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LUXURY HOTELS: belmond Mount nelson, cape town, south africa
Style: Classic /eccentric (in the very best way)
Scene: Nestled in the shadow of Table mountain.
Seen in the Lobby: Cape Town’s finest
THERE ARE a handful of hotels in the world that are so much more than places to sleep, much more than their five glittering stars or their gourmet restaurants and 1000 thread-count sheets. In fact to call them simply a hotel is almost an insult. They aren’t just hotels they are characters in their own right with more personality and fame than many of the guests who stay in them.

MNH facade the luxury travel bible
MNH facade the luxury travel bible
MNH classic suite
MNH tea the luxury travel bible
MNH arch the luxury travel bible
MNH classic suite
MNH pool the luxury travel bible

Such a one is the Belmond Mount Nelson. The ‘Nellie’, as locals endearingly call her, has sat perched high above Cape Town since 1899, queen of all she surveys. Drive under her elegant columned archway (built in honour of the Prince of Wales in 1925) and you are immediately time-warped back to an era when everything was that little bit more leisured. Outside the world rushes by but in the gracious Mount Nelson gardens everything is in slow-mo. Nellie has her own rhythm and those that stay adapt to it. They always have.

The Mount Nelson opened just before the start of the Boer War in March 1899. Word quickly spread around the world that South Africa had a new hotel that rivalled anything London or Paris could offer at the time, and moguls, magnates, princes and politicians gathered to celebrate in style.

Within the year, the hotel was packed to its regal rafters with wealthy guests who had fled the goldfields of the Transvaal and the diamond mines of Kimberley. Mixing soon after with British High Command such as Lord Kitchener and Lord Roberts and war correspondents Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling.

It was war too that inspired the hotel's trademark pink façade. The Nellie was gaily painted rose to celebrate the end of the WW1 in 1918 and she’s been pretty in pink ever since.

As for the rich and famous, they just kept coming. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle held séances in his room, John Lennon booked in under the name of ‘Greenwood “ and everyone from Lenny Kravitz to the Dalai Lama have stayed there since.

The pink Lady herself is as eclectic as her guest list. Over the years surrounding buildings have been bought up until the hotel’s nine hectares of gardens contains an array of individual buildings that make it more like a private estate than a hotel. I love wandering out of my particular building and through the gardens scattered with rose beds and fountains and past the pool to get to the breakfast building. Or along a private road lit by street lights to go to dinner. Sometimes I just sit on my black and white tiled balcony and watch the life of the Mount Nelson go on around me. Or admire the ever present views of Table Mountain. This is a hotel that encourages relaxation, a return to a more genteel, less hurried age. Although there is a sublime spa should I need a massage (quite possibly) and an excellent gym should I feel the call of the treadmill (unlikely).

The afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel is legendary and epitomises everything this grand dame of a hotel stands for: elegance, history and the charm of a bygone era. Although it has to be said the Cape Town Matrons who turn up in their floral-frocked finery do indulge in a rather unseemly rush for the éclairs.

It's the mix of tradition and innovation, classic and modern, that gives the hotel its charm. One moment you can be walking past an old grandfather clock (an irate guest nailed the chimes down because it “bonged” too loudly. It didn’t chime for 20 years). The next you are in the Planet Bar with its 21st century cool surrounded by Cape Town Party types.

The spacious Helmsley suites at the top of Palm Avenue and the poolside Garden Cottages were recently redesigned by interior design firm Champalimaud. The poolside Cottages have always reminded me of an English village with their picket fences, gardens full of flowers and rose trellises round the door. Inside they now look even more like Victorian cottages decked out in pretty cream and blue. The new-look Helmsley Wing pays homage to its historical Cape-Dutch presence, with herringbone hardwood floors, geometric patterned drapery and rugs, a camel-coloured base and crown trim and dark chocolate doors and window, with art by local contemporary artist Kurt Pio.

Cape Town is South Africa's Sydney, with golden beaches and a rugged coastline for families to explore. The V & A Waterfront complex has shops, craft? markets and children's activities. A drive down the coast towards Cape Point brings whale watching and penguin spotting. The Mount Nelson Hotel offers a courtesy car service that delivers guests to and from Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront and Camps Bay free of charge.

Check in: 76 Orange Street - 8001 Cape Town
Ultimate Luxury: The Presidential Suite
Most Indulgent Moment: Afternoon tea - cakes cake and more cakes, pass the silver fork…
Insider Secrets:There is a shade of paint known as ‘Mount Nelson ink' after the hotel’s famous hue.
The Little Things: His 'n' her slippers, decent sized amenities,  bottles in the bathroom.
Junior Luxies: A kids club, pools, gardens; so welcoming they'll play hide and seek in the garden and never want you to find them.
Dress code: Classic, classy
Perfect luggage: Traditional leather, used (denoting much-travelled owner)
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Link: www.belmond.com
 Hilary Doling 1/6/15
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