We pull up at our destination in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Melrose, and the elegant but robust steel gates glide open. The grey gravel driveway, framed by an avenue of mature trees, leads us through the lush gardens of the Peech Hotel into a pocket of peace in a famously frantic city.
A sense of restfulness isn’t always easy to find in Jo’burg. Here, the open-plan reception has a welcoming, unhurried vibe, with impressive efficiency behind it – the complete opposite of what so often awaits the weary traveller. We’re led through the manicured garden, where a sleek, dark-tiled pool, a neat row of sunloungers and a gently swaying hanging-basket chair tempt me to take some time with a good book and a leisurely cocktail. The Peech is aptly named, with peachy colours everywhere; it’s sweet (but not kitsch), and as stress-free as you could hope for. By the time we reach our room, we’ve already lost any sense that we’re in the middle of a big city.
Our upstairs room comes as a surprise – in a pleasing way – with a warm, cottagey feel to the decor, big bed, open-plan closet and bay window framed by wooden blinds. The walls are covered with African artefacts, each bearing a little label explaining what it is and the tradition behind it (plus price-tags, for any guests wishing to take some home with them). The bathroom is just as charming, with a shower, bath and stylish oversized washbasin, all tiled in rich-blue mosaic.
Now we’re here, it is tempting to stay within the intimate confines of the hotel; like many visitors we're only in the city for a short while before heading on to one of South Africa's famous safari lodges. We determined however not to miss out on Johannesburg’s celebrated restaurant scene. (A list of top local eateries has been thoughtfully left in our room.) We drive through the lush northern districts under a purple haze of jacaranda trees in full bloom. In October, Johannesburg is a city covered in a technicolour blanket of foliage; if you saw it from the air, you would never imagine that millions of people are bustling beneath.
A short drive from the hotel is the Melrose Arch complex, a hip and happening ‘island’ in the suburbs. We’re spoilt for choice, with restaurants ranging from the famous Moyo’s, which offers a theatrical African dining experience (when you can get in), to the Meat Company with its melt-in-the-mouth steaks. Mrs Smith and I decided on one of the pavement tables at Giovanni’s, an Italian on Melrose Square. Eating out is joyously affordable in South Africa: we relax with a bottle of champagne and a pizza and watch a square full of people, all apparently trying to choose where to dine. We ended our evening in the peaceful seclusion of the Peech, which has its own wonderful menu – and wine list.
Many of the more affluent suburbs contain shopping malls that feel more like self-contained mini-cities; Rosewood, on the other hand, contains a two-storey African market. We spend an entire morning watching the stallholders making the next hand-crafted item with wonderful delicacy and confidence. It’s a great place for a wander; it’s a good idea to wear your negotiating cap, since all the artisans are up for the challenge of beating the prices on the next stall. Rosebank also features plenty of Paris-style boutiques to occupy browsers, so it was past aperitif time when we make it over to Melrose Arch (an essential reservation having been made) for dinner at Moyo’s. Tonight, there’s a local band playing on the roof of one of the adjacent buildings. Their songs fill the evening air with melody; the square itself is filled with fire cauldrons to lift the evening chill.
Strange as it may seem, face painting is a must at Moyo’s. It’s just sufficient to make you feel both silly and at ease, and the night-long live music creates such an infectious atmosphere that even the most self-conscious diner is bound to get into the spirit of things. From the extensive menu, offering delicious dishes from all over Africa, to the jovial and attentive service, Moyo is a real highlight in Jo’burg and definitely deserving of the recommendation from the hotel.
We’re welcomed back at the Peech with a smile; one look at the face paint tells our hosts exactly where we’d been. Over a late-night cocktail in the garden, we reflect on the hotel’s mix of classic style with a hint of urban, with a core of the most important element: genuine service. We collapse into our freshly made bed and sleep regally – a deep sleep, far removed from the cares of the city, our souls well and truly rested.
This boutique hotel was reviewed by Oliver Richter