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TThe Mount Nelson Hotel, the grand dame of South Africa’s hospitality industry, was officially opened on 6 March 1899.
All of Cape Town was abuzz, as moguls and magnates, princes and politicians gathered to celebrate the latest acquisition of shipping king Sir Donald Currie.
Word quickly spread around the world that South Africa’s Mother City had a new hotel that rivalled anything London could offer at the time.
Currie launched the Mount Nelson Hotel (affectionately dubbed ‘The Nellie’ by guests over the decades) a scant 8 months before the first shots of the second South African War (also known as Anglo-Boer War) were fired.
Within the year, this historic South African hotel, set in the stately Oudtshoorn gardens, was packed to its elegant rafters with wealthy guests who had fled the goldfields of the Transvaal and the diamond mines of Kimberley.
They were shortly followed by British war lords like Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts and General Sir Redvers Buller, and military scribes like Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling.
After World War I ended in 1918, the Mount Nelson celebrated by painting itself pink – a colour that has become part of its tradition.
But the legends of ‘The Nellie’ are not confined to wartime.
Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson, which is still a firm fixture today, was always on a world traveller’s ‘bucket list’.
The old grandfather clock in the tea lounge had such a loud midnight gong that, it is said, you could hear it from down at the docks. An upset guest nailed the chimes fast, thus keeping the pesky clock quiet for more than 20 years until it was repaired.
It chimes a little softer these days.
The imposing hotel entrance was built in honour of the state visit of the Prince of Wales in 1925.
The hotel, it seems, has been on a near-constant expansion programme since its inception. Historic buildings and sets of new rooms have been added to the hotel complex, as was the first heated swimming pool in Africa.
Staying at the Mount Nelson Hotel these days, you experience a mix of history and modern facilities, like a gym, a spa, a selection of top-class communications services and a choice of formal or more al fresco dinner settings.
And there’s always a good chance you’ll run into someone really famous in the champagne bar...
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Mount Nelson Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)21 483 1000
How to get here
The Mount Nelson Hotel is situated at 76 Orange Street in Cape Town, at the foot of Table Mountain near the city centre, Kloof Street and Long Street.
Best time to visit
The Mount Nelson Hotel welcomes you any time of the year.
Things to do
Take a walk in the nearby Company’s Garden, visit the Iziko Museums including the South African Museum, shop in Long Street, lunch in Kloof Street and take the cable car up Table Mountain. These are just some of the many outings with easy access from the Mount Nelson Hotel.
Cape Town’s city centre begs to be explored on foot. For adventures further afield, contact the hotel's travel desk for advice and arrangements.
What to pack
Pack a mix of formal and informal, in case you want to dine in style in the hotel and then venture out into the city the next day.
Where to stay
The Mount Nelson Hotel has 209 rooms and suites, furnished in six styles.
What to eat
The legendary afternoon tea costs R225 per person (served between 2.30pm and 5.30pm). They also have a lighter version of morning tea for R165 per person (served between 9.30am and 12 noon).