Cape Town unsurprisingly makes many lists of best places to visit, and in recent years has been gaining more luxury hotels. There is the One&Only, 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa, Cape Royale Luxury Hotel & Residence, Taj Cape Town, Table Bay Hotel, Ellerman House and the brand new Silo. With its somewhat spread geography, hilly residential sections, main waterfront and beaches that remind of Newport and Redondo in Southern California, there is a wide choice. However, the grand dame is The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, with its flamingo pink buildings, park like grounds, palm tree lined driveway and array of flowering gardens set at the base of Table Mountain. You wouldn’t be wrong if you felt you were at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The hotel dates back to 1899 years and was originally built to house first class passengers of the Union-Castle Line who were en route from Europe to India and Australia. You can still see ship models and oil portraits of former directors in the hallways. Sturdy wooden chairs in one of the function rooms once served as deck chairs on an ocean liner in a past life, the giveaway a small hole where it would have been secured to the deck. Perhaps that is the biggest attraction to the Mount Nelson. If you like history you could literally wander its halls reading the captions of various paintings, photos and drawings. In fact, the main building wasn’t originally pink. It was painted that way to celebrate the end of World War I.
If you could care less about history, chances are the Mount Nelson is a good choice for you if you like grand dames with their quirky layouts where few rooms are the same. In fact there are six buildings that house the 198 rooms and suites, in addition to a number of standalone cottages
There are two entrances to the hotel grounds. Across from the Prince of Wales gate is Cape Town’s cultural and historical centre, or from the Kloof Street entrance you will there are local shops and restaurants. The hotel is about a 10 minute car ride from the Waterfront. Virtually all the suites have been renovated between 2011 and 2016. If the hotel sounds familiar, but the Belmond name doesn’t, the group used to be known as Orient-Express, which was a licensing agreement with the name’s owner, SNCF French Railways to use the name. Belmond is the same company that has operated the hotel since buying it in 1988. It’s under this tenure that four of the current hotel buildings were added, purchased on adjacent property, converted from other uses and made to fit in very nicely into one very nice package.
With six different buildings, including a series of unique cottages, finding the right suite isn’t necessarily straightforward. There is the Main Building and its connected Oasis Wing which was built in the 1970s. The Helmsley building requires walking up stairs to second story rooms and suites, however, all other buildings are accessible. The cottages are located side by side across from the quiet adult pool, and provide the privacy or being in your own little house. Even within buildings, the style of rooms and suites varies, but everything has a grand hotel feel. All of the updates and renovations have been done in a way that resonates with the hotel’s historic roots.
Presidential Suite (1)
The 1,205 sq. ft. Presidential Suite encompasses a stylish marbled entrance hall, a private dining room, master bedroom with en-suite bathroom. A large lounge leads onto a balcony with Instagram ready views of Table Mountain. There is also a wet bar, complete with a microwave, stove, sink and kitchen utensils. It is located in Green Park, a separate building located next to the Main Building, a one-minute walk.
Deluxe and Garden Cottage Suites (8)
There are eight cottgages, each with either its own private terrace or a balcony overlooking the adult pool and garden. Size varies from about 500 sq. ft. to 800 sq. ft. All cottages were renovated in 2014. Units 907 and 908 are the largest. All have black and white marble bathrooms. The cottages are located directly across from the reception to the Main Building.
Deluxe One Bedroom Suites (11)
There are 11 Deluxe One Bedroom Suites, six in the Main Building, three in Helmsley, one each in Hof Villa and Green Park. Size ranges from 680 sq. ft. to 1,227 sq. ft., so within a category, a pretty big difference. Each suite has a separate bedroom, large lounge and dining room area, some with a walk-in dressing room, balcony, kitchenette and a wet bar. The second largest is #672 in Green Park with views of Table Mountain and a full balcony. Largest is #114 in the Main Building. All six Main Building suites in this category, renovated in 2016, are at least 1,000 sq. ft., and all have mountain views, however, they don’t have balconies.
One-Bedroom Suites (23)
There are 23 One-Bedroom Suites ranging from just under 500 sq. ft. to over 800 sq. ft. All suites feature separate bedroom and a large separate lounge area. Units 146, 246 and 346 in the Main Building have mountain views, each with Juliette balcony. The seven suites in this category located in the Helmsley building (pictured above) are all at least 700 sq. ft., all with full balcony.
Dining and Bars
Twinkling light arrangements from the ceiling and an open wine cellar provide a beautiful setting for both a romantic dinner or a gathering of friends and colleagues. The modern fine dining menu includes locall oysters, rib-eye steak with a béarnaise sauce from the grill and seared duck breast. The large wine list features a number of top local wines.
The Chef’s Table is located in the kitchen. It is made up of four simple wooden tables each seating up to four guests. You can take the entire space, or come even as a couple. You need to book the night before or at latest in the morning. You don’t need to come at a set time, but typically by about 7 pm, and you will be entertained as various chefs from the kitchen find out your preferences then bring you personalized creations. The space isn’t fancy, but you are front in center in the working kitchen. In fact, to get there, you follow some signs that bring you through the maze of prep tables, refrigerators and stoves.
Oasis Bistro is known for its luxurious daily breakfast, including fresh oysters. Its open for breakfast and lunch (during the summer) and offers indoor and outdoor seating, overlooking the main pool.
The Lounge serves light lunches and Morning, Afternoon and Evening Tea. Morning Tea is served from 09:30 – 11:30 and Afternoon Tea from 13:00 and 15:30 and the Evening Tea from 18:00.
The Planet Bar
The Planet Bar serves light meals and offers lounge seating split between two rooms, plus and oudoors area overlooking the grounds. Between The Lounge and The Planet Bar you might easily think you are back in the 1950s spending a couple days ashore befor you continue on the long sea journey from Australia back to England.
Health and Fitness
There are two outdoor tennis courts and two heated swimming pools, one for adults (pictured above), and another large pool on the lawn outside the Main Building. There is a 24 hour fitness room with cardiovascular and weight training equipment. The Librisa Spa offers a wide range of well-being treatments open daily from 9am to 7pm.
Meetings and Events
There are at least 10 different indoor and outdoor function rooms and areas hosting from 14 to 400 guests, including the Union Castle Boardroom below. Al fresco venues take advantage of the hotel’s beautiful gardens and stellar mountain views. Indoor venues reflect the maritime heritage of the hotel and might make you and your guests feel as if you were together on a great 20th Century ocean liner steaming off to a far flung land. The hotel also specializes in customizing venues, so if you have an idea for your event, incentive or celebration, they can probably help make it happen.
Condé Nast Traveller World’s Best Family Hotel • Daily Telegraph Ultra Travel 100 Awards – #2 Best Hotel in Africa and The Indian Ocean • Travel + Leisure – #3 City Hotel in Africa & the Middle East • Travel + Leisure – #6 City Hotel in Africa & the Middle East • Condé Nast Traveller Gold List • Travel + Leisure 500 Awards • Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards – Top 20 Overseas Holiday Hotels in The Middle East, Africa and The Indian Ocean • Travel + Leisure 500 Awards • Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards • Travel + Leisure 500 Awards • Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards • Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards • Condé Nast Traveller Gold List