Athol Place Hotel – A Charming Escape in Johannesburg, South Africa

by Sandy Salle on March 24, 2015

Post image for Athol Place Hotel – A Charming Escape in Johannesburg, South Africa

Article and photographs by Amanda Evans, CEO of Hills of Africa Travel

Staying at Athol Place in Johanessburg, you would have no idea you are in South Africa’s largest and most bustling city.  Tucked away, quiet, serene and completely covered by green, you feel like instead you’ve maybe escaped to a chic country home. In favorable traffic, Athol Place is an easy 35-minute ride from OR Tambo airport and worth every extra second to get there if your travels take you through Johannesburg for more than a couple hours shuteye.

From the moment you arrive, you know the experience is different than arriving at a traditional hotel. The feeling is more comparable to arriving at a private residence. The staff comes out to greet you, whisks away your luggage to your room and hands you a refreshing glass of whatever cocktail the bartender has inspired for the day! The check-in process is obviously meticulously timed, but feels informal. You are walked through the logistics of the property – meal times, etc. and then escorted to your room to retire.

As I was walking up to my room, Quintin, one of the delightful staff members at the property, asked if I had any clothes that needed to be laundered. As I had just got off the Delta flight from Atlanta, plus a heavy delay in Atlanta, my clothes were definitely in need of some love. This is one of the perks of staying at a boutique hotel like Athol Place – nothing asked of anyone is too small or too large. They go the extra mile to make you feel like you are home. I was on a very early flight the next morning to Harare, and after returning from a scrumptious breakfast, I found my laundry nicely folded and ironed. What a treat!

The rooms are stunningly appointed. A complete renovation of the property was completed in September of 2014 and they left no detail undone. Everything is crisp, white, clean, and modern. But it’s not stuffy – it actually feels comfortable! In fact, a pet peeve of mine is beautiful modern furniture that feels like you are trying to sit on a modern art sculpture – too many pointy edges. That stuff belongs in a gallery, not a hotel room!  I digress…

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athol place

The rooms are spacious and comfy and you can easily see yourself settling in there for a few days. Even the standard rooms have large balconies and feel like suites, given the square footage. You almost feel like you could move into the bathroom! It’s massive with a huge sunken tub, shower, and double sink. The Afrikology amenities and bath salts they provide just begs you to soak for a while.

Each room has approximately the same layout with similar decor, but all slightly different while carrying the same thread throughout the property.

The pool is a perfect place to unwind – large with plenty of seating areas around the perimeter. And the chef is more than obliged to bring out a bucket of ice-cold beverages and beers, as well as snacks to hold you until dinnertime. Next to the pool is the small, yet useful gym. With a stationary bike, treadmill, row machine and weights, you won’t have to skip a workout – although between the pool and bathtub you will be tempted.

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As the sun goes down, the staff quietly starts to put out lanterns and candles all over the property for a beautiful, soft ambient lighting. In this light, the beautiful art on the property really starts to come alive. A mesmerizing clay statue of a man in the gardens and subtly neon-colored African modern art on the wall bring a different energy into the common areas. It’s an easy place to sit and have a drink for a while along with the bar snacks (which included biltong – South African beef jerky and spicy dried sausages).

However, if the gorgeous accommodations, art and exceptional service don’t win you over, the chef most certainly will! The meals were not just some of the best I’ve had in Johannesburg, or at a hotel, or in Africa; they were some of the best I’ve had. Period.

athol place menu edited copy

Above is a picture of a menu from one of the evenings at Athol

athol breakfast edited copy Above is a photograph of my breakfast one morning – made to order

From dinner with our warm corn chowder, Thai mixed salad and pork belly, to an almost embarrassing breakfast display of fruits, pastries, jams, cereals, meats, and cheeses, the cuisine is absolutely five-star. Each dish was so delicately prepared and to have the chef personally present each one was a real treat. As he described the ingredients in some, we were in disbelief.  The corn chowder somehow only had 4 ingredients – cream, milk, corn, and pepper! Yet somehow he turned those simple things into something really unique and filled with flavor and complexity. We contemplated ordering corn chowder for dessert….

And what makes Athol so unique and special is the combination of these things – all the details and little touches that they have not overlooked. One of these touches includes a sweet memory of them as you leave – a simple, individually wrapped cookie as a final touch point from Athol  – for your travels.

Athol also has a private guesthouse next door that is perfect for large families or multiple families traveling through Joburg. Complete with private chef, private pool, private staff, and private driveway – you wouldn’t even know the property exists. It is a replica in many ways of the main property except more home-y feeling and tons more privacy. Highly recommended for families of four or more or traveling with smaller children.

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