Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel Near+Far rating: 10/10
It’s hard to explain, in a few lines, why one should stay at the Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel. It’s a feeling when you enter – one of history, grandeur and true timeless luxury. It’s knowing the characters who have walked its grounds and halls. It’s one of feeling at peace – the view of Table Mountain, the manicured, yet wild, gardens with swimming pools and tennis courts. It’s the service, staff flashing their dazzling smiles and making charming chit-chat. And it’s the cinematic Wes Anderson-esque design – the iconic pink walls and old-world grandeur, the tinkle of the piano and the grand staircases. Few hotels are so loved as Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel affectionately known as the ‘Nellie’ and holding a special place in many Cape Tonian’s hearts. The hotel sits in the shadow of Table Mountain, occupying nine acres in the heart of the city – unheard of in a bustling metropolis.
The Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel’s history is palpable at every turn: The grand, collonaded entrance built for a visit from Britain’s Prince of Wales, the drawing rooms where Winston Churchill reported on The South African War, and, more recently, the historic wings taken over by Ed Sheeran and Oprah and the gardens were Springbok captain Siya Kolisi took on Roger Federer in a game of tennis. Cape Town has its share of stunning luxury hotels, but the Nellie has held its position in global rankings and guests’ hearts. What sets it apart from competitors are the ample grounds with tennis courts, gardens for picnics and swimming pools and summer houses, plus charming accommodations in historic wings and garden cottages.
The story: 10/10
Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel’s story is one that needs to be told, and is a key part of the guest experience. The hotel opened in its first guide in 1806, a year after the death of the namesake British admiral who was a visitor to the Cape. Shortly after, the property was transformed into a hotel for the first-class passengers of the Union Castle Shipping line – the first in Africa to provide hot and cold running water. Next came its guide as the British Headquarters in The South African War, a period which saw Lord Roberts, Kitchener and a young Winston Churchill spend time at the property. It wasn’t until 1918 that the hotel was painted its now iconic shade (its own bespoke Pantone) to celebrate the end of the First World War. In 1925, a visit by Britain’s Prince of Wales was marked by a new collonaded entrance and driveway flanked by 80 date palms shipped over from the Canary Islands, but today VIP visits are much more low-key. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see famous faces (Ed Sheeran, Oprah Winfrey and Charlize Theron have all stayed). Despite its illustrious history, the Nellie doesn’t rest on its laurels. The vivacious new General Manager has issued a new lease of life with a new speakeasy-style restaurant and plenty of exciting additions on the horizon.
If the hotel were built today, its location would be a very different story. Chances are slim that nine acres in the heart of a world-leading city would be available, so it’s just as well the property is over 200 years old. While retaining the feeling of being in the peaceful rolling countryside, Mount Nelson is smack bang in one of Cape Town’s coolest and most buzzing neighbourhoods. The back entrance leads out onto Kloof Street, a hub for restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs (Kloof Street House and Cafe Paradiso are a must). Table Mountain, Bo-Kaap, Camp’s Bay, and the V&A Waterfront are all less than a 20-minute drive away.
Rooms and suites: 10/10
From cosy doubles and gilded suites, charming country garden cottages with private rose gardens to historic villas, there’s an unrivalled array of accommodation to choose from. Rooms are spread across the historic main building and into new modern wings, but also in the garden cottages and six historic wings – one once the hotel for second class passengers of the Union Castle Line. Each is slightly different, but all offer old-world charm with elegant, historic touches like period furniture, toile wallpaper, plush capers, oil paintings and shelves of microvilli and books. Bathrooms are stocked with the fluffiest towels and fragrant Charlotte Reiss toiletries (Cape Town’s answer to Jo Malone), and, thanks to its large Brutish client, type G sockets used in the GCC are in all rooms. For something unique, book into one of the picture-perfect Garden Suites, which come with separate living rooms, courtyards and private porches overlooking a private garden with roses and a white picket fence. There’s no trying to be cutting-edge or contemporary, this is elegance and heritage at its finest, and it’s truly sublime.
Dining, surprisingly, is the one place old-world grandeur doesn’t feature, and the hotel is filled with approachable, bright and breezy restaurants and bars. Breakfast – arguably the most impressive in town – is served at Oasis Restaurant, in the muraled dining room or on the sun-drenched terrace overlooking the pool. Oasis also serves an indulgent weekend brunch and relaxed lunch menu of all-day classics. Lunch can also be taken on the lawns – where picnic hampers are presented filled with cheese, pate, biltong, crusty bread and cake and served best with South African wine, or on the nub terrace with sharing-style bites. The terrace, connecting greenery-filled orangery and an old-world lounge, is also the setting for the hotel’s legendary afternoon tea, known as the best between Cape Town to London and popular for celebrations and milestones. Come nighttime, the terrace comes alive with guests sipping perfectly balanced cocktails on the Planet Bar terrace or inside its gilded indoor area.
New this year, the work of the pioneering General Manager is The Red Room – a collaboration with renowned Chef Liam Tomlin (behind many of Cape Town’s best restaurants). The sultry speakeasy-style restaurant occupies what was once the Grill Room – a subterranean dancing haunt in the Seventies. Guests open a secret door, descend into a striking, dimly lit red dining room, and feast on dishes like Korean BBQ steamed buns, grilled scallops with Tom Yum foam, and tea-infused cocktails. Other dining delights include a Harvest Table, a selection of fresh and local fare served in the gardens – and classic room service. The only thing missing, given the theme, is a fine dining, old-world dining room – but more exciting things are expected to come.
Spa and facilities: 9/10
Guests can choose from a peaceful adults-only pool – shaded by greenery and home to a charming summer house serving drinks and pool bites – and the main family pool – both heated all year round and framed by new, marshmallow-like sunloungers. The latter is the central focus on the manicured gardens host to the occasional frolicking Egypital goose. Wander the grounds to find two tennis courts and the Librisa Spa, housed in three restored white Victorian heritage homes and also home to the modern gym. Treatments at the spa come with complimentary childcare, a truly priceless touch for those travelling as a family.
The service: 9/10
It’s impossible not to permanently smile when walking through the hotel, with the charming staff all beaming as you pass. In homage to its grand past, service is impeccable and discreet, but also filled with personality. Room service and housekeeping requests are tended to at lightening speed, door staff will rush into the rain to offer you an umbrella and Muchi – the hotel’s impossibly connected and ‘in the know’ concierge will get you a booking at the hottest table in town, at a moment’s notice, making it look like it’s no trouble at all. This is a hotel where staff truly feel happy and like one big family, and it shines through in the guest experience.
Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, is more than a hotel. Centuries of history live in its walls, but it’s not governed by its illustrious past. Yes, there’s the colonial grandeur and Victoriana rooms, but there’s also life, soul, warmth, innovation and modernity. The hotel offers a glimpse into Cape Town’s past, but also its present and future, all in the most luxurious and beautiful of settings.
Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa; Doubles from about AED2,500 per night; belmond.com