Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel

South Africa

Since its conception it has retained a fundamental attraction, unequalled in Cape Town's grand-luxe circuit: that of inborn spirit

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Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel

Location

Cape Town, Oranjezicht, Table Mountain National Park

Travel Information

20 minute drive from Cape Town International Airport

Top Tips

Make the Mount Nelson your base and explore Cape Town's exquisite restaurants, including La Colombe and Harbour House in Kalk Bay

5-Star X-Factors

Famed for the delectable treats on offer for afternoon tea and cocktails on the terrace. For the ultimate home-away-from-home experience in Cape Town, book one of the Garden Cottages

MORE REVIEWS OF
THIS PROPERTY

LE at the Nellie
The Cape Escape
The Mount Nelson Hotel

MORE REVIEWS OF
THIS PROPERTY

LE at the Nellie
The Cape Escape
The Mount Nelson Hotel

LE at the Nellie

Nellie is the affectionate nickname given to the most famous hotel in Cape Town, The Mount Nelson. This may be Africa, but there are no “Ellies” anywhere near The Mount Nelson, or Cape Town for that matter, and at first glance one might wonder if there is an LE destination, but if you look closely you’ll find that it is.

The Mount Nelson is a ‘Grand Dame’ hotel, built at the end of the 19th century and extended several times since. It is probably best known for three things. An impressive colonnaded entrance, an exquisite palm lined driveway and the pink colour that it is painted. Beyond that, the first impressions are typical of any large, well established, and properly run, five star hotel.

High and Low Receipts

Service standards in Cape Town are as high as anywhere in the world, and the Nellie is no exception. Wherever you go there is an obvious pride in showing off all they have to offer, in a laid back, friendly and efficient manner. Another feature of Cape Town is that the hotels are very expensive by international standards. This is one of the leading winter destinations for both Europe and North America, and it would seem that demand is currently outstripping supply, with hotel prices comfortably exceeding those of London. This creates an odd contradiction with the fact that everything else in Cape Town is relatively inexpensive.

A cup of coffee in a hipster café on Bree Street is less than two pounds and you can eat at some exceptionally good restaurants for roughly half the equivalent in London, especially if wine is included. The restaurant scene in Cape Town and the Western Cape as whole, which includes the gastronomic epicentre of Franschhoek, is buzzing at the moment. A few world-class chefs are competing to create fine dining experiences that you’d struggle to match anywhere. This seems to have had the effect of raising the overall standard of eating out in Cape Town, while still offering incredible value for money.

Surprisingly, the main restaurant at the Mount Nelson, called the Planet, is not the sort of destination experience for which so many leading hotels have developed a reputation. We wondered why this was the case as it would seem ideally suited to this. The restaurant is traditional and unexceptional, and seems to have accepted that most of the hotel guests will go out to dine in the evening, having had a drink on the fabulous terrace or at the attached Planet cocktail bar. On the other hand, the breakfast did not disappoint, with a vast buffet, serving everything from west coast oysters to the ‘Full English’, overlooking the main pool. The afternoon High Tea must also rank as one of the most sophisticated in the Cape, easily matching the London counterparts it was set up to emulate.

Hotel at the Heart

The Mount Nelson sits right in the heart of Cape Town. It is not near the sea nor is it near the sprawling Waterfront shopping area, where so many of the other five star hotels are, although it does run a complementary shuttle service there and back several times a day. It is nestled at the base of Table Mountain, but it doesn’t enjoy anything like the finest views that this photogenic city can offer, and yet there is something about the Nellie that gives it a grace, an elegance, and an air of superiority that makes you feel special being there.

Having said that, a hotel as large as the Mount Nelson inevitably offers a range of room options, the majority of which would not qualify as a Luxury Explorer experience. But at the top end there are some that most definitely do. The larger suites that look over the main pool area offer everything you’d expect. Standing on your balcony, you get the best views available, straight up to Signal Hill and down to the city, with a glimmer of the sea beyond. The rooms are furnished with style and simplicity and all the required comforts are there, including the all-important, perfectly comfortable, king size bed.

Pulling together

The current severe drought conditions in Cape Town mean that the shower pressure has been turned down and there is no plug in the bath, although you can ask for one. However, I doubt many people do so, as there is an infectious desire to do your bit to help avert this potential disaster. Even in high-end restaurants they will ask you to keep your cutlery and wine glass throughout the meal to reduce washing up, which, of course, is no issue at all in the circumstances.

