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  1. Expert Review

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    Sep 2014 · Lucy Corne

    The area this hotel is located in is a little off-putting. It is not like the Orlando West neighborhood, the...

    The area this hotel is located in is a little off-putting. It is not like the Orlando West neighborhood, the wealthy Sowetan suburb home to Winnie Mandela, Desmond Tutu and a couple of much-visited museums. The streets around the hotel are strewn with litter and it has a feel that is at best, rough-around-the-edges and at worst, just plain seedy.

    The hotel itself is likewise not too inspiring from the outside – it somehow looks like a renovated 1970s car park (despite being built in 2007). Inside though, the feel is different. The inviting lobby harks back to a bygone era and you expect to see a lounge singer clad in a sequined dress entertaining guests as they sip a cocktail. Indeed, there is a small bar and a jazz-themed restaurant, though while the food is OK, the lack of patrons makes it a slightly sad place to dine. Alas, there are no restaurants close by, with Soweto’s best-known eateries a 15-minute drive away. After dark you’re unlikely to want to wander locally, or even retrieve your car from underground car park, which does not have direct access to the hotel and is pretty intimidating once the sun goes down.

    Décor in the rooms is imaginative and stylish, featuring vast black and white photographs of struggle heroes like Nelson Mandela alongside colourful tapestries depicting typical South African life. Alas, the hotel is in need of a little TLC and nowhere is this more evident than the cleanliness of the rooms. They appear clean on the surface and indeed, the aroma of cleaning products is overwhelming. But there’s no better way to check how clean a hotel floor is than to travel with a crawling baby, and the Soweto Hotel’s filthy carpets definitely failed the toddler test.

    Many rooms have balconies overlooking the Walter Sisulu Square, though there is no patio furniture so any trip outside is a brief one. Other than a business meeting or conference, the square is the main reason that you would be hereabouts. This was the spot where, in 1955, people of all races and religions met in defiance of apartheid authorities to draft the Freedom Charter. There’s a monument in the middle of the square and a superb but severely under-visited museum going into greater depth – definitely worth a visit. The square was meant to uplift the area, but sadly it has become a little neglected, just like the hotel that overlooks it.

    I really wanted to love this hotel. Staying in Soweto, particularly the gritty and history-filled Kliptown neighbourhood, seems like such a quintessential South African experience and the initiative to set up a four-star hotel here appeared to be such an inspired and forward-thinking move. Sadly though, the project seems to be a bit neglected.

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