Africa

Johannesburg’s AtholPlace: A Luxurious Respite For Weary Travelers

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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.

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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.

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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 7:30pm 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 7am to take me to the airport and I finally forced myself out of bed at 6:20am. By 6:55am 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.

Knowing that I would miss the hotel’s breakfast he handed me a neatly packed bag filled with pastries, fruit and yogurt, “For the ride to the airport ” he said with a smile and then scooted me out the door

I was a guest of the AtholPlace, however all the opinions expressed here are completely my own!

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