Having stayed at Morukuru Beach Lodge in the De Hoop nature reserve, we felt part of the Morukuru family, which includes AtholPlace. we knew to expect a warm welcome, excellent service, understated luxury, and great food. Visiting the continent’s coolest city had long been on my list of must-visits. I must admit to a bit of apprehension, my excitement tinged by tales of danger and crime. The Western Cape has held me captive for too long it’s time to spread my wings, and having flown over “the world’s largest man-made urban forest” too many times to count; it was extremely exciting to be here. As a garden designer, this man-made forest fascinates me. It’s a cocoon of wellness, and a gorgeous canopy of purple Jacaranda blooms from late September to the middle of November that hides a sprawling skyscraper-strewn city.
From its origins as a gold town Johannesburg an instant city, has always been a place for immigrants. The full spectrum of ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity. Fortune-hunters, swindlers, merchants, bureaucrats, clergymen, and prostitutes were all lured by gold, which lead to massive tree planting to structure the mining shafts after gold was discovered in 1886. The city’s vernacular developed from tin shacks and tents, followed by the Transvaal Republic vernacular, British Empire style, and Art Deco, to the post-war skyscraper boom, to the well-preserved 1970s-era city centre. It’s pretty unique. A mix of glitz and shiny new juxtaposed with grime and grit.
Things are changing as Joburger’s are beginning to reinhabit places they’ve previously abandoned, seeking relief from the city’s mall fatigue – as pretty much since the ‘70s, malls have been “the place to go.” Now thousands of suburbanites are flocking to Jonathan Liebmann’s gentrified Maboneng district, a dynamic, hip live-work-play district carved out of the industrial eastern fringe. It’s buzzing with galleries, cafés, restaurants, studios, one-off retailers, and the Saturday Neighbourhoods Market—including me—I love it! Maboneng, along with Braamfontein district, is changing the face of the city.
It’s a city you need an oasis to return to, I quickly discovered, and AtholPlace is the perfect base to dip in and out of while experiencing Joburg’s museums, galleries, restaurants, and bars; a calm and tranquil refuge, and an ideal stepping-stone to Kruger safari adventures. A place to adjust, unwind and prepare for your wildlife extravaganza. It would also make a perfect work-from-home staycation. Relais & Chateaux AtholPlace House & Villa is on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the chic, cosmopolitan upmarket suburb of Atholl near the trendy and elite Sandton art galleries and restaurants, the financial district, and leading commercial centres of Melrose Arch, Illovo, and Rosebank.
The Villa is an exclusive-use four-bedroom, home-from-home in the city for up to eight guests, with an elegant living and dining room that extends out to a terrace area looking over the lovely landscaped private garden, sparkling pool, and boma beyond. It’s the latest addition to AtholPlace House, which, until Covid hit, was operated as a hotel and restaurant. The main house is now an exclusive use nine-bedroom villa. Both villas offer total privacy and seclusion from each other and the world beyond. Minutes apart, they can also be booked together for larger get-togethers and celebrations.
We arrived safely to a warm welcome from Melinda, Beauty, and Gloria and a delicious light lunch by the pool from our Chef Vasco who was on hand to tailor our meals around our preferences, on a wonderful whatever, whenever basis, of fresh, locally sourced produce—accompanied by a bottle of bubbles. Perfect! We felt completely relaxed. The team at Athol, just like Morukuru Beach Lodge, is fantastic. Nothing is too much trouble; they genuinely wish only for your complete enjoyment.
Our driver Tau was introduced, and at our disposal, we agreed upon a visit to Maboneng. Tau took us to see an interesting glitzy ‘over the top” property on the way, as well as the relatively modest old home of Mandela’s on the way. Tau was highly informative with lots of insider snippets, filling us in on how the city works and how it all connects. Fascinating.
Maboneng is dynamic and great fun. Tau took us through downtown on the return journey, where satellite dishes replace a world of trees. Downtown was an eye-opener, and it was good to get an overview of the city. It certainly made us appreciate AtholPlace. Such an oasis of tranquility and calm, set in a gorgeous garden complete with its giant Maple tree and a Jacaranda tree. The pool an inviting glinting turquoise with enticing loungers and its soundtrack of Grey Lowrie, also I discovered known as “a go-away bird.” Something we hadn’t heard before, it does sounds like they are saying “go away.’
Upon our return, drinks around the boma were postponed due to a short downpour. However, drinks on the covered candlelit terrace and dinner in the opulent dining room were no hardship! A delicious appetiser followed by Lamb and Sea Bass, dessert and coffee, followed by a deep and comfy sleep. We woke refreshed and excited for the days exploring, but first breakfast, which of course was just right, a choice of whatever you fancy always does you good!
And a tour of the gorgeous AtholPlace House with its beautifully decorated rooms by Sumari Krige, founder of La Grange. It feels inviting and comforting, with lots of eye candy. A luxurious layering of art, objects, textiles, natural handmade items, and sumptuous soft furnishings in textured natural linens to the timeworn antiques, custom-designed wooden furniture, lamps, and accessories, are all casual yet elegant. The restaurant, [now closed to the public], has an excellent reputation – luckily, as villa guests, we get the fantastic culinary expertise all to ourselves. The African Art here includes Habitant’, by Angus Taylor, in the garden, and a Nelson Makamo at the entrance lobby.
I would happily move into the house. Serene gardens, a peaceful pool to relax by, fabulous food and wine, utterly lovely staff, and a divine location. AtholPlace offers total relaxation. Have a massage, stroll the grounds, read in the library, check out the art, sip a tipple or two at the bar, or chill in your room. Our villa’s decor is more modern, but the service is the same, faultless. All of this is only a short drive away from the buzz and bustle of Jo’burg. Having experienced the city, feeling rested and happy, we were all set to embark on our first foray into the bush in our new 4X4 Jimny rental. Our road trip was about, to begin with, a promise of further adventure.
Find out more about AtholPlace House and Villa, here.
All images and story were written by Anji Connell ACID+Anji Connell Interior Design.