Happy, leafy and happening – Illovo is all this and more.
Just five years ago, Illovo was a fairly sedate and non-descript residential suburb sandwiched between Melrose and Inanda. These days, there’s a renaissance in full swing, and it’s become a quirky, upbeat area filled with restaurants, bars, spas and young families living in refurbished “grand old lady” flats. People who live here are very passionate about their suburb, which isn’t surprising given all it has to offer. We spoke to a few Illovo residents about why they love living here.
It’s got everything you need
“Everything is so close – places to eat, drink, relax, exercise, shop are all within walking distance,” says resident Alison Kuhlmann, who has lived in the suburb for almost seven years. It’s also got a great location; Illovo is close to the M1 highway, Hyde Park, Rosebank and Sandton – but within the suburb itself you’ll find restaurants, bars, convenience stores, supermarket chains, pharmacies, massage parlours, hairdressers, spas and more. Alison’s cousin, Gina Kuhlmann, is also an Illovo resident who grew up in Birdhaven. “My favourite thing about living here is the fact that I have a beautiful apartment with views of the trees but that’s in close proximity to almost anything I need,” she says.
It’s perfect for active living
Thanks to The Wanderers Club and the huge Planet Fitness Centurion Gate MegaClub, Illovo has plenty of options for keeping active, from swimming and working out to playing tennis, hockey and cricket. There’s also plenty to do outside of these organised venues. “Joggers from around the city seem to gravitate to Illovo for its beautiful running and walking routes,” says Alison, who loves going for early-evening walks through Illovo’s leafy lanes that are especially impressive during Jacaranda season. James & Ethel Gray Park is also a popular outdoor spot – and it has enviable views of Joburg. “Illovo feels like you’re living in the city but surrounded by greenery and space, which is rare when you live in an apartment block surrounded by other buildings,” says Gina.
There’s plenty of entertainment
“Eating out is my favourite activity in the suburb – the options are endless,” says Gina. Her favourite haunt is Wolves, a restaurant/live music/art exhibition space known for its red velvet cupcakes and coffee. It’s housed in the recently refurbished Illovo Junction centre, arguably the busiest and most evolving part of the neighbourhood. The retail space contains The Griffin gastropub; Perron, an authentic Mexican restaurant; and Trabella, a long-standing Italian favourite best known for its pizza. There’s also En Masse massage parlour and YouBar nail bar and spa in the same building. Resident Monique Levieux says that her husband virtually lives at Arbour Cafe & Courtyard in Birdhaven, with its delicious breakfasts and lunchtime salads. Resident Jo Mitchell loves the In Toto Gallery in the same centre. “They have openings every month or so and it’s a great evening out with affordable art and free wine,” she says. Jo also mentions her favourite restaurant Bellini’s, one of the longest-running restaurants in the area, that’s still hugely popular with locals as a bistro and after-work drinks venue.
Spacious apartment living
Illovo is perhaps best known for old-school apartment blocks that are incredibly spacious – Gina’s flat, for example, is a one bedroom that’s 80m2. Many of the apartment blocks date back to the 1950s and ’60s, and have retained their large bedrooms, high (often pressed) ceilings, solid walls and parquet floors. Monique says that besides the size of the flat she shares with her husband and young son Dan, she loves her block’s swimming pool and beautifully maintained communal garden that gives Dan plenty of room to run in. Jo notes that besides the investment potential for these flats, they’re great in terms of the security they offer as opposed to living in a freestanding house.
Over the last few years, Illovo has grown hugely in popularity to become one of the more happening places to live in Joburg. Monique says that due to cost, convenience and security, a lot more young people are choosing to bring up their families in a communal flat environment. Says Gina, “It feels like a neighbourhood with history, but its trendy and up and coming at the same time.”
Try the following great restaurants and bars in Illovo:
Perron for authentic “non Tex-Mex” Mexican
The Griffin for an after-work craft beer
Parea for traditional Greek food
Trabella for decadent pizza and pasta
Arbour Cafe & Courtyard for healthy breakfasts and lunches
Bellini’s for after-work drinks, fillet, pregos and salads
Wolves for red velvet cupcakes, live music, comedy and occasional art exhibitions
Beefcakes for nightly performances and charming table hosts
Take a trip through the Sandton neighbourhood here:
This article originally appeared in Neighourhood, Sunday Times.