City guide: Johannesburg

Johannesburg city guide 2

Chaotic, cosmopolitan and culturally vibrant, Johannesburg – South Africa’s biggest city – offers endless diversions for business travellers

Where to stay

The beautiful Saxon Hotel in the upscale northern suburb of Sandhurst offers a tranquil escape from the city’s bustle and thundering construction projects.

Sprawling across 4ha of lush landscape, the elegant five-star retreat places an emphasis on giving guests plenty of space, privacy and excellent service.

The Saxon Villas, where Director stayed, take this to the next level. Set in peaceful gardens adjacent to the main hotel building, each of the villas has its own lounge and dining room as well as a separate breakfast area and bar leading out to a private plunge pool on a terrace overlooking the flora.

The hotel’s acclaimed spa is an oasis within an oasis, featuring state-of-the-art facilities and a comprehensive range of treatments. If you’re
just off the overnight flight and need to sharpen up quickly before a crucial meeting, opt for elements of the encouragingly speedily titled “ultimate recharge express”.

Choose a half-hour facial, which promises to leave you looking stress-free with a “healthy glow”; or a back, neck and shoulder massage of similar length that’s designed to obliterate any tension that has accumulated over your 11-hour flight.

Where to eat

The Saxon is home to Luke Dale Roberts X, the latest restaurant from the eponymous British- born chef who has become one of South Africa’s most feted culinary talents, renowned for his innovative take on the nation’s cuisine.

His signature venue is down in Cape Town, so this one is under the watchful eye of head chef Candice Philip. She does him proud with a tasting menu that features seabass tartare with pickled shimeji mushrooms and lovage pesto; and springbok with ash-baked beetroot, pine needles, ricotta and peanuts.

The food and wine are wonderful, but the staff and ambience are better still, making this a truly laid-back but suitably impressive spot in which to dine with an important contact.

What to see

If you need a break from your hectic business schedule, there are plenty of opportunities to step “outside” the city. At 223m, the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg is the tallest building on the continent, as the 50th floor’s nickname, Top of Africa, confirms.

Less than 30 miles to the north-west, in the neighbouring city of Roodepoort, is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden – a world-class attraction.

If you have a weekend to venture a little further afield, a 45-minute flight to Skukuza will bring you to the edge of the Sabi Sabi safari reserve. Back in the city, the hugely impressive Apartheid Museum is an essential reminder of the nation’s troubled recent history.

Etiquette and customs

There are 11 official languages in South Africa and English is only the fourth most widely spoken. Although most business is conducted in English, knowing a little Xhosa or Zulu, for instance, could go a long way, according to Mimecast’s co-founder and CEO, Peter Bauer.

“People will be charmed if you speak some of their language and know a little about their background,” he says. “But you do need to know what language your contact speaks beforehand – greeting somebody in Tswana when they’re Zulu might be worse than never having said it at all!”

For the flight

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom is a must-read, whether you’re visiting South Africa or not. If it’s fiction you’re after, try Zoo City, a sci-fi novel set in an alternative version of Johannesburg – which won South African author Lauren Beukes the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award.

For music, try some classic cuts from the late, great Miriam Makeba and The Indestructible Beat of Soweto compilation, which spread awareness of South African music worldwide in the 1980s.

The work of singer-rapper Spoek Mathambo or some kwaito – a fusion of hip-hop and African rhythms – will bring you bang up to date.

Click here for Director’s guide to doing business in Johannesburg

Click here to read Director’s review of the Sabi Sabi game reserve


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Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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