South African Heights

Economic growth continues to inspire the travel experience

After my 15-hour intercontinental flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, in Delta’s Business Elite class, my first official mission was to find a perch from which I could take in the South African sunrise–a warm and spiritual experience equal to the dawning of changes taking place in this vibrant metropolis fondly called Jo’burg.
In a country where I dined on stewed ostrich, trailed rhinos and springbok in the wild, and visited historical sites, dozens of cranes are erecting towers against the skyline. An underground subway is on a fast track to completion, and the country’s gross domestic product growth rate hit 4.7% in the third quarter of 2006. Confidence is strong and infectious.

“The reasons for optimism,” offers Cameron Brandt, international markets editor for Emerging Portfolio Fund Research, “include the government’s conservative and consistent economic policy, the rapid expansion of the black middle class, forecasts for 10% GDP growth in China [which has] positive implications for commodity demand, and planned public infrastructure spending tied to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”

On the flip side, caution is encouraged because of “the expansion of household debt and lack of experience many of the new middle class have when dealing with credit, still very high levels of unemployment, and the country’s large current account deficit.” (Visit www.south africa.info for more insight on doing business in South Africa.)

For the visitor, however, the country is teeming with broad and colorful indulgences. Sandton, Jo’burg’s gleaming uptown district bustles with Mercedes-Benz taxis shuttling folks to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Sandton International Convention Centre. A sumptuous variety of restaurants line Nelson Mandela Square, among them the festive Lekgotla (www.lekgotla.com), and a massive mall offers premium shopping and chic boutiques such as Shakur Olla (www.shakurolla.co.za) and Sun Goddess (www.sungoddess.co.za), located near my hotel, the Michelangelo Towers (www.legacy hotels.co.za).

Italian heels and Swiss timepieces adorn the guests who stay in suites like my dreamy duplex ($715 per night). The ultra-swank three-floor cupola suite with a 360-degree view of the city, private rooftop pool, and butler commands $5,700 per night for unrivaled luxury.

Considered the “urban heart” of South Africa, Johannesburg is set like an axle in the center of eight provinces on the picturesque Southwest coast, famed for its lush winelands and whale watching Johannesburg’s vibrancy is a warm welcome for tourists.
The Northwest province is home to extravagant Sun City, which contains four hotels, including the flagship The Palace of the Lost City, offering casino gaming and two 18-hole par 72 golf courses.

Seasons in South Africa are distinguished by precipitation rather than severe temperature changes. Rain or shine, there are eventful attractions year-round: Durban July is an illustrious horse racing event steeped in aristocratic tradition; young and celebrated musicians rule the spotlight at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival (www.joyofjazz.co.za); golf enthusiasts flock to majestic greens for the Million Dollar Golf Challenge (www.nedbankgolfchallenge.com) and the Nelson Mandela Invitational Golf Challenge (www.nel son mandelainvitational.co.za); and wine connoisseurs attend Winex (www.winex.co.za) to sample vintages from more than 200 South African wineries.

Near downtown Johannesburg is the

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