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Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa, and I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:


Today (25 January, 2017): Review of Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff (Johannesburg, South Africa). 

Formerly known as The Westcliff, the iconic hillside hotel closed its doors in June 2013 for an ambitious $56 USD renovation, reopening to the public in December 2014 as a Four Seasons property. Perched on a cliffside, this resort-style retreat offers panoramic views over the neighbouring Johannesburg Zoo and the dense tree canopy of the city’s prestigious northern suburbs. The ambience is like a sun-splashed Mediterranean village laced with courtyards, fountains and gardens. Fully transformed, the hotel’s 117 guest rooms and suites offer cool, contemporary décor inspired by modern Africa. Four Seasons Hotel Westcliff Johannesburg is a lively social hub for the city’s elite, and the first choice for business and holiday travellers – providing a pampering start or finish for a South African safari.

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff is ideally located in Westcliff, one of Johannesburg’s most residential, affluent and hippest neighbourhoods. It is conveniently close to business, culture, shopping and leisure activities, such as Sandton City, which ranks among the largest shopping centres in the Southern hemisphere. The world-famous Johannesburg zoo is also nearby, and it is not unusual to hear the lions roaring from a distance.
  • Originally built in 1997, the compound was conceived as an enclave of luxury residences before becoming an iconic hotel, known as The Westcliff. In March 2015, the Westcliff was transformed into a Four Season property after a 18 month-long, $56 USD renovation, which saw the introduction of new decors, furniture, restaurants, pool, and a spa (more on that below). The original designers of The Westcliff, Johannesburg-based RSL Architects, managed the renovation to keep the enhancements in character with the original architectural concept.
  • The resort is comprised of a cluster of low-rise, cream coloured buildings located on hill. Because of this elevated position, the upper rooms and areas enjoy magnificent panoramic views across the green canopy of the Johannesburg Zoo (elephants are on view) and the prestigious neighbourhoods of The Parks. The view is especially spectacular in spring, usually early October to early November, when thousands of Jacaranda trees blossom, creating a purple carpet above the suburban streets.
  • Although located in the heart of one of Africa’s most populated cities, the Four Seasons property feels more like an urban resort than a city hotel because of its design concept. The resort resembles a hillside village woven with courtyards, fountains and gardens, somewhat reminiscent of a small Mediterranean town. Although there is a major road running in front of the property, you cannot hear (nor see) the traffic. You pretty much forget you are in the middle of a city when you are down here.
  • Check-in (and -out) is done at the small but tastefully lobby, which is located in a separate pavilion at the bottom of the hill. Its wood flooring and light coloured furniture make a great first impressions and create a soothing ambience, exactly what you may need when you arrive in the city after a longhaul flight. From there, the staff will take you to your room, which is located up the hill. Although it’s a pleasure walking around, the hotels provides an efficient buggy service.
  • The 117 guest rooms, including 12 suites, are located in 9 pavilions up the hill, each named after a different state in South Africa. All guest rooms have spacious marble bathrooms and open to a garden terrace or balcony, with views of the gardens, courtyards, the city’s dense tree canopy, or the neighbouring Johannesburg Zoo. During my visit, I stayed in a spacious Panoramic View Premier Room (#104), which featured a lounge space with a fireplace, a seperate dressing area with work space, and a lovely terrace (shared with another room) that came with exquisite vistas. Four Seaons is known around the globe for their famously comfortable beds, and it was not different at this hotel.
  • The resort’s overall design marries the traditional and timeless Four Seasons style with Johannesburg colourful vibrancy. With marble flooring, modern crystal chandeliers, and plush furniture, the interiors feel contemporary, although some subtle African touches have been incorporated into the decor, such as zebra print armchairs, leopard print rugs, and animal print curtains.
  • The beautiful rose garden, Jacaranda gardens as well as the white roses lining the cobble-stoned paths help in creating a sense of serenity and tranquility that disconnects you from Johannesburg’s hustle & bustle.
  • The hotel features 375 pieces of original artworks, mostly paintings and sculptures, all commissioned from local African artists.
  • High-speed internet is complimentary throughout the property.
  • Johannesburg – or Jozi as the locals call their city – has often been described as one of the most dangerous cities on earth, but you will fin dit surprisingly vibrant and safe when you stick to right neighbourhoods. The hotel itself feels extremely secure: it  located in a wealthy suburb, and the compound is gated, walled, and monitored by security guards.
  • The hotel features 3 onsite dining venues. View is the fine dining restaurant, conceived as a gallery of culinary art, with a dramatic interior setting the stage for a decadent dining experience. The executive chef, Dirk Gieselmann, was a former chef at a three star Michelin restaurant in France so you know that you’re in good hands. Flames offers a more casual fare, with a menu of local and seasonal produce, grilled meats and seafood paired with local craft beers and the best South African wines. Finally, the Westcliff Deli is an innovative neighbourhood deli café next tot he resort entrance, with tables indoors and out, plus a takeaway counter.
  • Flames restaurant opens to an expansive terrace with impressive panoramic views, which functions as a lively bar during the day and evening. Its buzzing atmosphere and killer views provide a vibrant social scene where hotels guests and locals meet. A ‘braai’ (South African barbecue grill) is at the heart of the terrace’s action, and its very popular for lunch (not to be missed). The terrace can be reached by a glass elevator which offers killer views during the ascend/descend.
  • Breakfast is served à la carte at View and of very high quality. You can choose between a continental, English or healthy power breakfast. Larger (tour) groups have the option of a buffet breakfast at Flames restaurant.
  • An extensive, brand-new spa was added tot he hotel during the renovation. It’s located for easy access near the hotel’s entrance for local clientele as well as hotel guests: There are nine treatment rooms, one of which is a spacious double suite. Some have floor-to-ceiling glass windows that slide away seamlessly to merge the indoors with the outdoors.Generous hydrotherapy facilities include saunas and steam rooms, and ice fountains. IMHO, the spa’s highlight is the outdoor rooftop lounge, where you can relax with a book on the daybeds or spend time with friends while enjoying a lazy spa day.
  • The resort features two swimming pools. There’s a 25-metre (82-foot) outdoor heated lap pool in the spa, although children under the age of 18 are strictly prohibited from accessing this pool to ensure its silent ambience. Families are better off at the other pool up the stairs from the lobby, which is an ideal spot to splash around and have some fun.
  • The service is top-notch and extremely efficient, as you would expect from one of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands. As with all Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts worldwide, the staff knows your name from day one. They will go out of their way to please you and nothing is too much trouble.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

The Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff is hands down the best hotel in Johannesburg, and thé place to stay in the city for business, or to start or finish your South African safari. I truly enjoyed my too short, one-night stay at the hotel, and I highly recommend it. However, when you consider a booking here, you may want to know the following (minor) drawbacks:

  • The hotel is located on a hill and requires a bit of walking on cobblestone walkways if your room is on the top level. However, transport by buggy is always available, so there is nothing to worry about if you have a mobility problem.
  • The hotel’s restaurants are very popular in Johannesburg because of their panoramic views and exquisite foods. They attract a largely local patron crowd, and consequently, it may be hard to find a table when you just show up without reservation. I highly recommend that you make lunch or dinner reservations prior to you arrival, especially on weekends.
  • Although the hotel is conveniently located, none of Johannesburgs attractions are within walking distance and you will need to take taxis to everywhere. However, it’s not a big issue, since Uber provides inexpensive service and you can usually get a car within 5 minutes of your request on Uber. The hotel also offers a (more expensive but nicer) car service, but you might need to plan ahead a bit more to make sure they’re ready when you want to leave.
  • The hotel’s family pool is quite small with a dozen sun loungers around it, so it may be difficult finding a spot here to relax when the hotel is fully occupied. In addition, this pool is in the shade of one of the main buildings from about midday onwards. Of course, there is always the larger spa pool to retreat to, which offers a better swimming and relaxation experience (but that pool is off-limits to families with children under the age of 18).
  • Although the water in the lap pool is heated, it still feels quite cold. There’s also a ‘jacuzzi’ with water jets but it’s located within one end of the spa pool so the water inside the jacuzzi is not hot. I feel that the addition of a hot tub near the lap pool or on the rooftop would make the great spa even greater.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 8/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Resort grounds: 8/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 10/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 9/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8,5/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like the Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff (and receive many free perks).
  • Save money: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD spa credit).
  • Not all rooms have views of the city. For the best views, request a room towards the top of the hill.
  • A dinner at the hotel’s fine dining venue View is a must, but make your reservation prior to you arrival, especially on a weekend.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best times to visit Johannesburg are in the warm, dry autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) months. Keep in mind that Johannesburg’s Southern Hemisphere location means its winter starts in June and lasts through August, while summer runs from December to February. Summer is not only defined by large crowds and high prices, but also humid and wet, with rainfall is at its peak in December and January. In winter, cold fronts bring strong winds at times, but the skies are usually clear and sunny, and with hotel and flight rates dropping, winter is also a good time to explore the city on a budget.


HOW TO GET THERE

The hotel is located a 20 to 30 minute car ride from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. Check the Wikipedia page of O.R. Tambo International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Johannesburg.


HOTEL ENTRANCE

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PANORAMIC VIEW PREMIER ROOM

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WESTCLIFF DELI

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GLASS ELEVATOR TO RESTAURANTS

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VIEW RESTAURANT

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VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

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VIEW RESTAURANT: DINNER

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FLAMES RESTAURANT

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FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

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FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

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FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

FLAMES RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

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FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE

FLAMES RESTAURANT: TERRACE


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