From dorms to terraces

In the final part of our Three City series we look at Johannesburg.

Accommodation is being booked out at a rapid pace ahead of the World Cup, but here are a few places to fit a range of budgets.

Brown Sugar Backpackers
75 Observatory Avenue, Observatory Ext 1. Tel: 011 648 7397
Price: From R100 for camping up to R500 for a private double room and bathroom. Inquire about World Cup rates.

Brown Sugar Backpackers rises from the shabby gentility of surrounding Observatory like something out of a movie—a bad mafia movie set in the Seventies with drug kingpins getting gunned down in the streets and lilac castles laid to waste in their wake. Yes, lilac—the colour of choice for Portuguese crime lord Manni da Rosha’s turreted mansion.
His spectacular death on the streets of Hillbrow in the 1990s saw his 18-roomed castle sold to the Brown Sugar Backpacker chain, with branches in Durban and Cape Town. But although the secret safes in the walls have been dispensed with, its reputation as a den for drug dealers and prostitutes proved a little trickier.
Cue the entrance of Liezel Roux, businesswomen turned backpacker maestro. She painted the walls a respectable brown, ousted the cockroaches and drug dealers and instituted a comprehensive clean-up and repair that makes you wish she was running the city, never mind a backpackers.
Already the hillside property is near booked out for the World Cup. But no fear, she’s saving a few for the latecomers and failing that, has gathered together other backpacker owners in the area for a planning session, because some of them “really don’t know what they’re doing”.
Besides the usual dorms and private rooms, you can camp around the pool set in a garden above the roof level or bunk down in one of the “Big Five” log-cabin rooms. It’s one of the most organised backpackers I have yet seen and Roux has occasionally to force people to leave. No surprises there.

Life on Third guesthouse
28A 3rd Street, Melville. Tel: 0861 777 801
Price: Between R341 and R700 a night, depending on the size of the room and whether you’re sharing. Prices go up by about R100 for the World Cup.

A renovated Melville House, the charm and tranquillity of Life on Third belies its history as a brothel that failed to make rent. That’s right, another accommodation option with a sordid history.

The best thing about this small guesthouse with only 14 rooms is the hand-painted motifs by owner and artist Liza Kruger. With its creams, reds and delicate designs, it feels a bit like being inside a jewellery box. It doesn’t have many facilities as a three-star, but it’s the sort of place to unwind after a busy day, in your double en suite room with roughly plastered red walls, a comfy bed and wireless internet and a television remote at your fingertips.

Watch our video on Life on Third

The Soweto Hotel
Corner of Union Avenue and Main Road, Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, Kliptown, Soweto. Tel: 011 527 7300
Price: Between R1 125 and R2 000 (for a presidential suite), but between R2 290 and R4 000 during the World Cup.

Getting there was difficult but on arrival the Soweto Hotel sucked us in and transformed us into firm fans.

Changing from the Holiday Inn to the locally owned and run Soweto Hotel in April last year was the best move for the likeable and dynamic Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo. Staying there is less about accommodation than it is about the experience, thanks to her involvement of the local community—from tour options in surrounding areas to training programmes in hospitality for locals.

The area is steeped in history and from your balcony you’ll look over the place where the Freedom Charter was signed. Above each bed is a large print of an iconic photograph from the political struggle by Alph Romeo. The decor pays homage to the Fifties and the political and cultural awakening among black South Africans at the time.

The facilities are decent for this four-star hotel, with large-screen televisions, a lovely presidential suite and a gorgeous locally inspired breakfast of vetkoek and chicken livers, with the usual Western fare. The drawcard is the culture and events in the area such as live music in the evenings at The Jazz Maniac restaurant.

Watch our video on The Soweto Hotel.

The Westcliff
67 Jan Smuts Avenue, Westcliff. Tel: 011 481 6000. Rates: The hotel has a policy of not revealing a set price so you’ll have to call personally. An entry-level room will set you back between R1 900 and R3 830, depending on the number of nights and demand at the hotel. Suites vary between R2 970 and R17 300 for the presidential suite.

One of the city’s legendary five-star hotels, the Westcliff is the sort of place people routinely use to propose marriage. It has a gobsmackingly beautiful view of Johannesburg. Built up into a steep hill, you can see the thousands of tree tops of the world’s largest man-made forest and the elephants and lions in the Johannesburg Zoo nearby. It’s about as aesthetically pleasing a view of the city you can get: the extravagant sunsets, varied birdlife and spreading trees, all come together in a show-stopper.

The hotel itself feels like a small rustic Italian town, albeit a pink one. Various facilities and rooms are scattered up the hill making for a charming walk over cobbled stones or a ride in the shuttles that constantly do the rounds. All the room options are generously spaced. I liked the private room at the La Belle Terrasse but the rest of the restaurant is due for a makeover to do away with the kitsch mirrors and heavy curtains. But the food was delicious and executive chef Nicky Gibb’s tales of cooking for Hollywood A-listers even more so.

Watch our video on a night at The Westcliff.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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