Bold and beautiful for connoisseurs of luxury
LEAVING aside the matter of whether they will all thrive, there's something for every well-heeled traveller on business or pleasure in Gauteng's trio of brand-new, five-star hotels: The Grace in Rosebank, the Sandton Hilton and The Westcliff.
Those who prefer an intimate, traditional, club-like atmosphere are bound to make a beeline for the third hotel in the Brand family's Grace Collection. Those who wholeheartedly embrace the big, the new and the bold will prefer the America-meets- Africa style of the Hilton. And those who like a bit of both - but with the accents on singularity, luxury and European style - will head straight for Orient-Express Hotels' Westcliff.
Behind the grand, neo-classical facade of the 75-room Grace - sister to the Magaliesberg's Mount Grace and the Cape Town Waterfront's Cape Grace - is a home from home in rich autumn shades with dark wood, Oriental ceramics, books, paintings, prints and photographic reproductions of the old Transvaal. It also harks back to the colonial age in that its restaurant is more like a dining-room, serving roasts and featuring buffet tables groaning with soup, salads, terrines, cold cuts, smoked and pickled fish, cheeses, breads, relishes and fruit.
If you haven't got pressing business to attend to at an office block nearby, you can shop, doze at a table in the roof garden or do laps in an elevated, oblong pool.
The Grace, which reminds me of townhouse-like hotels in New York and London, is not attempting to cash in on the conference market. But it does have a ground- floor business centre with a boardroom seating 10, secretarial services and work stations.
The handsomely proportioned, boldly decorated 329-room Hilton, on the other hand, is going all out to be today's answer to the CBD's Carlton of yesteryear in banqueting. My bet is that its 750-delegate conference room, which spills on to a balcony, and nine meeting rooms of varying size and style will snatch functions business from its neighbours - Sandton Sun & Towers, Michelangelo, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza - and from Midrand's Gallagher Estate. It also has a fitness centre, outdoor pool and tennis court.
Nondescript from the outside, the Hilton is dazzling inside with plenty of strong colour - indigo, orange and yellow - and assertive ethnic art and artefacts. Nor was a timid imagination at work in the conception of its only restaurant, Tradewinds, which offers a United Nations of food. Our meal there began with foie gras and included Japanese sashimi, Chinese dim sum and a selection of Malaysian specialities. (Hilton's partners in the Sandton and Durban hotels are Malaysian).
You wouldn't exactly describe The Westcliff as user-friendly - you are transported in golf carts to its eyrie-like hub on historic Westcliff Ridge - but it is classically elegant from the outside and within. What started out a few years ago as a cluster of eight town residences developed by Tiber Bonvec - a couple of the units were marketed at more than R2-million apiece - it is now an almost complete, 120-room villa-style hotel.
The Westcliff's rooms, decorated in no-expense-spared style by Graham Viney, are available in a range of configurations. Some have larger-than-average bathrooms, others terraces with or without pools, but all are fitted with an ingenious table-like unit that encloses a pop-up television.
The hotel also has good conference facilities - five gracious function rooms catering for up to 120 delegates - and gym and health and beauty facilities.
The formal restaurant and adjoining loggia (for breakfasts and light lunches) overlook the main swimming-pool and have spectacular views over the zoo and surroundings. There are also two private dining-rooms, one decorated in a masculine style, the other smaller and more feminine.
The food in the coolly sophisticated, grey- green and white restaurant strikes a balance between multicultural and traditional.
There is hardly a gathering in Jo'burg that isn't buzzing with conflicting views about the merits of and outlooks for these and other luxury new SA hotels. But the hordes of well-dressed businessmen and women and foreigners expense-accounting one another in the bar and restaurant of the Sandton Hilton said it all for me: brave new hotels for a brave new world.
Opening rates are from R460 per person sharing (R820 single) at The Grace; from R1 055 (single) and R1 195 (double) at the Sandton Hilton: and from R750 (single) and R935 (double) at The Westcliff. These are exclusive of breakfast.
ý Linda Stafford is a senior editor of the Financial Mail