile-filled river).

Speaking of excursions, venture out from the hotel to experience the city: The Westcliff isn’t the only thing that’s been transformed in Jo’burg. The CBD, once a no-man’s land of derelict warehouses, has become a hip, vibrant, art-filled and walkable destination, especially in Braamfontein, which feels a lot like the hippest parts of Brooklyn. First Thursdays (art walks on the first Thursday of the month), and the Saturday Neighbourgoods Market are filled with young artists and craftspeople with unique wares and artisanal, small batch goods for sale. Other days, clients can visit “iwasshot,” in Maboneng where local photos enliven notebooks, canvas, coasters, and mugs. Speaking of mugs, coffee culture is alive and well in Braamfontein (a welcome development in a tea-centric country that once served instant Nescafe, as a matter of course). Direct clients to Father Coffee, which roasts its own beans and carefully crafts cappuccinos and more. In the evening, reserve a table at The Orbit for sophisticated live jazz and dinner.

Another highlight of Jo’burg is a visit to cultural sites, and a look at the country’s struggles to overcome Apartheid. Both a tour of Soweto and a visit to the Apartheid Museum are moving encounters. If clients don’t have time for one of these immersive options, have them stop at the Constitutional Court (the concierge can arrange special tours of all these sites). Established in 1994, the court is the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, and is open to the public to visit at any time. Part of the ‘transparent’ government that Nelson Mandela helped create, the court is filled with original artwork that highlights the changing South Africa. With more time, it’s possible to also visit the attached prison that once housed both Mahatma Gandhi and Mandela (although not at the same time).

Note that Four Seasons uses Jarat Tours ([email protected]) for airport transfers with advance request (the trip from the airport is 30 minutes, closer to an hour during rush hour). Ask for driver Joseph Hadzhi; his Mercedes sedan has both Wi-Fi and an iPad for a modern trip through this Cinderella city.

Singita Pamushana

Zimbabwe, off travelers' radars during more than a decade of internal political strife, has recently re-emerged from the shadows of the African travel scene to become the top choice for luxury safaris. From the moment clients arrive at Singita Pamushana they know they have arrived “in a place in the sun,” the Shangaan translation of the luxury lodge’s name, and the perfect description of this exclusive corner of Zimbabwe. When they first set foot into the camp, guests are welcomed with cool towels, iced cocktails and smiles.

Singita Pamushana (here and below) is located on 130,000 acres of the Malilangwe Game Reserve. It is the sole lodge in this remote natural area of Zimbabwe.
Singita Pamushana (above and below right) is located on 130,000 acres of the Malilangwe Game Reserve. It is the sole lodge in this remote natural area of Zimbabwe.

Singita Pamushana is located on 130,000 acres of almost prehistoric looking, pristine lush natural area of the private Malilangwe Game Reserve. The reserve encompasses 38 separate habitats filled with rarely seen wild animals, including the largest population of endangered black rhino in the world. The reserve is marked by umbrella acacia, verdant mopane and a sparkling man-made lake that is a favorite of anglers for its tigerfish leaping out of the water and the wild tilapia that can be cooked for dinner by the kitchen staff after guests reel them in.

Singita is the sole lodge in this remote natural area. With just seven airy suites, clients can truly luxuriate in the spacious natural surroundings. Although it’s remote, this doesn’t mean clients will be roughing it, as both Bill Gates and Ron Howard have discovered when they stayed here. A wine cellar is filled with exclusive vintages to complement the gourmet à la carte menus (think egg yolk ravioli with hazelnut beurre noisette, duck breast with an orange jus, rack of lamb, poached pears with chocolate ice cream — everything homemade); there’s a yoga studio with a heated floor; and a spa, where massages come with panoramic views and soothing nature sounds, no piped in soundtrack required (ask for top masseuse, Fiona Sandaramu).

With its intimate size, Lodge Manager Emily Capon ([email protected]) is able to consult with travel advisors about each guest’s itinerary to incorporate personal preferences and requests, whether it’s stocking in-room bars with a favorite wine or liquor, soft drinks and snacks or creating surprise candlelit dinners or rose petal filled baths for celebrating couples.

This is a rare property, equally at ease hosting honeymooners as well as families. Due to the small number of guests, and large number of attentive staff, all activities are customized. Capon will arrange sunset welcome drinks on the lake, coordinate visits to rare Bushmen rock art sites or the Kambako cultural village or plan activities for children, who are welcome here regardless of their age.

Although all the Shangaan art-filled suites have secluded decks with private pools, tree-high vaulted ceilings, plush four-poster beds draped with mosquito netting and luxe touches such as Wi-Fi and Dermalogica toiletries, A-listers will want to book Suite 7: A five-bedroom, five-bathroom oasis with a private kitchen, dining table for eight, and a glass wall in the master suite that disappears with the touch of a remote.

Of course, safari is the main attraction of the African wilderness, and the expert guides and trackers that Singita has drive guests in open jeeps to spot the "Big Five" of safari lore, which are found here in abundance. There are herds of elephant dozens deep, leopard, lion, buffalo and both white and black rhinoceros. In addition, there are zebra, giraffe, kudu, and nyala, plus rare wild dogs and African cats, and predators including jackals and hyenas. With the advantage of having an enormous reserve and very few game drives out, guides and guests have the opportunity to spend as long as they want at any sighting — a rarity at other safari camps.

Singita Pamushana is accessible by chartered flights from Johannesburg (approximately an hour-and-45-minute trip). Singita meets guests at the rustic Buffalo Range airstrip for the 45-minute lodge transfer in air-conditioned vehicles. (Please advise clients that they will need US$30 per person for entry visas upon arrival. Note: The US dollar is the preferred form of currency, and clients should bring small denomination bills for tips and cash purchases). All private planes will also need to land at Buffalo Range to clear customs. Arrivals from within Zimbabwe can land at Pamushana’s helicopter pad located on property. 

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