THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCESM
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES
THE MIDDLE EAST'S NEW TRAVEL MAGAZINE: FOR BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS, HOTELS, THINGS AND EXPERIENCES

How South Africa’s famed Mount Nelson Hotel is entering an exciting new era

Celebrating 125 years, Cape Town’s Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, has long represented another world and time, but new leadership is bringing the property firmly into the spotlight with a global installation, new art exhibitions and jolly new persona

Isabella Sullivan

22 May 2024

belmond mount nelson hotel

125 years ago Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel opened to huge fanfare. Built to serve the First-Class passengers of the transatlantic Union Castle Shipping Line, the property had to be the best: filled with sparkling chandeliers and gilded interiors. It was the first in Africa to provide hot and cold running water, and in its guise as the British Headquarters in the South African War, Lord Roberts Kitchener and a young Winston Churchill walked its corridors. It wasn’t until 1918, marking the end of the Great War, that the hotel was painted its now iconic pink – in turn becoming known as ‘the Pink Lady’ – and 1925, when the famed driveway was planted with towering date palms from the Canary Islands, in honour of a visit from the British Prince of Wales. In the century that followed, the hotel maintained its old-world airs and graces, luring elite travellers with its old-world décor, charming garden cottages and luscious gardens blossoming with roses – where guests sip iced tea, and Egyptian geese frolic in fountains.

However, the hotel is not resting on its laurels, and the arrival of a new managing director has marked a new era for the South African icon. This year, the property was chosen to participate in Belmond’s acclaimed MITICO programme in collaboration with Italy’s Galleria Continua. Entitled Haltes Colorées, meaning ‘colourful halt’, the installation by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren used the fountain as a base to erect three-metre pillars which alternate between mirrors and stripes.

The hotel's lively new atmosphere is drawing a cooler crowd
The hotel’s lively new atmosphere is drawing a cooler crowd

‘The Mount Nelson is more than just a hotel, it’s a symbol of Cape Town, nestled in the heart of the city,’ shares Tiago Moraes Sarmento, the passionate managing director for Belmond, Southern Africa and hotel general manager, during the MITICO launch in the hotel’s renowned gardens. ‘It’s also a beacon of gracious hospitality on the African continent, a testament to our rich cultural heritage and warm welcome.

‘Our biggest opportunity is to continuously be relevant as we continue into the 21st century whilst still respecting the property’s heritage,’ continues the hospitality veteran, who moved to the ‘Nellie’ from Belmond’s beachy Cap Juluca in Anguilla. ‘Post-COVID, we’ve been reinventing The Nellie while respecting history. We have been picking up on the moments and the areas and spaces that people love, then adapting them and moving them forward while still keeping the enchantment.’

The famous driveway lined by palm trees shipped from the Canary Islands in 1925
The famous driveway lined by palm trees shipped from the Canary Islands in 1925

Sarmento’s magic touch is already present. In the subterranean Grill Room, a dance hall in the Seventies, he’s pioneered the launch of The Red Room, a seductive new restaurant-cum-speakeasy by SA-famed Chef Liam Tomlin of Chef’s Warehouse. But what’s more impressive is the property’s newfound art immersion, cementing itself as a spot to explore and admire African art. ‘Our walls are lined with contemporary works donated by the Norval Foundation, and of course, you cannot miss the artwork in situ by France’s foremost contemporary artist, Daniel Buren, around the central focus point in the gardens,’ he continues. Buren himself flew to Cape Town to complete the installation, meeting with local art figures and spending time in the property. ‘That altogether creates magic, and it creates soul, and it creates a buzz in the city,’ continues Sarmento. ‘Mixing the classic with the 21st century, while respecting history, and adding elements such as contemporary art and local fashion elements, has made the Nellie a place where creative minds of South Africa, and even now Africa, want to showcase their art and their amazing fashion creations.

Beyond art, design, fashion, and glossy new openings, the impact and changes are seen at the grassroots level – small but instantly noticeable. ‘I love to play off the formality of things with a little quirkiness, playing with the past and our interpretation for the future,’ he reveals. Stepping away from traditional black and white, staff now wear pink jackets and dresses, and office staff even have pink ties – all a nod to the hotel’s precious rosy hue – its own dedicated Pantone shade. Cocktails in the famous Planet Bar, a well-known celebrity haunt, have been given a local twist, thanks to a newly planted mixology garden growing indigenous plants for flavouring and garnishes.

This reinvigoration has stretched to the hotel’s experiences, which in typical Belmond fashion, include a holistic view of the city and merge property with destination. ‘Some of our more quirky new guest experiences include discovering all the well- known (as well as lesser-known) Cape Town attractions along the Cape Peninsula in a Mount Nelson Hotel pink vintage motorbike with side-car, or in our vintage pink kombi (minibus),’ explains Sarmento. ‘The itineraries vary but could include “insider” hot spots such as Surfers Corner at Muizenberg for a surf lesson or savouring the best home-made Cape Malay delicacies in the Bo-Kaap – Cape Town’s iconic colourful houses in the shadows of Table Mountain.’

It’s clear from the hotel’s unwavering buzz that change is afoot, and while celebrating 125 years, it is looking to the future while still remaining respectful of the past. ‘We love the buzz,’ says Sarmento. ‘We want to continuously be a reference for the culinary world in Cape Town, but more than anything, we want to be the place where all people and different personas feel comfortable. Whoever you are, wherever walk of life you live, whatever part of the world you’re coming from, you will feel comfortable within our walls.

belmond.com, @belmondmountnelsonhotel

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Near+Far

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