Sun City's Taj Mahal
Welcome to the world's most dazzling home
Sick of slumming it? This could be the hotel for you
Imagine the Taj Mahal redesigned by Imelda Marcos, with help from Tarzan and The Doors. That just about sums up the spirit of the Palace of the Lost City. A rebuff to no-frills 'real holidays' undertaken by the Rough Guide crowd, the 350-room five-star colossus has everything from crystal balustrades to a 25-hectare designer jungle, said to be the biggest of its kind.
Abutting South Africa's kingdom of pleasure, Sun City, the Palace is an hour's drive from Pretoria and Johannesburg - its existence justified by a dubious legend redolent of a ripping yarn by the 19th-century English fantasy writer Sir Henry Rider Haggard. The story goes that, long ago, a nomadic North African tribe noted for its peace-loving, artistic nature found 'moonlight' (which we call platinum) in local caves, along with diamonds, which they thought were made when dew on cobwebs trickled underground. These discoveries allowed the tribe, dubbed the Ancients, to build a splendid palace and city in an idyllic valley. But along came an earthquake, wrecking much of the city and driving the Ancients away into the wilderness. Weeds and creepers took over the palace.
Enter Solomon Kerzner, a controversial boxer turned fantasy-resort developer who was instrumental in the building of Sun City. He hired an international team of designers who set about creating a US$276 million 'reconstruction'. It opened in 1992 with a ceremony that incorporated the Miss World pageant. Music was courtesy of synthesizer maestro Jean Michel Jarre who, in a blaze of lasers, performed a score entitled Volcanic Dance - a nod to the fact that the valley in which Sun City lies is a crater.
In front of the entrance to Kerzner's dazzling development is a fountain of bronze bucks, caught mid-leap as they try to escape the claws of a cheetah. In the lobby, enormous columns etched with bamboo fluting sprout from elephant-foot bases. The elephant motif is pervasive. A fountain bowl in the Crystal Court Restaurant is propped up by a bronze quartet of trumpeting elephants. The towers are capped with domes of faux elephant tusks. Sun City was inspired by Disney, and Uncle Walt's sensibility permeates its offshoot.
The cost of a room is sobering but, if you have an appetite for kitsch and extravagance, you may feel that you get what you pay for indoors and out. Surrounding the Palace is the designer jungle. Speckled with streams and waterfalls, it supports 1.6 million plants. A Grand Pool is flanked by a baobab forest, and, across the elephant-lined Bridge of Time, is a sprawling water theme park called the Valley of the Waves.
At the heart of the jungle is the Roaring Lagoon, a vast wave pool that, every 90 seconds, generates a 1.8-metre wave, heralded by the wail of a siren.
If the lagoon fails to slake your thirst for adventure, you might make your way to the Lost City golf course. Notoriously tricky to play, it boasts what must be the world's most unsettling 13th hole. Its water hazard teems with crocodiles: 38 in all, some of which are almost two metres long. The sight of their gap-toothed mouths must test the concentration of the coolest pro.
You wonder what the Ancients would have made of it all.
For more information about Palace of the Lost City, call  21 424 1037 or go to http://suncity.hotel.co.za
on 10 September 2007.
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