It is not often that one gets to spend the night at a national monument and historic treasure. I had the privilege of doing just that recently. Right on my doorstep, in the historic suburb of Parktown, is a national monument and heritage site constructed as a residence in 1895, and now known as the Sunnyside Park Hotel . In those days, the grand houses in Parktown had an unobstructed view going as far as the Magaliesberg Mountain Range.
It was originally built for Hennen Jennings, an American mining engineer, then became the official residence of Sir Alfred (later Lord) Milner, the British High Commissioner, during the Anglo Boer War. Having recently visited the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, I was keen on visiting the beloved residence of this famous man as well as the other distinguished personalities who lived there. The Victorian –style monument has been completely refurbished while retaining its original finesse and allure.
The Sunnyside Park Hotel is like an oasis amidst the concrete jungle of Parktown’s offices. This makes it ideally located for business events in Parktown. Wits University, the Johannesburg Zoo, and Zoo Lake are all within close proximity. Conference and banqueting facilities for up to 300 guests are available and are quite popular due to the location of the hotel. A ballroom, which witnessed many balls during its heyday, now plays host to weddings and matric dances.
The hotel’s picturesque gardens, with towering oak trees, still bear the touches of the English horticulturist that Lord Milner brought in to design them over a century ago.
They have now also been given a unique African touch with sculptures made by the Africa Ya Rona sculpture community, whose aim is to promote contemporary stone sculptors of Southern Africa. These sculptures can be purchased through the hotel. The lush gardens with its little ponds, bridges and benches provide a welcome sanctuary and the perfect backdrop for the most beautiful photos.
The grand high-ceilinged colonial-style lounge with its hearty fireplace has a wonderful ambience. Light meals and beverages are served all day, making it an ideal quiet place for meetings. I noticed several guests curled up on the comfortable couches, taking advantage of the free Wi-fi while sipping their drinks.
There is a small cigar lounge adjoining the main lounge where smokers can purchase and smoke cigars and cigarettes. A portrait of cigar aficionado, Winston Churchill, with a cigar overlooks the room. Milner's Restaurant and Terrace, where we had our meals and the Pound and Penny Pub with its outdoor wooden deck also had a distinctly British feel to them.
The hotel has 154 rooms, catering for different tastes. You can opt for a room in the charming historical part of the building or a more modern version in the new wing. Families and disabled people are also catered for. As we were accompanied by our kids, we were given garden-facing inter-leading rooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom and one with a lounge area. A welcome platter of fruit awaited us while a platter of red velvet cakes and other delicacies, from which I had more than my fair share, awaited the kids. After dinner we returned to our room to find hot water bottles discreetly left on our bed.
During the week, the hotel is busy with conferences, banquets and other functions. A complimentary shuttle service to and from Killarney Shopping Mall on weekdays offers a value-added service. As the weekend was quiet, we felt as though we had the hotel to ourselves even though there were a few other guests there. We took advantage of this by enjoying the well-equipped gym and adjacent steam room. Unfortunately, the chilly weather was not conducive to using the outdoor pool.
As part of the prestigious Legacy Group of hotels, the Sunnyside Park hotel is a living legacy and a treasure of the Parktown Heritage Trust.It is said that if the hotel was able to speak, it would be able to tell us the history of the country, the province and the city itself. Why not pay it a visit for a good dose of the charm, grace and old-world allure of the bygone Victorian era?