PROFESSIONALS FROM Johannesburg used to weekend in the Royal Swazi Sun during apartheid times, to get away from the tension of the big city. It is easy to see why: Swaziland is a tiny, mellow, landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique, and coming in (as most travellers do) from nervy South Africa, it feels a welcome relief.

I first went there on a riding, partying and gambling weekend; I was too cowardly to mount my pony, but spent a long day by the pool - there's something about being surrounded by mountains that energises the soul. In the evening we all dressed up for the casino hidden behind the reception desk, and found a phalanx of busy slot-machines that would not be shamed in Las Vegas. The green-baize tables in the private rooms were more tempting, and we managed to win pounds 50 each on roulette and blackjack, before losing it again, and more.


The Royal Swazi Sun is at Ezulwini, Mbabane, Swaziland (call 0181-661- 2263 for reservations).

The Royal Swazi lies in the little verdant bowl of the Ezulwini valley. The hills all around are covered with forests and semi-legal marijuana plants which, together with intricate, coloured candles, seem to form the country's main export industry. Around the hotel are lush fields and paddocks, making it seem like a subtropical version of Sussex. The staff are relaxed, warm and polite. On Saturdays a band plays by the polygonal outdoor pool, and you can sit in the sun drinking cans of Castle beer and the latest potent cocktails mixed by the energetic barman.

Time to international airport: The Royal Swazi is 20 minutes outside the Swazi capital, Mbabane. There are direct flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town; otherwise the beautiful drive from Johannesburg international airport, though plateaux, valleys and bushveld, takes four hours.


The rooms are decorated in a modern, bright style, with comfortable double beds. There's not much in the way of local feel, though, because the hotel belongs to a South African chain, Sun International. If you ask for a room overlooking the pool and you'll have live music all day, and a fantastic view of the mountains.

As the hotel sits alone in such a beautiful spot, the relative lack of imagination in the architecture seems hardly to matter. It also has an 18-hole golf course, which meanders around the valley. Every tee has a striking view of forest or mountain, and the hotel is welcomingly unfussy about who plays. A rank amateur, I had a wonderfully relaxing day - and got around the first hole in just 68 strokes.

Staying in touch: South African and satellite TV channels are the alternatives to the casino during the rainy season (November to April). Your British mobile will work here, which feels bizarre.


Double rooms start at pounds 110, a princely sum locally.

I'm not paying that: The Protea Pigg's Peak Hotel, on a forested mountaintop 20 miles away, has even better views, but no casino or live music. It's comfortable rather than luxurious, and prices for a double room start at pounds 60. Contact Protea Central Reservations (00 27 21 419 8800) for more details.

Darius Sanai