A sanctuary in the city

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Set in the leafy-green suburb of Houghton is a boutique hotel with a reflective flare. Sanctuary Mandela is the re-envisioned home of former president Nelson Mandela and it’s my new favourite stay in the city.

I’m a lover of history so when the opportunity arrived to spend the night in a boutique hotel that used to be the home of the late great Nelson Mandela, I jumped for joy.  What makes Sanctuary Mandela unique is that it features perfectly curated spaces and exhibits that pay tribute to Madiba and encourage a sense of healing and reflection.

Curated contemplation

Every room at Sanctuary Mandela is named after the late president with a name given to him or associated with him. In addition, each of the rooms has a limited-edition reproduction of a John Meyer painting from a series he created for South African businessman Andrew Dunn, that takes a descriptive look at Mandela’s life.

Room 3, entitled Tata, was the room we stayed in. It is one of three rooms that was part of the original structure of the house. Set on the wall next to the entrance of our room was a painting of an older Madiba walking through a field towards a mountain range in the background.

We later learned this was the John Meyer painting assigned to our room. Titled, ‘Going Home’, the painting depicts a time when Tata reaches the end of his life’s journey and returns to his hometown Qunu in the Eastern Cape to rest.

A place of presence

After a look around our room and an indulgent moment with a fresh welcome platter that included some of the finest quality biltong, nuts and fruit products, my husband and I were escorted around the hotel on a quick tour. The space that stuck out the most for me was the meeting room titled Dalibhunga.

The moment the door opened and we stepped inside I was hit with an overwhelming surge of emotion and energy. The room, which used to be the late human rights activist’s study appears no different from any other meeting room, however the energy of the decisions made within those walls still lingers in the air. You could almost sense the presence of the former president in the room as if he was sitting in one of the arm chairs alongside the fireplace.

We ventured into the neighbouring meeting room which featured a strip of glass tiles on the floor. Our guide pointed out that the glass tiles revealed the original foundation of the rondavel Nelson Mandela had on the property. “He was a man who honoured his traditions and so that was where he would conduct and observe his traditional and ancestral activities.”

Passion and perfection

As we moved through the rest of the hotel stopping by all of the rooms and various art works reflecting on the life of Madiba and the legacy he left behind, I couldn’t help but notice the passion for the property from the staff members.

One staff member in particular stood out. Standing behind the bar and brimming with enthusiasm was Sbu. After an impassioned discussion about the importance of preserving our history and heritage for younger generations we wrapped up our tour with a sample of some Boschendal Vin D’Or Natural Late Harvest, which was Nelson Mandela’s favourite wine.

Sbu showed off his mixology skills with a carefully crafted cocktail and then handed us a piece of paper sealed with a Sanctuary Mandela monogram. He explained that what he had handed us was actually the menu and that they sealed them in this fashion just as Nelson Mandela would seal his letters with the wax from a candle while he was in prison.

We opened up the menu and scanned our options. Sbu explained that much of the menu was curated by Nelson Mandela’s long-time personal chef, Xoliswa Ndoyiya to include dishes that were some of Mandela’s favourites, adding to the authenticity of the overall experience at the hotel.

As a starter I ordered Isibinde se Gusha – lamb liver wrapped in bacon, served with sautéed garlic spinach, soya glazed grapes and spinach foam. The portion was quite large and filling and I could happily have called it a night however the rest of the menu looked too enticing to ignore.

I filled up further with the Durban style soft shell crab curry, served with basmati rice, coriander, mint and apple salsa topped with crème fresh. For dessert I opted for the Cape brandy pudding while my husband indulged in a sour milk mousse, sherry poached pear served with a berry coulis and dehydrated amasi crumble called Amasi and Pear.

Feeling like two stuffed turkeys we took a moment to catch our breath and reflect on a simple truth, it’s not every day that you get to visit a hotel that fills you up physically and mentally.

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