The 10 Luxuries of the Saxon Hotel
The Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas & Spa is a celebrated Johannesburg hotel which is well-known to luxury travelers as one of the finest boutique hotels in not just South Africa, but the world. The Saxon has hosted Oprah Winfrey, the Black Eyed Peas, Shakira and Kevin Spacey (how's that for a diverse sampling?) and features a distinguished collection of African art worth approximately 6.5 million South African rand (over $925,000).
If the art doesn't sway your fancies, the history will. The Saxon, a Leading Small Hotels of the World and Virtuoso member, was the private residence of insurance giant Douw Steyn until the year 2000. Nelson Mandela famously stayed there after his release from prison, and it was there that he edited his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The former South African president continues to visit The Saxon today, reportedly every year around the same time -- but naturally, they're not saying when.
Steyn saw to it that the hotel was created "in accordance with his vision," and the result is an experience unparalleled in its balance of business and leisure appeal. Picture expansive boardrooms with stocked bookshelves and intriguing artwork which can be used for meeting or dining, 41 luxurious entry level suites, 11 presidential suites, three villas and a two-bedroom platinum suite with a private elevator, all of which reflect the local aesthetics, and a multilevel spa with state-of-the-art treatments ranging from Swedish massage to sound therapies and aromatic hydro baths.
Before I give too much of it away, here are ten of the Saxon Hotel's most luxurious amenities which will have you coming back for more.
1. The Jacarandas
Jacaranda trees are sublimely common in South Africa, and when they are in bloom, the hills of Johannesburg are awash with purple petals. The Saxon is home to several of these magnificent trees, one of which drops its petals delicately into the courtyard koi pond -- an elegant sight to say the least. They bloom in October, which happens to be the exam period for the surrounding universities. As a result, locals refer to the blooming season as the "purple panic."
2. The Flotation Pool
Located in the gorgeous Saxon Hotel Spa & Studio, this shrine-like pool is available for all hotel guests to use freely. The dimly lit, shallow pool is heavily salted to give bodies increased buoyancy and provide stress relief for your transatlantic aches and pains.
3. The Art
There's nothing quite so disappointing as arriving at a hotel in Africa and feeling like you're still back home. The artwork at The Saxon both indicates and celebrates the local character, and delights every turn. A particular favorite room has a wall which extends two stories high and is completely covered in handmade baskets, each different in size and design. Each suite contains local artwork and locally-inspired furnishings, and the presidential suites in the villas have their own pedestal-mounted art collections right in the living areas.
4. The Bathrooms
The open-style restroom layouts of the suites at The Saxon create a spacious feel, which is augmented by the inclusion of his-and-hers sinks, separate bath and shower areas and a private water closet equipped with magazines and a telephone. You'll find more Molton Brown products here than the usual assortment, including a choice of relaxing or invigorating bath and shower gel and a seamoss hydrosoak for a stress-relieving bath.
5. The Rasul Chamber
This Byzantine mosaic-lined room is the setting for an multi-sensory spa treatment which starts with a lime and ginger salt scrub and hair mask, continues to a mud treatment, and culminates in a "rain forest" shower. The treatment is recommended for small groups to experience together in this elaborate chamber.
6. The Pool
Johannesburg gets hot, so a fabulous pool is imperative. The Saxon has two pools, not counting the spa, the koi ponds and the private plunge pools at the villas. The pool off the terrace (above) is a stunning infinity-sided pool where you can watch the sky turn pink at sunset with a cocktail in hand, and the courtyard pool is a more intimate space where you can tan peacefully on a luxurious patio chaise lounge or curl up in the cabana with a book (and a cocktail in hand).
7. Sound Therapy
Finally, a perfect spa treatment for people who don't want to be touched: sound therapy. You lie on a heated water bed and sounds are made all around you -- no, not like birds chirping in a meadow. There are large gongs at both ends of the bed which make sounds you can feel in your whole body. An assortment of additional tools like cymbals, bells and Tibetan singing bowls are used to create sounds said to work on the chakras with healing vibrations.
8. The Villas
Slightly separate from the hotel but easily accessible by a scenic elevated skyway are the Saxon Villas, opened in June 2010. Each of the three villas has its own greeting area, kitchen, boardroom, spa treatment room, heated pool and multiple presidential suites. They operate somewhat like individual boutique hotels. It was in these villas that the Black Eyed Peas and Shakira stayed during the World Cup. The villas offer superior privacy for larger groups and can be accessed directly from the parking garage by elevator, should guests wish to avoid being seen. They are decorated with more modernity than the rest of the hotel in pale neutrals and cool tones (some prefer the cozier tones of the main building). You can rent just a room or two or three in a villa and share the common spaces with other guests, or go all out and rent a whole villa yourself.
9. The Grand Entrance
There's something about a hotel that used to be a home that always feels like a home. Such is the case with the extravagant grand entrance of The Saxon Hotel. You are greeted by two breathtaking staircases which spiral up the sides of the circular foyer and are garnished with a dazzling chandelier which hangs above them. You are immediately surrounded by artwork and can glimpse the pool, the terrace and a reading room all from the entryway. Any good hotel knows that that first "wow" moment can dictate how you feel about the rest of your stay, so it is imperative to arrive to a spacious, beautiful, welcoming lobby area. The Saxon achieves this with both sophistication and whimsical flair.
10. The Included Breakfast
The restaurant at The Saxon is well-known to Jo'burgers as a magnificent destination for fine dining and also for its enviable wine cellar. If you are a guest at the hotel, this gorgeous dining room is also the setting for your lavish, indulgent included breakfast, with a buffet featuring sushi, fresh game, breads, fruits, quiches, oysters (for breakfast!) and more. Also included is juice and hot beverage of your choice, as well as a cooked meal of almost anything. Literally, the omelet says "fillings of your choice" and lists no choices. You can have anything you want. That's luxury at it's best.
The rates for The Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas & Spa start at $1,075 for an entry level suite in the low season, $2,226 for a presidential suite and $4,249 for the platinum suite. Click here to take a virtual tour.
My trip to Johannesburg and the Saxon Hotel was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.