In Idwala, I found my Johannesburg home away from home, whenever business or pleasure takes me there again; and next time, I will plan a longer layover.

Overall Impression A cluster of immaculate South African stone and thatch rondavels nestled in lush indigenous gardens, Idwala Guest House was an enclave of bucolic luxury in the middle of Johannesburg. Located on a quiet residential street of the elegant suburb of Darrenwood, an easy 30-minute drive from O.R. Tambo International Airport, Idwala (Zulu for rock) was an ideal retreat for a day of relaxation after my nightlong flight from Europe and before continuing on my journey further into Southern Africa.

Originally built over one century ago as a farmhouse north of Johannesburg, the property had over time become surrounded by the city’s urban sprawl. A few years ago, its classic circular structures topped by distinctive conical roofs may have become just another casualty to the modern age, without the dedication of its current owners. Working as a team, various members of the Friese family contributed their expertise (ranging from architecture and interior design to hotel management and computer technology) to transform the dilapidated farmhouse into a stylish nine-room luxury guest house. From timeless details of great hospitality to the latest technologies, there were many features designed to delight discriminating business and leisure guests.

Within its high exterior walls draped with exuberant bougainvillea, Idwala was a haven of understated South African elegance. Interior design showcased the omnipresent elaborate stonework as a background for the antique furniture and plush oriental rugs. But the serene loveliness of the surroundings was merely a framework for total pampering. I was delighted to discover fast, reliable WiFi Internet connectivity throughout the property, and a full service dining room offering freshly prepared, beautifully presented wholesome meals. Within my spacious suite I found heated floors, an exquisitely comfortable extra-long king size bed, an entertainment center-size television set with global satellite programming and a working-size desk. Next to the desk, a large butler’s tray held an assortment of goodies ranging from a fresh fruit basket and a tin of home-baked cookies to a full tea and coffee service to keep my energy up while catching up with e-mail.

Yet these amenities paled next to the friendliness of the staff, and the thoughtfulness of the services they offered. An in-room massage to sooth my travel-weary body? Of course, when should it be arranged? And when would my jetlag-confused appetite desire lunch? The chef was happy to oblige any time. Would I enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city, or a ride to the nearby Cresta Center, one of the most popular shopping centers in Johannesburg, or to trendy Sandton, just a little further away? I demurred on the latter offers. So happily ensconced was I in Idwala that I wouldn’t entertain the thought of leaving its sheltering embrace; until the next morning of course, when I regretfully had to return to the airport for the next leg of my trip. In Idwala, I found my Johannesburg home away from home, whenever business or pleasure takes me there again; and next time, I will plan a longer layover.

Class Of Accommodation Idwala was rated Five Star Guest House by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA)

Connectivity Fast and reliable wireless Internet access was available throughout the property. Cellular phone access was excellent with a GSM 900/1800 compatible international cellular phone.

Handicapped Access Wheel chairs could be accommodated by previous arrangement.

Length Of Stay One night

Location Idwala was in Darrenwood, a centrally located northern suburb of Johannesburg, an 18-mile (30 kilometer) or 30-minute drive from O.R. Tambo International Airport. It was a 15-minute drive from Sandton and the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD).

On-Site Manager Julia Ficosecco

Owned-Managed Idwala Guest House was owned by the Friese family. Co-general managers were Jeannette Friese and her son Robert Friese.

Size Within its one-acre (3,800 square meter) walled garden compound, the property consisted of nine rooms, including three rooms located in the main house, four garden rooms and two cottages with self-catering facilities. It could accommodate a maximum of 18 guests and employed a staff of eight.

Transportation Road transportation was necessary to reach Idwala. Per advanced request, Idwala staff arranged a fixed rate private car airport pick-up and drop-off. Complimentary parking was available on the property for self-drivers.

Year Open-Renovated In 2005, the property was redesigned and fully renovated under the direction of Stefan Friese, an architect. It opened for business in 2006.

Lobby And Common Areas On either side of the carved wooden double doors of the entrance to the main house, semi-circular large bay windows lined the façade for a panoramic view of the beautifully landscaped garden and a free-form plunge pool. The interior was an expansive, curved open-plan space covered by a slanted thatched roof. Floor covering was plush oriental rugs over flagstones. To the right of the entrance foyer, the dining room held several square walnut tables, each surrounded by four matching chairs with woven natural twine seats. The far wall held a long credenza that doubled as a buffet table for breakfast.

A sitting area was to the left of the foyer. Two tuxedo-style armchairs of peach damask, on either side of a matching sofa upholstered burgundy with taupe stripes, provided seating around a large round coffee table made from a glass-topped African braided straw basket. Along the far left wall, six bar chairs were lined up in front of a curved built-in bar made of natural stone with a thick walnut top. To the back of the room, one step up from the remainder of the space, a large circular hardwood floor platform covered with oriental rugs formed a second sitting area. The ceiling was a classic steep thatched cone with a multi-branch brass chandelier hanging from its central peak. The focal point of the room was a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the center of the curved white-plastered back wall, bracketed by two tall wood-framed wall mirrors. A brown leather club sofa, with on either side identical sofas upholstered in coral wool, faced the fireplace. Square walnut end tables held pillar candles in large glass hurricane lamps. Occasional chairs, antique chests and tall African baskets completed the décor. Brass wall sconces matching to the center chandelier provided additional lighting. Throughout the common area, artfully arranged fresh flowers enhanced the welcoming mood.

