Icon of Cape Town hospitality
As first published on TripReporter.co.uk. Click here to read:
By BRIAN BERKMAN
Like any grande dame, nips and tucks over the years have substantially altered this 198-key luxury hotel but the 119 year-old Cape Town, South African institution, the pink-hued Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, still feels as historic and yet as contemporary as ever.
Set in park-like gardens with Table Mountain as its backdrop, the entrance to Government Avenue and the South African Houses of Parliament and The Company’s Gardens, the first planted in the city by the VOC in the1650’s, sits just opposite the 1925-built Prince of Wales colonnaded entrance.
The property was originally owned by the Cayzer family of the Union-Castle shipping line and used to accommodate guests before and after voyages to England and there are many pieces of memorabilia from this period around the hotel.
With Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel being the hospitality icon it is (it hosted a party for then Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday) and it remains a property of choice for heads of state) locals still consider the hotel as a first choice for weddings and grand celebrations.
Think of it as a resort hotel on account of the size of the gardens, some nine acres of green which include enviable roses that seem to have survived the Cape Town drought which, thankfully, seems at an end now thanks to better than average rains.
Accommodations are in a number of different buildings and in neighbouring properties which have been absorbed lets The Mount Nelson feel like a little village, part of every thing that is Cape Town and yet, elegantly, removed from it all.
The main hotel building houses the recently updated tea lounge and conservatory both of which are so famous for being in demand for Afternoon Tea that the hotel now serves a series of “teas” throughout the day. Another recent addition is the appointment of trained tea sommeliers to assist with a special brew from a “tea library” and even an opportunity to enjoy a traditional Taiwanese tea-drinking ceremony.
The Planet Bar, a local hot spot on Friday evenings, and adjoining fine-dining Planet restaurant are in the main building too. While The Planet Restaurant is being upgraded, the hotel’s original writing room, The Lord Nelson room, is now home to intimate fine-dining experiences. Dining at The Chef’s Table, in the heart of executive chef Rudy Liebenberg domain is always a memorable experience and opportunity to watch and interact with chefs during service. As you’d expect, celebrated South African wines are paired with best local produce.
A little further and overlooking the garden and heated swimming pool – one of the largest in the Cape, The Oasis Bistro is where lavish breakfast and lunch buffets are served. In summer months, that most South African culinary institution – the braai or BBQ – is offered on the terrace where prime cuts and boerewors – traditional farmer’s sausage – are grilled over coals. Accommodations upstairs in the main building place you at the heart of the hotel and its activities.
Even the smallest room will be magnificently appointed and individually decorated. Some hotel room items, from Orient-Express Hotels founder James Sherwood’s time, include television sets at the foot of the bed that rise up out of a purpose-built box and are hidden from view when not in use; open faced clothing and luggage “cupboards” where items can be hung up while suitcases remain open and, enamelled iron bath tubs.
Green Park is a separate building which houses the Presidential Suite and other suites while the Garden Cottage Suites are in a row of historic houses, each with a pretty garden, white-picket fence and verandah. These overlook the hotel’s second pool, a sheltered adults-only heated one. Cottages are generously appointed and range in size from 68 square meters (732 feet) to 114 square meters (1227 feet). Some have fireplaces and kitchenettes. Cottages also have a small back porch and a wonderful flow of air and natural light. Other rooms, in the former Helmsley Hotel, an art deco building, now part of Belmond Mount Nelson, are the furthest away from the main hotel.
The Librisa Spa and gym facility are housed in yet another historic building, near the main hotel swimming pool which is also heated. There are two tennis courts and a tennis pro available to teach.
The hotel’s second entrance is in Kloof Street, increasingly becoming a hub for art galleries and on-trend eateries which can easily be accessed on foot.
The stately buildings aside, what makes a visit and stay at Belmond Mount Nelson so special, and why many guests return each year for long periods, is its people. Belmond GM Xavier Lablaude is an affable and hands-on general manager who you will definitely see during your visit. He has been in five star hotels around Europe and North America for more than 25 years and at Belmond also oversees the group’s three safari lodges in neighbouring Botswana.
Institutional memory is retained by the high number of staff members who have been at the hotel for many years. Margaret Roberts, who retires later this year at 60, still remembers guests by name who first visited 25 or more years ago. I am one of them.
Along with an appreciation for its history also comes a real commitment to looking ahead to developing South African talent and especially people from previously disadvantaged communities. It is notable that the 2017 Employee of the Year is Siya Gwebani, one of the hotel’s young trainees, who might just be a future executive chef to lead this hotel into the next 119 years as a symbol of the best of Cape Town hospitality.
Tell me more about the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001 South Africa
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Rooms from £330.