(Photographs by Jo Kromberg and Danie van Gass)
The afternoon is tinged with the first colors of summer as we enter the gates to heaven on this Monday in early September. Sun City. Like a sluice being opened, visceral childhood memories come flooding back. I came here with my family regularly way too many years ago when this iconic globally famous hotel first opened its doors in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere being North West Province of South Africa. It is located between the Elands River and the Pilanesberg, a very convenient two hours' drive from Johannesburg.
The Palace of the Lost City - as the last of the eventual four hotels at Sun City - was only a distant futuristic dream then and would only be built in 1992 as the crown jewel of the Sun City collection. Since it opened, the hotel has hosted kings, queens, rock stars, presidents, sports icons, oil sheiks...
And this will be our humble abode for the next couple of nights.
Opulence on another level
From the moment you set foot in The Palace of the Lost City, you step into a world of luxury, fantasy and adventure.
The Palace of the Lost City hotel is part of Sun International's Sunlux Collection of five-star establishments and is styled in opulent African colors and architectural features.
The entrance hall of The Palace, as it is called, sets the precedent for this sophisticated hotel, with its high, intricately painted ceilings, mosaic artworks, and golden zebra-hide upholstered furniture; all set within verdant gardens.
The grandeur and opulence is next-level other worldly; the carvings, the detailing of the marble, the painting, every inch of this place is drenched in grandeur with an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail in creating something this majestic.
Even after a few decades, the hotel still has all the flair and elegance it was designed to have. The sheer size and amount of detail in some places will leave your jaw agape. Astonishing...
Behind a fountain of bronze antelope, caught in mid-leap as they flee the outstretched claws of a cheetah, lies a soaring, reception atrium with a hand-frescoed dome, six stories high. Faux stone columns of bamboo rest on elephant's feet, painted leopards peer through foliage above the hand-carved chairs and magnificently laid tables at the Villa del Palazzo. The extravagant attention to the minutiae of detail in all you see before you will make you gasp.
Conjured out of African myth - and the brain child of one of the very best hoteliers in the world, Sol Kerzner - The Palace of the Lost City is an African fantasy world of incredible jungle, cliff-tumbling gardens, sparkling streams, waterfalls and swimming pools, and al-fresco entertainment areas. The hotel also sports the Valley of Waves, the only sub-tropical water adventure park in South Africa.
The legend goes as follows - an ancient civilization from North Africa journeyed south to build a palace for their much-loved king. They decided on the location for said palace in a dormant volcano crater - a veritable cradle of life. Weird and wonderful creatures, both great and small, roamed free here amidst glittering streams and dreamy waterfalls. Here, they built a magnificent palace and their king approved. After an earthquake destroyed their home, the people fled and eventually, The Palace and its city became completely overgrown. Centuries later, a modern explorer stumbled upon this Lost City. The Palace was restored to its former glory, and re-opened in 1992 as part of the amazing Lost City development at Sun City - a modern-day marvel.
First time VVIP
We are met at reception by Boity from Public Relations and then checked in as VVIPs with beautiful gifts.
I have never in my life been a Very Very Important Person and doubt I ever will be again so this experience is somewhat surreal as we are then shown to our magnificent quarters.
Each exquisite suite revels in the magic of this remarkable place. Here and there, artistic flourishes burst with life. Each room and suite offers royal hospitality with wonderful views over water or jungle. All benefit from a personal touch and our rooms come with a lovely complimentary bottle of wine each. The Palace has 338 rooms inclusive of four deluxe suites.
There is no time for lunch because it's game drive time!
We feel splendidly spoilt in our own private vehicle with our Mankwe Game tracker, Gift.
The resort is situated adjacent to the Pilansberg National Park, host to the Big-Five. Gift entertains us for the next couple of hours with his jokes and remarkable knowledge of the fauna and flora and we see antelope, zebra and giraffe and then as a bonus, rhinos and their little one bathing with elephants in the river superimposed on the setting sun.
An afternoon nap after all this excitement is just the ticket. I lie on my gargantuan bed, thinking I am actually asleep and shall awake from this sweet dream any minute.
A languid bath is followed by primping and priming for dinner at the very posh Plume restaurant. Just walking to this restaurant feels like an adventure through a tunnel and a waterfall. The menu is comprehensive and highly sophisticated as is the wine list. We choose to share the cheese and wine soup as a starter and both of us swoon like Cheshire cats in the wake of its creamy and heavenly taste and texture. We then go for the seafood platter as our main and it is beautifully presented and succulent and includes prawns, mussels, calamari and lobster tail. We forgo desert and instead opt for a delicious liqueur coffee each.
