The Perfect Place to Stay in Johannesburg – Motel Mi Pi CHi
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Finding the right place to stay in any sprawling metropolis can make the difference between a great time and a terrible experience, but in Johannesburg choosing the right suburb, and the perfect bolthole is essential if you want to buck the trend and fall in love with the city that everyone loves to bash.
When I first decided to travel to South Africa I had no real intention of visiting Johannesburg. I’d been drawn to the country to come face to face with danger, yes, but mainly in the shape of the Big 5 game park animals.
I guess I unconsciously believed the hype that this would be a city with little to offer, but I decided to research Joburg for myself. Not in a scientific way – scientists wouldn’t like my approach. I had decided already what I wanted the results to be – that a city of 8 million people must have a lot more to offer than danger and electrified fences – then set about proving it. As the owner of Joburg’s Motel Mi Pi CHi commented, ‘Why would one visit London, New York or Berlin, but not Johannesburg?!’ It turned out she was 100% right.
If the key to the perfect city-break is the perfect accommodation, then that goes double for a city like Joburg. At first all I found online were bland, faceless and uninspiring chain hotels aimed squarely at the corporate market. But soon it became clear that in Joburg the suburbs were the place to be since much of Joburg life had moved out of the Central Business District during the worst era of criminal excess – and one suburb in particular began to distinguish itself from the rest, Melville.
Melville is the city’s hip ‘cafe district’ and unlike many of the other suburbs which sounded a little too segregated, fenced off and sanitised, this seemed a place where you could take a relaxed walk around, browse, eat and drink, just as you would in any other city, and feel the pulse of the place. Given that Joburg’s sprawling layout is best likened to LA, this selling point isn’t to be underestimated.
Once I’d selected Melville, I struck some of that famous Joburg gold in finding Motel Mi Pi CHi, a cute, quirky motel with real personality that went on to provide the absolute perfect base for my stay in Jozi.
Mi Pi CHi consists of a large single storey building made from what was originally two 1930’s semis, which sit on a pleasant suburban street right in the heart of Melville. With rooms arranged around an internal courtyard, letting in oodles of lovely natural sunlight, complemented by an airy contemporary design, the overall feel is clean, bright and relaxed.
The motel (so-called because it offers secure and accessible parking onsite – it isn’t what most of us Europeans would think of as a motel at all) was designed by co-owner and architect Andrew Makin, who also worked on the South African Constitutional Court Building, a symbol of South Africa’s new democracy, as well as Kruger National Park’s Singita Lebombo and Sweni lodges, which were voted best hotel in the world by Conde Nast.
This first-rate hospitality experience along with the marketing and entrepreneurial know-how brought in by partner Nicky really shows through in the end results: the hotel delivers functionality and comfort as much as it does design prowess. These two really get it.
‘One of the key things you want from a hotel room is for it to be uncluttered because you’re going to take it over while you’re there,’ says Andrew, who has kept the rooms just the right side of minimalist, with space to move around and spread out, but also great attention to detail and flashes of colour-co-ordinated design to keep things visually appealing.
Elsewhere in the house original features such as Portuguese tiles and stripped wooden floors plus retro furnishings are juxtaposed beautifully with more industrial elements such as a stainless steel open plan communal kitchen and low-hanging feature light bulbs underlining the comfy yet urban feel.
Before arriving in Joburg I’d built up a mental list of all the things I wanted to do there: mooch around Melville, visit the Apartheid Museum, take a trip into Soweto and the Hector Pieterson Museum, as well as Nelson Mandela’s house, and ascend the Carlton Centre building to get a great view of the city from the so-called Top of Africa.
I managed to do all of these things during my short stay, thanks to Tumi, a first-rate guide, ex-dancer and former Soweto resident with whom the hotel hooked me up. He was able to educate myself and some fellow guests on the politics and history of Johannesburg as he showed us round some of the city centre and township’s obvious and not so obvious sights.
We finished our day in Soweto on New Year’s Eve, genuinely sad to be leaving and still hankering for more. For me Mi Pi CHi was the perfect boutique hotel in Johannesburg – and if and when I do head back to Joburg again there’s only one place I want to stay.
Are you looking for a boutique hotel in Johannesburg? Here are the hotel details:
35.35a Fourth Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg, Gauteng, Republic of South Africa
For further info on Joburg, visit www.joburg.org.za
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