Wheeeeeeeeeee! Put your hands in the air if you want to go faster! Sorry, I’m just having a moment – a flashback to my 40-minute taxi ride from Johannesburg airport. Forget Alton Towers or Universal Studios – zipping in and out on the freeways heading towards ritzy, glitzy Sandton, with a driver doing an impersonation of Michael Schumacher on speed, is better than any rollercoaster ride.
Due to a last-minute scheduling snafu by the other half of this Team Smith, I’m not sharing my rally-driver wannabe adventures. Thank goodness the gates at Ten Bompas, on an otherwise nondescript street, glide back to reveal rust-red ochre walls, where an aura of calm greets me.
It’s nice to be greeted by the owner who personally checks if my room is ready at 9am (it is), and very pleasant to sit in the garden with a double espresso after a long flight from London. I feel myself slowly uncrumpling from the clammy, overnight grip of a Boeing 747.
Ten Bompas is more than a sum of its parts. If you search here and there, it’s a journey of discovery. I don’t immediately see the intricately carved West African door near reception, or the snug round the back where I could easily curl up with a good book. Much more obvious – maybe it is the cheesy Irish boy band blaring and staring out at me – are the TVs artfully set in the floor of the gents’ loo, showing the latest videos on MTV. ‘Under pressure…’ croons said boy band, as I try to relieve mine. Sorry ladies, with no Mrs Smith in tow, I can't tell you what lurks beyond your doors. But if you're lucky, it might be a boy band.
I head for my room, number nine (there are just ten in all) past a partially open-air corridor lined with African masks and local art. On the other side is the well-manicured garden, the far border of which is a small pool with some loungers – it is here that I plan to banish my palid, North European complexion later.
My room – sorry, rooms (my suite has two) – consists of a lounge/living area with a work desk, a fire place for chilly, winter evenings, sofas and a stack of magazines and an eating-out guide. Round the corner, the large sleeping area has a king-size bed and plenty of closet space, minimalist lines contrasting with dark cherry wood. Both lead out onto a balcony. So, Mrs Smith, wherefore art thou right now? There is even a TV on wheels I want to show you – it is discreetly placed in the middle so you can watch in bed, or from the sofa. Clever.
In the bathroom not only is there a tub to really stretch out in, but – and this is a first for me in a hotel – there's also a shower cubicle that doubles as a steam room. Press the button, wait ten minutes, and voilà, your own hammam. And thankfully it’s missing the fat hairy bloke waiting to scrub you down to within an inch of your life, Istanbul or Marrakech style. Although there’s no spa proper in Ten Bompas, reception can organise for a masseur to come come in and pummel your jet-lagged body for a very reasonable price. (And should you want to go the whole workout hog there are Virgin Active and Planet Fitness gyms nearby which you can use for a not-exhorbitant day rate.)
Just as I’m working what to be most smug about next, a bottle of local fizz arrives with some canapés. Caffeine being my drug of choice, I have to confess I’m more in the mood for a coffee, and I search in vain for the usual ubiquitous kettle and pot of UHT. Almost on the verge of a weary-traveller strop, I leaf through the introductory bumf beside the bed – it reveals that staff are happy to bring a tea or coffee to guests whenever they ask – free of charge. Nice touch. Very soon an Americano is coursing through my system. Like I really need the adrenaline kick.
After returning from the 15-minute walk to the upmarket Hyde Park shopping centre for a nose around this upscale mall, I read this same helpful booklet further. Coffee is not the only freebie. Before 4.30pm, the hotel also lays on a complimentary first-come-first-served car to shuttle you anywhere within a 10km radius. Laundry doesn’t cost a Rand either. Heigh ho, I stretched my legs.
Fast forward and it’s time for supper at Sides – the hotel’s restaurant. (There are no other restaurants walkable from the hotel, but many that are only a five- to 10-minute taxi ride away. I make a note of Giles on Grafton Road for another night.) It is probably a good thing I somehow totally miss the double-storey wine cellar that holds 4,500 vintages. The ceviche of trout is a great choice for a starter and the ostrich fillet with steamed brocoli seems healthy and suitably South African. There are no such worries about overeating the next morning, when I tuck into porridge with raisins, stewed fruit and vanilla on the terrace, although it is a close call between that and the fricassée of mushroom bruschetta with poached eggs.
Now I can’t end with a romantic anecdote, as you know. But I can tell you that this is a great spot if you’re kicking off a holiday in South Africa. Jo’burg is much played down as a destination in its own right, and I’d recommend a day exploring this vibrant city with a good local guide. Or just plot up at Ten Bompas for a post-safari wind down. The hotel is a fantastically laid-back place that belies a can-do attitude, serviced by friendly, capable, smiling staff. I’ll be back – if only to let Mrs Smith sample it for herself.