Africa

Johannesburg’s AtholPlace: A Luxurious Respite For Weary Travelers

Athol Place

 

I love luxury.

I guess that’s not unusual. Who doesn‘t love luxury?

But I don’t need luxury when I travel. In fact, if I made luxury a deciding factor in my choice of destinations I doubt I would have gone to some of the remote yet remarkable places I’ve had the pleasure of exploring over the years.

Every now and then, however, my circumstances are such that I embrace luxury with reckless abandon. Such was the case in South Africa where I was an invited guest at the AtholPlace, a boutique hotel in Atholi, a suburb of Johannesburg. I’d come from an eight-day adventure in the Timbavati wilderness where it was a lot of fun but very cold and rugged, and was heading to Kenya’s Amboseli National Park the next morning. The pampering and serenity of Athol Place was a welcome respite.

 

More Home Than Hotel

I arrived at twilight after a six-hour drive from the bush, entering through a security gate that gave me the impression I was staying at an embassy. (Violent crime in Johannesburg is at a peak now, gates and advanced security systems are an unfortunate necessity.)

AtholPlace reminds me of the posh estates I’ve visited in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island: large, airy and serene with calming neutral hues, a blend of fine textures and decorated with a simple elegance.

My suite was at the top of a short flight of stairs on a mezzanine that overlooked the lobby entrance. At the base of the stairs was a small granite bar where a welcome drink waited for me. It was a satisfying fruity concoction that begged me to drink it down like a shot but I refrained, preferring not to be seen as a heathen.

 

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Inside my room, the bed looked divine with its crisp white sheets, over-sized pillows, and a thick duvet—I couldn’t wait to snuggle under the covers.

As if I had some bizarre confection radar, I zeroed in on two silver bowls sitting on a dresser filled with large squares of homemade fudge, one caramel the other coconut. I took a bite of the caramel and it was sweet but not sickly, just the way I like it, and the texture was velvety smooth. I immediately relaxed, and the fudge, well, that was history by the end of the night.

A victim of habit, I booted up my computer so that I could download the photos I’d taken on a game drive earlier that morning. The only outlet I could find in the main room was above the desk in the corner, which would have been a serious buzz kill if I hadn’t brought along my handy-dandy travel power strip. I filled its three plugs with various chargers and hungry batteries then jumped into the shower.

 

Later, as I was putting on my makeup, it occurred to me I may not have packed the proper clothes for the dining room downstairs—it looked pretty swanky—and I panicked. I called the operator and she assured me casual dress would be perfectly fine but I was pretty sure that bush casual and Joburg casual were not the same thing. I’d planned badly.

SPortnoy_20140614_7502I grabbed a couple of items I hoped would work and searched high and low for an iron. I was out of luck. Mortified to wear a wrinkly ensemble, I called the front desk and asked them to send one to my room. When I answered my door, a kind but empty-handed housekeeper informed me that she would iron the outfit for me. Nice!

By 7:30 pm I was wrinkle-free and ready to go. Friends that lived in Johannesburg were joining me for dinner and I headed downstairs, realizing mid-step that I’d never been given a key to my room. According to a nearby employee, there was no need for keys but if I was concerned they would lock my room for me. With thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, including an expensive lens rental, I chose to indulge my paranoia.

Dinner with Friends

The restaurant at AtholPlace is for guests only. It serves a three-course tasting menu each night with an available seven-course option for ravenous foodies.  Chef Irwin de Vries greeted us at our table and walked us through what he’d whipped up for dinner.

The first course was a chili, corn and coconut chowder finished with micro coriander leaf. We had a choice of entrée: seared Norwegian salmon accompanied by a fennel bulb and orange salad enhanced with a wasabi aioli and topped with a baked scallop, or the grilled lamb loin served with fondant potato and a spicy ratatouille finished with a classic red wine jus. I went for the beef, my guests opted for the salmon. To top it all off we enjoyed white chocolate and Amarula cheesecake. Yum!

After we’d shared a long leisurely dinner, I saw my friends off and returned to my room—within minutes  I dove into the bed. I doubt I lasted more than 30 seconds before fading sweetly into a blessed coma.

Dinner entre at AtholPlace hotelThe next morning I had no time to spare—lets just say I overdid the snooze alarm just a teeny-weeny bit—my ride was picking me up at 7 am to take me to the airport and I finally forced myself out of bed at 6:20 am. By 6:55 am I was downstairs looking forward to the next leg of my trip. Andrew the general manager, was on hand to check me out and help me with my bags.

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