“Seriously? What do you mean you love Johannesburg?” If I had 20 bucks for every time I’ve heard that over the past five years I’d be eating at Michelin restaurants every night! Before moving to Cape I lived in Joburg for 5 years and grew to love the crazy-exciting-edgy city. I’ve seemingly had to spend a good deal of my last few years convincing Capetonians that despite first appearances and reputations, she actually has a lot to offer. I went back for a week and decided to offer some proof.
What to do in and around Joburg
Believe it or not, Joburg is not all about gargantuan shopping malls and high rise fences. There are a scattering of green spaces that will even leave Capetonians feeling a bit fresher. The James & Ethel Gray park in Melrose is one of my favourites: a well manicured park with great views, and is a hub of activity after work. For a longer run or cycle, Delta Park is the place to go. Lastly, Emmarentia Dam and Botanical gardens is still my place of choice to find some refuge in the city. In season, the rose gardens are a must visit, or a leisurely stroll up to the dams to join locals (and their dogs) enjoy the scenery and vast views.
Although in Cape Town we may have recently scooped up almost all of the 10 Eat Out awards for the top restaurants in South Africa, Joburg still has a heap of dining offerings. Eating out plays a large part of the Jozi culture and choosing the right spot could seem daunting. Here are three of my top picks – and will hopefully satisfy even the most sophisticated Capetonian palate:
– Both literally and physically, the Four Seasons Westcliff Hotel stands head and shoulders above the rest. This iconic 5 star hotel sits high on a Northern Suburbs ridge, giving expansive views of second biggest man-made forest in the world, and gives you the opportunity to spot elephants and hear the occasional lion roar in the zoo below, all while enjoying your glass of Springfield wine.
– Relatively new to the Joburg eating scene, The Social Kitchen has already won a Eat Out award, and is situated in the prestigious Hyde Park Hotel. This restaurant too has gracious views from the double-volume glass front. We chose the Chef’s Selection, which was priced at R480 for two people, and included a shareable 7 course meal. Stylish and scrumptious – and as a bookworm, I loved the walk through one of Exclusive Book’s premier stores to get to the restaurant.
– The National in Park Town North is one of the trendy local hangout spots in a suburb known for its eateries. If you’re a burger fan, the organic beef, bacon mayo, and fontina cheese burger was probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had! They also have a variety of craft beers available. Although Cape Town may have started the trend, Joburg has definitely caught up, and has some of her own brews that will blow you away.
Where to stay: The Thaba Eco Hotel Review
Due to the city’s sheer size, there are a host of options to bed down for the night. On this visit I was utterly taken back by a new discovery – possibly one of Joburg’s best kept secrets – the Thaba Eco Hotel. It is affectionately dubbed the green heart of Joburg and not without due and deserved merit! Surrounded by Johannesburg’s Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, this 4 star hotel will impress even the most skeptical Capetonian. The views from my veranda made me feel like I was in any South African game reserve – despite the fact I was a mere 15 minutes from Golf Reef City and the Apartheid Museum, or 20 minutes from the city center!
After checking in I was driven to my delux apartment – one of four set in clusters along one of the property’s ridges. The eco-friendly blocks are designed to work with the environment, and leave little impact. Of course none of this comes at the expense of design both exterior and interior. The chic apartments are spacious, and from your bed, floor-to-ceiling glass windows on two sides give 180 deg views of the surroundings. I took the header picture from the veranda, of a passing thunderstorm whilst enjoying a glass of chardonnay and mellifluous soundtrack provided by the birds.
The hotel offers in-house eco game drives through their hectors of natural bush, where you get up close with the fauna and flaura, and are given a green education by the conservation officer. You can imagine my surprise when we stopped for a break and out came hot drinks, and the most impressive picnic spread I’ve seen! Talking of suprise, the female half of the couple who were on the drive with me was equally suprised at the marriage proposal at the end of the game drive (from her boyfriend not me)! I landed up taking a impromptu photo shoot for them with the bushveld giving the perfect backdrop. I can understand why the hotel has become a destination of choice for weddings and other functions.
Stylishly scrumptious meals were served three times a day by the exceptionally friendly and engaging staff at the Kraal restaurant, and the outdoor pool was a great way to soak in some sun post-meals. The Sinzinani Spa is conveniently located on site, and I visited for their Relaxing Package: a 90 minute treatment that includes foot exfoliation, face massage, head & scalp, hot stone back, neck and shoulder massage, and Shiatsu pressure points. The very capable hands of my therapist and the glass of welcome bubbly made this a must-do relaxation and indulgence experience at the hotel.
Let’s be honest: where else are you 20 minutes from city center, sitting on a game drive, or have a 14km bushveld trail running track at your disposal? Owners Reuben and Maruis should be rightfully proud of their unique and exciting hotel, which will always sit on my top ten Joburg list.
The last word
So please Capetonians, let’s give Joburg a bit of a break, and although she may not have vineyards, beaches or a towering mountain, but she makes up for it with her energy, creative spirit and engaging culture.