Hotel check: Soweto Hotel

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What’s it like?

An unconventional boutique hotel with a genuine historical slant, the Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre successfully taps into Soweto’s rich heritage, yet offers guests warm and convivial hospitality, wrapped in all the trappings of a 4-star package. The structure is highly unusual. It is incorporated within the complex of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, and a section of the hotel is actually overhead a local informal market. It was a bit disconcerting at first, entering a ‘swish’ boutique hotel with the gritty reality of township life right outside the door. However, we soon realised that the hotel has become an important fixture in the area, and has formed a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding community.

Location

The hotel is on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, on the corner of Union Avenue and Main Road in Kliptown, one of the older areas of Soweto. The hotel’s location makes it an ideal base from which to explore all the significant sites in Soweto, such as Vilakazi Street where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once lived, the Apartheid Museum, FNB Soccer Stadium, and the Orlando cooling towers. Be advised, it is a fair distance to Sandton and the northern suburbs, as well as O.R. Tambo International Airport, so allow at least 45 minutes to reach either destination.

Room Facilities

The hotel has a total of 48 rooms, including two presidential suites. The rooms are striking with their use of relevant Soweto-themed decor. It’s often the little touches that make a difference to the guest experience, and here was no different. Among other things, we loved the pillows embroidered to resemble maize bags, as well as some of the smaller touches such as historically significant photographs and poems lining the hallways. Our room, a Queen DeLuxe room, was equipped with a queen-sized bed, and an en suite bathroom. In general, the rooms are very spacious and comfortable and have all the modern amenities that one could ask for, including business desks, high-speed Internet access, in-room satellite TV, tea and coffee stations, and 18-hour in-room dining. There are also rooms allocated for smokers, as well as a room for guests with special needs.     

Restaurants & Bars

The in-house restaurant is named the Jazz Maniacs after a prominent music group of the 1950s. The restaurant is near the hotel lobby, and is in line with the rest of the hotel’s very Sowetan theme, with lovely accents such as decorative musical instruments inset into the walls. With seating for up to 60 guests, it also hosts regular live jazz music by local musicians on request, which we imagine must be quite a sight. We sat for dinner as well as the buffet breakfast the next morning. The menu on offer is relatively straightforward and, once again, the theme of the hotel is faithfully carried through to the cuisine. For dinner, I opted for a ravioli starter and T-bone main course with ‘pap’, a traditional South African starch made from maize, and my partner went for the Karoo lamb chops. Whilst not Michelin dining, it was very pleasant and the portions were generous. The chops in particular were very good. Next to the restaurant there is a cocktail bar named Rusty’s after Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein, part of the committee that drafted the Freedom Charter.

Meeting Facilities

There are three rooms for conference facilities, namely two boardrooms and a conference room. The boardrooms are very well equipped and can host up to 10 and 14 guests respectively. The rooms are on the top floor and offer a fantastic view of Soweto. Facilities are very good, with decent seating and electronic equipment such as projectors and high-speed Internet on offer. The conference room can seat up to 50 guests (at a squeeze, we feel) and has a drop-down screen and a projector. The great thing about the meeting facilities is that they can be tied in with a Soweto experience for conference guests. We went on a township tour and can highly recommend such an historical experience.

Verdict

A recommended stop on the burgeoning Johannesburg Tourist circuit, the Soweto Hotel has skilfully woven an offering that will appeal to both the conference and leisure markets, whilst contributing significantly to the upliftment of the local community.

Contact

Address: Cnr Union Avenue & Main Road, Kliptown, +27 11 527 7300, www.sowetohotel.co.za

Andre Schild