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In South Africa, Finding a Lost City

By Todd Pitock
Sunday, May 9, 1999; Page E02


When the Palace of the Lost City opened in 1992, the young and the hip screamed kitsch. They weren't entirely wrong. Decorated in animal and jungle motifs as part of a theme fantasy of a rediscovered "lost ancient kingdom," the luxury resort two hours northwest of Johannesburg wasn't going to impress art snobs. Thick column shafts, finished in plaster of Paris, were fashioned to look like bamboo sticks with elephant foot bases. Although the Palace itself did not offer gambling, it was appended to the notorious casinos of Sun City, and the gaming world has never shied from gaudiness and ostentation.

But what critics didn't see was that the Lost City, by virtue of its scale, execution and an extraordinary attention to detail, overcame whatever might have been simply trite and bad. The brainchild of Sol Kerzner--the controversial hotel and casino magnate whose recent achievements include the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and a second "lost city," Atlantis in Paradise Island, Nassau--the Palace has a 338-room hotel that's designed in a faux-primitive look--primitive enough, that is, to be intriguing, without letting anyone believe it would be a less-than-luxurious experience.

Ponds and streams, complete with running falls, run through the property, which has postcardesque swimming pools; a golf course that runs through the Pilanesburg game preserve next door (the 13th hole has a crocodile pit just below the green with a sign disclaiming the property's responsibility for loss, injury or "other misfortune"); and what's claimed to be the world's largest artificial jungle.

To pull off the latter, landscape architects brought in 1.6 million plants and trees and installed 300 irrigation systems with mist sprayers, building a 133-foot canopy that replicates a rain forest. You have to forgive the occasional exposed hose or pipe, some fake crocodiles and a path leading to ruins that look as if they were taken off the set of "The Flintstones." The view is still good, the pool's spectacular, and even if it's fake, it's fun, especially at the end of the forest, where you come upon the Valley of the Waves, a water park with a beach, a wave pool, a frightfully high and steep water slide, and a water lane where you can recover your heart rate while drifting on a tube.

The towers within the Palace itself serve up panoramic views of the resort, including the original (and less expensive) Sun City complex. The Crystal Court is a magnificent room with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that open onto a view of the pools, falls and flora. The guest rooms, each with a hand-carved timber door, are spacious, with separate baths and showers over terra-cotta floors. If the rooms are a bit dark, they're plenty comfortable.

The service is what you'd expect from a five-star resort, and there are two elegantly appointed restaurants, though the alluring menu at the Crystal Court, which included such indigenous dishes as ostrich fillet and springbok loin, was recently disappointing, as was the breakfast buffet, which at one time was a cornucopia of well-executed cold and hot dishes.

Priced for foreign visitors, a stay at the Palace isn't cheap, especially by local standards, with rack rates for standard rooms starting at about $340, including 14 percent value-added tax. (The six-to-one rand-to-dollar exchange rate has made South Africa ludicrously inexpensive in general.) The Palace does offer frequent specials, including a recent one for about $210 a night.

For more information: Sun International reservations, 954-713-2638,

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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