There is nothing that unites the world more than sport, and Rugby is one of the catalysts. A conversation with Sebastien Carré, GM of Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff Johannesburg quickly honed in on Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium. Seating 65,000, it hosts the final, this 7th August, between the Springboks and the visiting British & Irish Lions. The Lyon-born Carré knows all the rugby lingo. He is also naturally into food.
When Four Seasons took over what is more like a steep-hill village than a 117-room hotel, they sensibly installed a pair of glass-sided elevators. Now locals join the many who soar up to restaurants, with memorable views over the nearby zoo. Out on Flames terrace, I savoured every mouthful of my roast tomato and buffalo mozzarella caprese with pine nuts and basil pesto: this was followed by the signature 600gm tomahawk ribeye (for sharing, naturally), with herb butter and, my choice of side, spinach and lemon – want dessert? Try a vanilla panna cotta. To drink, my choice would be a red blend, Rust en Vrede Estate 2017.
While on the subject of eating and drinking (why that order, I wonder?), breakfast here presents a dilemma. Yes, Flames offers a wake-up, which means possibly a little chilly, atmosphere early morning, but I do love the dawn haze views, and the well-thought-out, and smilingly served buffet. I might well, however, head down the hotel’s cobbled village street, or use an elevator, to the complex’s main entrance. There, with its main approach from the outside street, Orange Grove, is the ingenious Deli, daily breakfast stop-off for top local business tycoons on their way to offices or wherever. Eating locally-produced Deneys Swiss-style yoghurt off Bernardaud gives an indication that this hotel showcases the best of South Africa, blended with the world.
This is a luxury hotel where I feel everything works, and everything is thought of. One of my favourite rooms is #4249, the 90 sq m Stephanie Powers suite, named for the star who has a lifetime love affair with nature and its wildlife – she is founding President of the Mount Kenya-centric William Holden Wildlife Foundation, in memory of a long-time lover, and back in her American homeland she is an advocate of Atlanta and Cincinnati zoos.
While tasting my welcome just-baked banana bread and rooibos, red bush, tea, I looked over my balconies at this zoo, and part of Africa’s largest urban forest, and also down at the hotel’s own manicured gardens. I had Terres d’Afrique toiletries and an electric towel rail, the biggest luxury boon for any travellers. This suite is also time-saving. It is 20 carpeted stairs down to a main internal corridor for short-cuts to restaurants, and wellness.
Treatments start at 9 am. Shall I opt for a 90-minute Red Nomads session, a body mask of rooibos, baobab, Kalahari melon, coconut oils with simultaneous hands and feet reflexology or is it better to have a simple facial, from Biologique Recherché, Omorovicza or Terres d’Afrique? When will I fit in a workout in the adjacent gym or a swim? I am tempted by an escorted cycle tour of Soweto, and the excellent concierges also recommend the Apartheid Museum, and nearby weekend markets, Braamfontein on Saturday and Maboneng on Sunday. I was, indeed, extremely impressed by the versatile concierges, who operate the off-lobby boutique that is stocked with local arts and crafts that, unusually, you really do want to buy.
Sebastien Carré is a great people leader. Every one of the total-300 employees I encountered was outstanding. My highlighter must be Thando Madikane: one of my only-pair earrings came apart and somehow, using a pair of tweezers that she miraculously conjured seemingly from nowhere, she united the parts, with a smile. I had another, big smile, from M. Carré. In parting, he said send greetings to Australia – his wife is a Sydneysider.