Travel

What to expect from a stay in Johannesburg's Saxon hotel, where the Mandela Suite costs R90k a night

Business Insider SA
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Review
  • Johannesburg's five-star Saxon is likely the city's most lavish hotel for business and leisure travellers.
  • It's set on a ten-acre estate in the plush suburb of Sandhurst, with indigenous gardens, koi ponds, and a pillared terrace leading to a heated infinity pool.
  • The main hotel is the former private residence of South African billionaire insurance magnate Douw Steyn, who still owns the property.
  • It was also a temporary home to Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison, where he reportedly penned some of 'Long Walk to Freedom'.
  • Guests can now book a stay in Mandela's former suite — for R90,000 a night.
  • But there are other slightly cheaper and nearly as luxurious options on the property, as well as an in-house restaurant and spa open to day visitors.
  • Here's what to expect from a stay in the Saxon — and what awaits you in the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

* This article has been updated below.

From the moment you arrive at Johannesburg's Saxon Hotel on Saxon Road in Sandhurst, it's clear this is no ordinary hotel, and that everything is likely to be bigger and grander than most alternate accommodation options in South Africa.

A suited welcoming party is on hand to greet you at the property's large gates on a driveway wedged between some of South Africa's most valuable properties. The team is there to ensure that you're coming to the Saxon, rather than mistaking it for your wealthy best friend's house, and then guide you up the snaking driveway to a remote corner of the ten-acre estate.

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Walking into the grandiose hotel lobby also sticks to the Saxon's opening theme. Two sweeping staircases lead up dramatically to a mezzanine level on either side, and the room, once the heart of a private home, is lit by a giant skylight and dramatic chandelier. Large artworks, many of which pay homage to late President Nelson Mandela, hang on the walls.

The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa is partly set in the former home of South African billionaire insurance magnate Douw Steyn, with more recent villa expansions taking over neighbouring properties. It's open to day and evening visitors who want to eat at one of its two restaurants, or indulge in a treatment at the Saxon Spa. And it's typically through one of these attractions that most South Africans first experience the unashamedly opulent destination. 

But the Saxon has made its name among the world's most discerning business and leisure travellers as the ultimate Johannesburg stop-off point. If guests aren't conducting business in the city, they're often freshening up at the hotel and getting signature treatments at the spa after a long haul flight, before heading north on a private safari or south to Cape Town. 

And a stay in one of the luxury, presidential, or platinum suites is a remarkable experience in itself, and a bucket list item for many of the world's luxury hotel hoppers.

Overnight options at the Saxon vary in size from 80 to 400 square metres. There are 24 rooms in the main hotel and 27 in the villas on the property, and the most affordable of these are the luxury suites available in each location.

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These suites come with a king-size bed, high-speed WiFi, HD flat-screen TV with remote-controlled surround sound, a fully stocked complimentary minibar, a terrace or balcony overlooking the lush gardens, business desk, dining areas, and an array of conveniences and facilities you would expect from a hotel in this price point.

In the unlikely event of you requiring something not already in your suite — say an additional bottle of chilled MCC, a few more bar snacks, or a city tour reservation — a butler is on hand 24 hours a day.

Although it's possible to stay in suites located in Steyn's former home, the more recently constructed villas are a short walk away — along a treetop walkway — and offer something of a retreat-like feel.

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Inside the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite

The Saxon's flagship accommodation is the stately second-floor, 400 square metre former suite of Nelson Mandela. It sleeps four, with a separate guest room, entrance and lounge, and costs upwards of R90,000 per night.

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It's here that Nelson Mandela stayed shortly after his release from prison and where he reportedly wrote some of his autobiography, 'Long Walk to Freedom'.

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Business Insider South Africa was given a guided tour of the suite, which features a marble bathroom with a jacuzzi bath, walk-in shower, and steam room. There's also a large dining or conference table, a writing desk with Mandela's favoured Zebra-covered chair, and original artworks that feature or pay tribute to the late president.

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The suite also has a fully-equipped butler's kitchen with a separate entrance, and comes with 24-hour butler service.

Dining in style

The in-house restaurant, called Qunu after Mandela's home village, is an equally high-end affair. It's set in the once indoor swimming pool room of Steyn's former home and saw a comprehensive refurbishment in 2020.

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Qunu is open to outside reservations, and it has earned a reputation as one of Johannesburg's mainstay restaurants for local celebrities and its wealthiest businesspeople to see and be seen. It's also received notable global restaurant accolades, including several from the World Culinary Awards, and is now under the guidance of executive chef Matthew Fox.

Despite a strong local flavour influence (many ingredients are grown seasonally on the property), items like foie gras, Wagyu beef carpaccio, and French chardonnay (available by the glass) stand out on a menu that caters to most palates, if not budgets. 

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A team of waiters, performing something of a silent waltz across the main restaurant floor, deliver food and drink to well-spaced tables with minimal fuss and plenty of charm. 

Chefs prepare some dishes like the popular Steak Diane directly at the tables, there's a comprehensive vegan offering, and those who can't choose between the myriad wine and food options can select the five-course tasting menu, available with additional wine pairing.

Although there's now no shortage of equally impressive restaurants dotted around Johannesburg — at which the concierge will happily arrange bookings and transfers — dining at Qunu is an experience in itself, but one that fully complements every other facet of the Saxon.

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There's also the option for guests to have meals on the terrace, which has a different menu to Qunu and offers a more toned-down affair. Outside visitors can book for the outside Koi Terrace should they not wish to eat in Qunu.

Meals or sundowners here are set to the gentle chirps of Johannesburg's northern suburbs birdlife perched in the estate's towering trees. Time your visit to the terrace on a weekday morning or afternoon, and it's a reward in itself to consider you're just a few hundred metres from Sandton's growing rush hour traffic - but nestled in the definition of luxurious tranquility.

Andrew Thompson was a guest of Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa in Johannesburg.

* This article was updated to reflect the correct number of guests who can stay in the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite, from six to four. Outside guests are also unable to dine on the main terrace, but can book a table at the back Koi Terrace.

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