I hear Liz answering the phone with a ‘Hello Liz speaking, Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse’, and I know this is not just an ordinary Guesthouse. She chats on the phone, takes note of a new booking, gives the client all the details, follows up by email, and then greets the Englishman, as he makes his way to the breakfast room.
In the kitchen, Catherine is whipping up her signature omelet. Zac is in the car bringing a Frenchman in from the airport, Thandie is putting the final touches to the Sage studio flatlet and Alick, who works magic in the garden, is talking to the flowers. It all works seamlessly, but we know, it takes a huge amount of ‘behind the scenes’ work to make a Guesthouse run smoothly.
Liz opened Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse in 1995, with just one cottage and Ellen Khumalo to help her. She smiles as she remembers their first visitor. Dell was a mineworker from Hotazel (really) in the Northern Cape. Hotazel is a teeny town and Dell was a charming colored man who had never left home. His eyes were huge at this overwhelming city called Johannesburg where white and black could now live side by side, and he was even more overwhelmed when he realized that the white woman, Liz, was making him his breakfast and making his bed.
The new South Africa. And the start of a new and wonderful guesthouse.
Liz did not start off as a guesthouse owner. She trained as an art historian, and was a lecturer and researcher at Wits University from 1982 until 2002. And then until 2005 when she left Wits to grow her guesthouse, Liz headed the Post-graduate Division of Heritage, Tourism and Cultural Management in the Wits School of Arts. She opened her guesthouse, managing to juggle her work, lecturing, studying, hospitality and mothering, all at the same time.
As if this wasn’t enough, Liz travelled to Hanoi in Vietnam where she completed the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) in 2011; she sits on the marketing committee of the Rosebank Region Accommodation Association, and still researches the history of Johannesburg, writing history reports for developers and conservation architects when heritage impact assessments are required. Many a boarded-up derelict building in central Johannesburg has found Liz with camera and notepad, documenting its architectural history and in the case of graffiti, its more recent social history.
Liz also blogs about Jozi – her buzzing mad crazy but interesting hometown! It’s a good idea to follower her, on www.lizatlancaster.co.za/blog.
She is a busy lady, but somehow manages everything effortlessly
Today Liz at Lancaster has seven units and several staff members. The guesthouse was full when I was there – but deliciously quiet. The space is lovely, eclectic, cozy and comfortable. The cottages are spread around the main house, each with their own separate entrance. I wrinkle my nose trying to work out the fresh fragrance in the air and realize it is mint. There are herbs growing outside each cottage, and the flower baskets are filled with fresh daffodils and daisies.
The art is inspiring too. I immediately recognize a Robert Hodgins hanging above the fireplace and Liz shrugs casually and says ‘I was lucky, it was a gift when I left Wits University.’ From her Wits University career, her love for the arts certainly shines through. When not at the guesthouse, Liz can be found at art openings, exhibitions and at galleries.
Whilst in Liz’s office I notice her shelves, filled with an eclectic mix of objects which I think point to some of the many aspects of her varied life: a plaster model of the hominid skull found in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa’s famous Mrs. Ples; a pottery upside-down man made by her then five year old son (a long time ago!); a plaque saying ‘Thank you from the Tourism Class of 2005’; a wire windmill collected on one of her travels through the Karoo; and a horseshoe found when digging foundations for one of the outside units at Liz at Lancaster – a remnant of days gone by when Craighall Park was farm-land.
As I look at these objects, I hear Liz talking to an American telling her where to go and I thought ‘Oh, I want to go to that museum too.’ She has an excellent way of engaging with people and her love of Johannesburg comes through very clearly.
Having twenty years experience working with different nationalities and people from all walks of life, Liz has learnt to read her clients well. ‘Don’t send someone to the Apartheid Museum if they prefer Montecasino’, she says. ‘Give them what they are going to enjoy.’
It makes sense.
Each cottage is self-catering and self-sufficient. Not only is there a small kitchenette and fridge, but international plugs, hair dryers, irons, sewing kits, a torch, an umbrella, intercoms to the main house, and just about everything you could possibly think of. Staff are available but never in the way. Liz has made sure the rooms have everything that she would like in a guest room, allowing visitors total ease and comfort.
Half a block away is a Spar supermarket, Toni’s Pizzeria and a chemist, all within easy walking distance. Coffee shops, a boutique and beauty Spa and Craighall Park is famous Corner Café are a very short drive.
Liz is a fabulous host. And Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse is a fabulous place to stay. It’s where I would choose to stay, if I was a visitor to Johannesburg. I may just spend a night, anyway.
Follow Liz on twitter – @lizatlancaster
Follow Liz’s blog – www.lizatlancaster.co.za/blog