However, the part of The Mount Nelson that we thought raised the bar to another level was the Garden Cottage suites. This is firmly in Luxury Explorer territory. The suites are located in a string of half a dozen beautiful colonial cottages that overlook their own gardens and another, far more private, pool beyond. Suites 907 and 908 are good example of how the Nellie can still compete with the very best that Cape Town has to offer: Beautiful, private, secure (which does matter in Cape Town), spacious, and with immediate access to a large pool and all the wider hotel amenities, such an excellent Spa. Your Garden Cottage suite can become your elegant home, from where you can explore the restaurants, bars, beaches, gardens and the host of other places of interest that this majestic Mother City has to offer.

 

Toby Marchant
Toby Marchant

The Cape Escape

Of all the countries experiencing a rapid metamorphosis in luxury accommodation, South Africa has to be the front-runner. Over the last twenty years the change in uber chic, high tech, grand-luxe, super duper hotels has been meteoric. So, like the Maldives, one is now spoilt for choice; but, for a rather perfect and romantic break, follow this fail-safe guide to a glorious Cape escape.

Having lived in the country half my life I have borne witness to the many faces of this extraordinary land. Today, South Africa, and especially Cape Town, can proudly wear the best tourist-destination-in-the-world badge. Quite something for a country that has seen so much tragedy, travesty, corruption and poverty. But, leaving the political climate aside, Cape Town is perhaps the most dramatic city in the world, if not then the most stunning. The natural beauty is all consuming and even the most tasteless architecture is overshadowed. So, with so much to do in one city and with so many hotels it seems safe to say that there is one very proud and very prominent landmark and she stands serene at the foot of Table Mountain. She is, of course, The Mount Nelson, and unlike all the other deluxe hotels you can find here today She ran the race of grandeur on her own for several decades.

The Mount Nelson has also been through several ups and downs, and, like all great hotels that have stood the test of time, She slept for a while until Orient-Express kissed some new life into her classic pink frame and, once again, became the Splendido of Africa. Unlike many who have followed, the Mount Nelson has retained a quintessentially Capetonian character.

If one were to describe the hotel in trade colloquy, then it would be fair to say that She is to Cape Town what the Splendido is to Portofino, Claridges is to London and the Cipriani to Venice. When choosing a room, make sure you request a view of the mountain or the wonderful pool surrounded by lush gardens and old palms.

There is plenty to do in Cape Town but, as in many cities, you can go horribly wrong. So the following is a Luxury Explorer "exclusive guide" to wining and dining, to sipping cocktails and to shopping.

Eating Out

Our number one favourite is La Colombe. The restaurant is now run by the acclaimed and award-winning chef, Scot Kirton, and is situated on the Silvermist Estate in Constantia. It is a truly magical place with the best wine list in Cape Town and a finely tuned menu. While you are already in this leafy, lush suburb, you should visit the grand and remarkable wine estate is Klein Constantia (they will organise all the shipping of your wine). Buitenvervagting is another first class wine estate, where a fabulous restaurant overlooks the vineyards; but you must ask for a table with a view when booking.

Leaving the suburbs behind and heading along the coast, the food is less haute but the views are stupendous. I think it would be fair to say that the vibe is totally different. So, with that in mind, head for a famous little fishing port called Kalk Bay. Over a railway line and placed among rocks along a famous local pier is Harbour House. This is not Michelin-starred food: it is more up-market fish and chips with great wine. The restaurant has recently been refurbished with great style in shades of blue with crisp white wooden tables. The x-factor here is that there is no space between you and the ocean. The sea (and you must book a table by the window), when the tide is high, will spray right up against the window and on a clear day you may even spot a Southern Right whale or two, and also some seals. Something a little daunting but very exciting, is that you are never too far away at this point from the infamous but glorious great white shark! It is from here that you can take a boat out and dive with these beasts, though we don't suggest you do this on a full stomach.

All the drives along the coast are truly staggering with mountains on one side and oceans on the other. Sir Lowry's Pass is actually quite daunting for those of you with a vertiginous disposition and, if you do pull over to cuddle in a beauty spot, then remember, you are never much more than a minute away from a baboon.