Bathroom The en-suite bathroom was striking in its appointments as well as décor. It had retained elements of the original farmhouse stonework in several areas. A floor-to-ceiling rough stonewall flanked by two tall walnut-framed mirrors served as a backdrop for the deep white porcelain claw-footed bathtub. The oversized shower stall with double glass doors featured a rain showerhead. Walls were a blend of off-white rustic tiles and natural stone. The white porcelain sink was set in a vanity of pale polished poured concrete, topped with a large square walnut-framed mirror. The water closet was discretely tucked away within its own stone walled enclosure. Floors were natural ceramic tiles that beautifully showcased the red oriental rug in front of the bathtub.

Room My 325 square foot (29 square meter) room, Main House Room Two, was an inviting circular rondavel with a soaring thatched ceiling and white rough-plastered walls. A multi-armed pewter chandelier hung from the peak of the ceiling. Two picture windows opened onto a secluded garden. Flooring was thick taupe wall-to-wall carpeting with oriental throw rugs. Furniture was made of walnut. In addition to the king-size headboard and matching bedside tables, it included a storage armoire, a sideboard that held the mini-bar, and a desk and chair. Two wing chairs upholstered in cinnabar wool sat on either side of a round side table and a black wrought iron floor lamp with a red silk shade. A long brown leather bench outlined the foot of the bed. Window treatment was floor-length cream glazed poplin drapes with a light cinnabar floral design. Pewter wall sconces and tall hourglass shaped ceramic and opaque glass bedside lamps completed the lighting of the room. A television set sat on the sideboard opposite the bed. Small African prints in walnut frames and fresh flower arrangements enhanced the cozy atmosphere. Although neither was needed at the time of my visit, the room had air conditioning and heated floors.

Food Idwala featured a full service restaurant (an uncommon feature for a nine-room inn). Meals were wholesome, well prepared and elegantly served, using fresh local ingredients. The breakfast buffet included freshly baked breads and pastries, cold cereals, fresh fruits and assorted cheeses and cold cuts. Full English breakfast was also available. For lunch and dinner, advance notice was recommended to ensure the meal would be promptly ready at my preferred time and according my dietary requirements and preferences.

Amenities It was clear from the generous array of thoughtful amenities that considerable effort had been extended to ensure that Idwala Guest House would truly feel my home away from home.

Bedroom amenities included: electronic safe, golf umbrella, a variety of electric convertor plugs, electric kettle, an extensive assortments of regular, decaffeinated and herbal teas, regular and decaffeinated coffee, hot cocoa, milk and dark chocolate bars, a tin of home-baked cookies and a basket of fresh fruits. In the mini-bar, there was fresh milk, complimentary soft drinks and bottled water. A sewing kit, shoe-cleaning mitt, citronella room and linen sprays were also included, as were the latest issues of several travel magazines.

The bathroom featured heated floor, heated towel rack, terry cloth bathrobe, slippers, several candles and roses in bud vases. There were cotton swabs and cotton balls, toothpaste and a toothbrush. Toiletries were Crabtree and Evelyn facial soap, shower gel, foam bath, shampoo and body lotion.

Facilities A meeting room could accommodate up to 16 participants. Equipment included state-of-the-art WiFi and cable modem Internet connectivity, surround sound speakers, projector and electronic projection screen.

Pool Against a backdrop of fluttering weeping willow branches, the free-form swimming pool with its waterfall of artfully stacked rocks peering through lacy ferns was an idyllic place to while away the afternoon. Poolside furniture was of elegant wrought iron with comfortable natural canvas cushions. It included a large green canvas market umbrella, two lounge chairs and three bistro tables, each surrounded by three chairs.

Spa There was a wellness and spa center within a 10-minute drive from Idwala. However in-room treatments could also be arranged with same-day notice.

Cleanliness Excellent

Date Of Last Visit October 2009

Reviewers Article and photographs by Josette King

Service At Idwala, the emphasis was clearly on pampering guests, from the warmest of welcomes by several members of the staff, who already knew me by name upon arrival, to the on-site manager, Julia who also provided the most thoughtful concierge services. In addition to booking airport transportation for me, she personally reconfirmed my next-day flight with a small Southern African airline, leaving no detail unchecked (she ensured that my name was spelled correctly and that the airline provided us with the correct confirmation number). For business travelers, basic office services were available on demand. My room was serviced twice daily.

Would You Stay There Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • 13 Garrick Road
    • Darrenwood, Johannesburg
    • Gauteng, South Africa
  • Phone:
    • + 27 (0) 11 888-1437
    • + 27 (0) 82 443-9419
  • Fax:
    • + 27 (0) 11 888-9874
  • Website:
  • Email: