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Monday 27 May 2013

A slice of Las Vegas in the wilds of Africa

Imagine if they plonked the Las Vegas strip in the middle of the African bush and populated it with colourful, comically rich folk from around the globe who demanded the best in food, wine and service. 

That's almost exactly what happened with the massive Sun City resort complete with four hotels, casino, showroom, two world-class golf courses and its own royal palace: the Palace of the Lost City.

Around two hours from Johannesburg, near the town of Rustenberg and right on the fringe of the Pilanesberg National Park, the fantastical Palace of the Lost City is almost laughably over the top - but in the nicest possible way.

A couple of bizarre facts:  

# The painting on the ceiling of the royal entrance chamber was created in the same way as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel in Rome and took nearly 5,000 hours to complete.

# The six elephants tusks, arching in pairs over the Tusk Lounge and Bar, are 5.6 metres high, weigh two tons, and were made in four pieces out of Indonesian Square wood, which is heavier than ivory. 

So far; so grandiose and all part of a plan developed by the hotel magnate Sol Kerzner (who was once married to a former Miss World) as part of his Sun International Group. Sun City was built in 1979 in what was then known as Bophuthatswana, a grim, dusty, "independent" state of no real consequence economically or politically. 

Unrecognised by any other country than apartheid South Africa, it controversially hosted gambling, topless reviews and world title fights and became extremely popular with affluent South African guests. With the demise of apartheid and Bophuthatswana's inclusion in the "new" South Africa in 2004 it has become a major international draw card. 

Guests who have stayed in the eye-popping Lost Palace, the most recent of the four hotels,  include Kylie Minogue, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Neil Armstrong, Robert de Niro and Nelson Mandela. 

Everything is ridiculously opulent, from the external towers to the lavish lobby. There are 338 rooms, each with an African theme, and guests can choose from activities including balloon safaris, game drives, golfing on the two Gary Player-designed courses (one of which has a lake populated by live crocodiles), or swimming at an artificial beach with its own wave machine. 

The Pilanesberg National Park accommodates virtually every mammal of southern Africa and is also home to healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo - Africa's Big FiveA wide variety of rare and common species are to be found, including the nocturnal brown hyena, the fleet-footed cheetah, the majestic sable, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile. 

As you’d expect from a facility that bills itself as Africa’s leading resort, Sun City has a range of restaurant options from fine dining to a replica township shebeen (or pub). Staff training here is regarded as being among the best in Africa and service is slick without being suffocating.

A note for food lovers: the buffet breakfasts at the Palace are staggering and quite probably the best I have ever enjoyed. Make breakfast your main meal of the day.
The Palace of the Lost City: +27 14 557 3000.


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