I soon discover that exhaustion is a consequence of such unbridled lavishness foisted upon one, so I turn in for an early night in this wonder world and sleep the slumber of the innocent.
Spoiled for choice
Breakfast the next morning is not a meal - it's an extravaganza.
Against the soothing backdrop of live grand piano music, an international menu to match its palatial proportions, the Crystal Court's floor-to-ceiling arched window frame exquisite water features and lush gardens, with sparkling glimpses of the Grand Pool beyond.
There's almost too much choice, starting with a variety of juices or smoothies while you wait for a table. Even champagne, if you so wish. There a cereal counter, Asian breakfast items, Indian breakfast items, full English breakfast, omelettes, sushi, sweets (baked goods, pancakes, waffles and crumpets), pate's, hams, cheeses, terrines and a gigantic fruit bar. They also make a great cappuccino. If I had to write down the amount of different breakfast elements we will be here till Christmas.
But I can't be here till Christmas because we have to scuttle to reception to catch our ride to Adrenaline Extreme to work off some of these newly acquired 74.529 million calories.
This is the ultimate outdoor entertainment facility at Sun City where you can test out some more outlandish modes of transport such as "drift trikes," hover crafts and the sinisterly named "accelerator." In short, a human catapult. But none of these death-defying occupations for us today, thank you.
For today we shall be riding quad bikes through a set course of very mild obstacles. Challenges are similar to those offered at 4x4 events, and include The Twister, a Swing Bridge, The Tyre Mountain and a See-Saw amongst others. Facilitators move next to us at all challenges, and safety measures such as clipping anti-flip ropes attached to the quads will ensure a safe, yet exciting experience. I have never driven a quad bike and I'm loving every second with the gay abandon of a child.
We eventually calm down over a spot of lunch at The Brew Monkey. Resembling a rustic microbrewery, inspired by the vervet monkey, The Brew Monkey gastro pub is the place to be for craft beer and artisanal meals.
Looking out over the tidal pool in the Valley of Waves, the restaurant's menu specializes in light meals ranging "Monkey Dogs," wholesome salads, dipping boards and burgers, to snack baskets. I especially appreciate the craft beer as I gradually feel my heart rate slowing down to about 150 beats a minute.
We contemplate another of any of the dizzying array of activities on offer here to while away the afternoon. You will truly never ever be at a loss for new adventures and experiences. A few, more sedate activities, include watching the sunrise with a glass of champagne from a hot air balloon over the Pilanesberg National Park; booking a personalized treatment at the Royal Salon health spa or enjoying a massage in the comfort of your own room. And then there is their world-famous high-tea... Sun City is also home to two of the world's most highly rated golf courses - the walking-only Gary Player Golf Course that hosts the annual Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Lost City Golf Course that is right on the doorstep of the hotel.
Then there is of course the one thing which made Sun City infamous in the old days - the casino. Today it is just one of the gazillion things that will keep you occupied here for a month. There is also a complimentary shuttle to drive you up and down the enormous grounds between hotels and entertainment sites.
It all sounds so tempting but before we know it, discussing the options about what to do next has turned into a time-consuming activity in itself over cocktails at the spectacular pool and we must dash to be in time for dinner.
The Grill Room is the resort's steakhouse. This exclusive restaurant ensures guests enjoy an intimate dining experience with expertly selected cuisine and complemented by one of the most notable wine lists in the country. The Alaskan crab as a starter dances on my palate with its accompanying lime, ponzu and lemon mayonnaise and for the entre I have the Charmal rump steak. A more tender and succulent piece of meat I have yet to find. My partner feasts on the Wagyu rib eye and from his glassy eyed expression and idiotic grin I surmise his complete approval. Desserts include creations like peanut butter pie, chocolate cake and New York strawberry cheesecake. Yum!
With a magical new set of memories we depart this luxurious oasis the next morning but special people will stay with me - Gift, Jenny, Johannes ("Hallo! My name is still Johannes and I am your waiter!") and Maggie. These employees will make any establishment proud with their kindness, generosity of spirit and superb service.
The Palace of the Lost City is one of the finest and most extraordinary hotels in the world and NO bucket list will be complete without a visit here. So get packing...
Olympic size pool
Safaris - game drives
Valley of waves
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