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Wednesday 5 February 2014

The best address in Johannesburg

Some hotels are conveniently situated. Others offer excellent food and wine, or exemplary service. It is rare, however, to come across a hotel that is the complete package: private, set in lovely gardens, with resort and business facilities, helpful staff and two superb restaurants with a top-notch cellar.

But one such place is The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa in Sandhurst, a leafy suburb just a few minutes' drive from downtown Johannesburg. It is perfectly placed for business meetings, shopping one of the many local malls or dining in some of South Africa's finest eateries, which are found in nearby Sandton.  
A member of Leading Hotels of the World, The Saxon has several times been named as the best boutique hotel in the world. 

You can choose from villas, suites or maybe the Nelson Mandela Presidential suite, where the great man lived while working on his memoirs. 

All living areas are furnished in contemporary African style and are extremely chic and well-equipped. For those concerned about crime, the hotel has plenty of security and is set in safe and secure landscaped grounds.

The suites not only feature free wif-fi - they come with their own laptops - and the snacks and soft drinks in the minibar are also complimentary, a nice touch to avoid having to ring your butler for assistance. Yes, a butler will greet you on arrival and is available 24 hours a day.

The public rooms are beautifully designed with interesting art and artifacts, and there are two swimming pools from which to choose, as well as modern sculptures in the grounds. 

As you'd expect, there is a spectacular spa facility (offering a range of massages, sound therapy and an eight-hour head-to-toe treatment for the truly indulgent), a well-equipped gym and myriad staff for home nothing is too much trouble. 

The Saxon is known as a temple of African gastronomy, with its Qunu Grill specialising in grilled meats. The restaurant’s Xhosa name pays homage to the Eastern Cape village where former president Mandela was born. 

The hotel is also home to the high-end five hundred restaurant, and David Higgs (below), who oversees both kitchens, was the 2013 South African chef of the year. His philosophy is to use only the freshest seasonal ingredients and the hotel has its own herb and vegetable garden. 

Dinner at the sleek, super chic five hundred is a remarkable experience, particularly if you allow one of the hotel's team of five qualified sommeliers to chose wines to match your six-course degustation. 

All executive chef Higgs' dishes are a work of art (think foie gras and garden beets with savoury granola, pomegranate and juniper salt, or maybe Wagyu fillet and smoked brisket with barbecued king oyster mushrooms and greens). 

There is also a special area of the restaurant reserved for degustations matched with Champagnes from the House of Ruinart, known as The Ruinart Experience.

“We create our menu to the demands of gastronomy cognoscenti - people who combine a love of food and Champagne with a taste for luxury and quality of life,” says Higgs.

Other high-end experiences at The Saxon include al fresco dining on the terrace, spa cuisine high tea, and a cigar lounge. 

There is a concierge to make any bookings or arrangements guests may need - most useful in an unfamiliar city with an edgy reputation. 

Sorry if I'm gushing. I'm a difficult guest to please and can usually pick fault with some aspect of just about any hotel. Not this time. 

The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst, Johannesburg 2196. +27 11 292 6000.

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