A south African experience by an Italian family

By Federico Bastiani in GRAZIA of December 2017

Little Big Johannesburg

By Federico Bastiani in GRAZIA of December 2017

The city where the leader Nelson Mandela has defeated racial segregation is today a symbol of South Africa of the future. And from museums to safaris and new cycling routes it's perfect to experience and discover with children

When you think of South Africa, you think of safaris at Kruger Park, the wine route in Cape Town, the wonderful beaches of Durban and Robben Island, where the leader and former South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Instead Johannesburg, the economic capital, a bit like the Milan of South Africa, often remains outside the tourist circuits.

A real pity because Joburg (as it is called by the locals) is constantly evolving and here you can breathe the real Africa in comparison to the more European Cape Town. And it is also a destination that offers a lot to those who, like me, have two small children, Noah and Matteo, aged 2 and 5. I arrived with them and my wife in Johannesburg on Saturday and the first visit in the afternoon was the Apartheid Museum (www.apartheidmuseum.org), which tells the story of the racial segregation for South Africans and the battles for equality fought by leaders like Mandela or Stephen Biko. It is a very touching museum, but at the same time educational for children, because it is interactive.

In order to deepen its themes and contents, I suggest a visit to Soweto, the urban area where people of color were segregated at the time of apartheid and where Nelson Mandela's house is located. Today, the visitor of these areas is struck by the luxury of the houses on one side of the road and the shacks on the other, but it is also a sign of how strong the sense of belonging to a community is. Those who made it and got rich did not deny their origins by moving to more residential areas.

To move around the city the best and cheapest means is Uber, which in South Africa can also be used without having a credit card. The service is really very good and convenient. For small trips (and for the joy of the boys) we often used the "tuk tuks", the Apecar converted to passenger transport, at the cost of a couple of euro per ride. In Johannesburg many restaurants are designed in a "family friendly" perspective, like Papachinos in Roodepoort (papachinos, co.za), where the kids have babysitters dedicated to them, or Bambanani in the Melville area (bambanani.biz), where children even have their disco with DJ sets available.

South Africa is famous for its wines produced in the area of ​​Stellenbosch and Cape Town, but there are several Johannesburg wineries that offer winetastings: one of these is Bompas (tenbompas-restaurant.co.za), which is situated in an enchanting park. 

Our family trip was organized to celebrate our son Noah's second birthday and since he is a true animal lover, we decided to give him a mini-safari. You will be amazed to know that less than an hour from the center of Johannesburg one is already surrounded by the bush (the savannah) where you can see the famous "BigFive" or the five most difficult animals to approach (elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo). To spot them, we went to Magaliesburg, 45 minutes from Johannesburg to the Askari Lodge (askarilodge.co.za). With 150 euros four people can stay in a luxury bungalow as well as enjoying a three-hour safari.

Returning to Johannesburg, we stopped along the way on a farm, the Strawberry Farm at Hartbeespoort (thestrawberryfarm.co.za), a place in the countryside, again with a special attention for children. In fact, while adults relax around the lake tasting local products, the children can go picking strawberries and take away the booty.

Back in the city, we decided to optimize time by using the Red Bus, which follows two routes, the south or north, and ventures through green hills and neighborhoods with spectacular villas.

Security has always been a crucial issue for this city, but now the administration has worked hard on this aspect and in recent statistics Johannesburg no longer appears among the dangerous metropolis of South Africa.


And that's not all, the city is also trying to change the way of living in urban spaces by strongly encouraging the use of bicycles. In South African culture, cycling is a sign of poverty, but today this old prejudice is disappearing and cycle paths begin to appear. David, owner of the bar Breezeblock (breezeblock.co.za) in the residential district of Brixton, has been involved in this mission for years. He organizes what we call "bike pride", has mapped the best areas of the city to be visited by pedaling and has a school to teach adults to ride a bike. The bar, also used as coworking by local people, is perfect for an immersion in the local culture. And as a starting point for new itineraries to be suggested by David.