The trendier and more fashionable coastal areas are from Clifton to Camp's Bay. Here the rich and famous and the young and trendy have apartments, or better still houses, nestled in rocks in the side of the mountain with unrivalled sea views. The sun sets on this side of Cape Town, so we suggest the following cocktail trail and prawn platter. A drink in the bar of the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay followed by a light meal and sundowner at the super groovy Summerville Restaurant next door (try to find a space between celebrity and super model). Here you will catch the final rays of a southern African sunset, driving its way across sea, white sand and swaying palms, drinking a glistening long cocktail, ordering grilled prawns or grilled calamari and listening to live music resonating from the trendy Baraza Bar next door. It's a very happening place Camps Bay, but with so much activity it's always pleasant to drift back to the serenity of the Mount Nelson. So, still fancy a nightcap? Perhaps the coolest bar of all in Cape Town is the Planet Bar at the Mount Nelson. The in-crowd never leaves this bar aside and a night with live music under Cape skies is the perfect end to a perfect day.

There is so much to do in and around this City and the hotel has all the information you may require for further excursions such as: taking a cable car up the mountain, shopping at the Waterfront, going to Seals Point where the oceans meet, visiting the penguins at Simon's Town, hiring a "Cat" for sailing out to Robin Island and visiting nearby beauty spots. And so it goes on...

Shopping

The two boutiques that impressed me most last year were Sandra Mc Cormack (a gorgeous semi-precious jewel haven) and Homework (an incredible indigenous brand of local designer clothing), both in Chelsea Wynberg, a very trendy and picturesque village. Constantia Village, a little shopping oasis, has great boutiques, small galleries and a fabulous little delicatessen called Melissa's.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

The Mount Nelson Hotel

This grand dame of Southern African hotels opened its doors in 1899 hoping to please its guests in a similar fashion to that of the London classics. This it did. Since its conception it has retained a fundamental attraction, unequalled in Cape Town's grand-luxe circuit: that of inborn spirit. The spirit of the 'Nellie' (affectionate name used by luxe-trotters in the 'know') has aged gracefully, feeding its marrow with timeless idiosyncrasies; it has consistently hosted fame and fortune, along with the likes of you and I, and still bears the glorious trademarks of its landmark status. Its location beneath Table Mountain is not only spectacular it is also extremely central.

This trip we had no night to spare for a stay at the Nellie, but we did manage a few oysters in the Planet Bar. It was a Sunday afternoon and high-tea, for which it is famed, was in full swing; reminiscent of colonial teas that spread in full state-banquet-style with tables layered, tiered, and superbly decorated. Guests today are dressed differently but little else has probably changed. The gardens beyond this Sabbath jubilee were rejoicing in a recent downpour. The cloud that had seemed to pester us all week opened its nimbus, flushing Cape Town and the pink Nellie with a roaring display. Once dispersed, a vibrant rainbow sprung up over the mountain, temporarily hushing the sponge-delighted guests. It's beautiful here. The oysters that followed this seemingly staged production in the V. groovy Planet Bar were excellent: not milky and genuinely comparable to Europe's rock variety. The kitchen was not officially open but the staff here are so obliging...

So, in order to get some fresh feedback regarding a stay at the grand dame, I quizzed my friend Lene, who stayed here for almost three months this year while filming and producing 'Flashbacks of a Fool' with Daniel Craig. Of course she, and all the crew plus actors, stayed here on our recommendation and from what I can glean - the lovely Nellie was home from home. Quite something for an uber-luxe hotel, but that is what they seem to do so well; individual pampering, in as well as on, a grand scale.

Lene stayed in two suites during her stay here: one for sunset and one for sunrise. She loved both and in particular she found the staff's nurturing manner along with their finely tuned 'nothing is too much of an effort' disposition a remarkable feat. She has stayed in many luxury hotels but this vital component for a long stay was so impressive that she is determined to return en famille next year.

Eating Out in Cape Town

Harbour House in Kalk Bay - for its ocean location is unbeatable. Fresh catch of the day is never a let down and the maritime décor in fresh white and blue works wonders with its dramatic backdrop. The light here is vibrant and whales breach to order.

Salt - for its bird's eye view of the sea - clings with a newfound glamour to Cape Town's most expensive cliffs. The menu is brasserie with a Malay twist and many salad varieties. Models cling to the bar here while celebrities enjoy a window-side table. Eating in and around the Waterfront is great for soaking up the seal loving harbour atmosphere and it's from here that you can take a memorable day trip out on a catamaran (with bubbles and picnic). It is, however, extremely frenetic, a little soulless, and is not conducive to relaxation.

La Colombe at Silvermist - a food connoisseur's Cape Town imperative, relocated from Constatia Uisig to Silvermist Estate, where Scot Kirton continues to impress and win awards, consistently rated in the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards and Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants in South Africa.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


Luxury Explorer