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The Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town
Pretty in pink: life’s peachy at the Mother City’s most iconic luxury accommodation
Built at a time when extravagance and refinement gilded over even the most dire of social problems, the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town’s most iconic blushing beauty, still excels at making everything rosy. The luxurious five-star’s grace and decorum is the stuff of Mother City legend, and the grande dame’s knack for giving guests a look at life through rose-coloured glasses reaches far beyond her famed pink exterior (fun fact: the hue has a paint colour named in its honour).
Since the opulent hotel – it’s snuggled coyly in the crook of Table Mountain – thrust open its doors in 1899 to the first class passengers of an elite British shipping liner, its storied reputation for providing the rich, famous and well-to-do with a home away from home has preceded it.
Winston Churchill called the Pink Lady (as it’s affectionately known) “a most excellent and well-appointed establishment”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle felt comfortable enough to hold séances in his room, and more recently, a host of celebrity power players, from Lenny Kravitz and the Dalai Lama to Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey, have evaded paparazzi from within its sprawling gardens and sumptuous lounges.
Though, even if you’re not a philandering golf god, the most influential woman in the world or the high spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism (families, honeymooners and average holidaymakers, this means you), the Mount Nelson, with its resort-style atmosphere and old-world elegance, is as much a Mother City must-do as Table Mountain or the beaches of Clifton.
A fine repertoire: high tea, a service legacy and lush gardens
Ingratiated into the pages of Cape Town’s history as the first hotel to offer hot and cold running water, it’s maintained its place as the doyenne of the hospitality industry thanks to both its commitment to honouring traditions and its devotion to thundering forward with new innovations.
Most famous of the lot of venerable extras is the five-star’s indulgent high tea, a pastime that attracts both rock stars in ripped jeans and grannies grappling with ancient walkers. According to many, no visit to the city is complete without an afternoon spent sipping one of the Nellie’s loose-leaf blends and sampling the accompanying treats from the sweet and savoury spread: think delicate finger sandwiches, delectable dark chocolate cakes, freshly baked scones served with clotted cream and preserves, and uniquely South African confectionery (like melktert). Guests are, of course, welcome to have their cake and eat it too wherever they prefer: in the immaculately appointed colonial-style lounge, outside on the terrace or atop the verdant lawns.
And thanks to the property’s exquisitely maintained nine hectares of garden, the latter choice is especially alluring. Fragrant rose bushes line walkways that snake their way through the estate, babbling fountains add an idyllic ambience to the oasis-like setting and carpets of green congregating around one of two heated pools lend themselves to days well spent lolling in the African sunshine.
No matter where you settle in though, the long-standing staff – some employees have been with the hotel for over 30 years – will ensure you receive impeccable service. As the heart of the Pink Lady, the Mount Nelson’s team prides itself on its consistency, warmth, and, as many a superstar can attest to, discretion. Quite simply, you’re in good hands at the Nellie.
Out-of-this-world additions: Librisa Spa, kids’ club, Planet Bar and Planet Restaurant
Those less impressed with legacies of old will find the hotel’s newer foci – the Librisa Spa, kids’ facilities, Planet Bar and Planet Restaurant – considerably more enticing.
For starters, the world-class house of pampering – it was only built in 2008 – offers a full bouquet of holistic treatments, from lavish full-body massages and exfoliating facials to energising jet lag recovery packages and romantic couple’s sessions.
What’s more, spa-goers with kids can leave their little ones at the Nellie & Nelson Activity Centre, a vibrant playroom presided over by two furry penguins and one responsible childminder, or deposit young adults in the Teens’ Lounge, an area complete with mind-numbing video games, a big-screen television and computers with Internet connection. Surprisingly enough, the Mount Nelson is decidedly family friendly, flaunting both the aforementioned features as well as added extras like interleading rooms, babysitting services, child-size bathrobes and slippers, a children’s menu at the in-house Oasis Restaurant and complimentary milk and cookies at bedtime.
Most importantly, the hotel’s careful attention to those a half pint and a penny high gives parents free rein to not only spend a few hours relaxing and rejuvenating at the Librisa Spa, but also to indulge in full evenings at the Mount Nelson’s swanky nightlife hotspots.
Star-studded in terms of both its décor and patrons, the Planet Bar is where high-powered government officials, the beautiful people and those who love to see and be seen rub shoulders. Complete with celestial installations seemingly floating below the ceiling, a chic black-and-white motif and a Champagne list poised to propel bubbly fans far into space, the swish watering hole is ideal for pre-dinner drinks, a final nightcap or a serious cocktail hour. Similarly, the Planet Restaurant, a fine dining establishment lorded over by award-winning Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg, is an eatery devoted to sending guests on unforgettable gastronomic journeys.
In line with the Mount Nelson’s age-old trailblazing success (remember the running water point), the culinary gem is, perhaps most pointedly, upholding the five-star’s spirit of innovation. As a pioneer of the farm-to-fork movement, Rudi’s using only locally sourced ingredients cultivated with the utmost respect for the land, and he’s also spearheaded a number of cutting-edge environmentally friendly initiatives, namely worm farm composting and a hearty fruit and vegetable garden. Furthermore, with the help of sommelier Carl Habel, his food and wine pairing menus are symphonies of first-class flavour combinations.
Needless to say, with so many incredible things to see and do within the Pink Lady’s palm tree-lined borders, there’s only one foreseeable complaint that guests may have: life’s so peachy on the inside that you stand the chance of foregoing amazing activities on the outside (after all, Cape Town boasts some serious sightseeing opportunities). So, as tempting as it may be to make yourself comfortable in the Mount Nelson’s lap of luxury, don’t forget, there’s a big, bad, interesting world beyond its rose-coloured walls.
Tip: The Mount Nelson Hotel offers a courtesy car service (available from 8am to 8pm) that delivers guests to and from Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront and Camps Bay free of charge.
Tip: If on honeymoon, or if keen on a more private stay, consider booking the Mount Nelson’s Garden Cottages. These eight restored historic cottages feature four-poster beds, glamorous marble bathrooms, separate living and dining areas, wet bars, mini-libraries, enclosed patios and access to a secluded heated pool (no kids under 16 allowed).
The Bill: Expect lofty prices to match the lofty standards of those who book.Consult the hotel directly for rates.
Read more about the Mount Nelson's out-of-this-world eatery, the Planet Restaurant.
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