Known to locals as the Nellie, the grand, palm-tree fringed Mount Nelson, a colonial-style hotel set in lush gardens within easy reach of the city’s galleries, museums, V&A Waterfront and world-class beaches, is a much-loved landmark. You certainly can’t miss it. With Table Mountain as a dramatic backdrop, the iconic pink hotel (it even has its own paint shade – Mount Nelson Pink) is one of the city’s oldest, dating back 115 years. And it’s everything you’d expect from a place with this kind of pedigree – from the mega-impressive white-pillared entrance to the plush interiors and impeccable service. Its mix of chintz-free, old-world elegance and modern luxe attracts everyone from Kate Moss and Charlize Theron to Leonardo DiCaprio. When the sun’s out, afternoon tea on the terrace, overlooking the flower-fringed fountain and manicured lawn, is a must – the white linen tablecloths and genteel clink of china transporting you to a bygone era. A short walk through the gardens, past one of the two outdoor heated swimming pools, takes you to the hotel’s Librisa Spa where a Signature Luxury Massage will sort out any lingering jet lag and guarantee you get your beauty sleep.
Each room is unique but all share the same clean, fresh feel. The decor is classic country-house in a palette of neutrals and pastels – think striped upholstery, toile wallpaper, swag curtains and marble bathrooms. If it’s seclusion you’re after, the Garden Cottage Suites are the perfect hideaway for two, complete with own front door, rose gar den, white picket fence and four-poster beds. Pure romance.
At Mount Nelson’s swish Planet restaurant, the emphasis is on ethically farmed fresh produce with a local flavour (you know you’re in South Africa when there’s Beetroot and Elderberry Glazed Springbok on the menu). Guests who hunger after a taste of the wild side can try their hand at urban foraging, under the expert eye of guide Charles Standing (theurbanhuntergatherer.com). Depending on the time of year the local shoreline and mountain slopes can yield surprisingly rich pickings if you know where to look. Ready Steady Cook-style, amateur foragers present their haul to the hotel’s chefs who work their magic, transforming random raw ingredients into an impressive à la carte feast. Though this is a relatively new addition to Mount Nelson's culinary repertoire, its legendary afternoon tea is a tradition that’s as old as the hotel. And it’s easy to see why it’s become such an institution when you survey the buffet table, laden with delicate finger sandwiches and a cake display that would make Mary Berry proud.
WHAT TO DO
A walking tour is a good introduction to the city. Coffee Beans Routes (coffeebeansroutes.com) has several to choose from, themed around everything from beer to fashion. Already ticked off Table Mountain and Robben Island on your To Do list? Take a drive down the coast to Boulders Penguin Colony to see penguin playtime at tantalisingly close quarters. More than 2,000 of them swim, sleep and go about their penguin business seemingly oblivious to the crowds of snap-happy onlookers. If you want to spot whales, seals and dolphins, or experience a close encounter with a Great White, there are plenty of boat trips or cage-diving excursions all vying for business. Those in the mood for some retail therapy should head to The Old Biscuit Mill (373-375 Albert Road), an enclave of contemporary shops, cafes, galleries and design studios with a cool, villagey vibe. Get there early for Saturday’s popular Neighbourgoods Market, aka gourmet heaven. Or hone your haggling skills at the historic Greenmarket Square in the centre of old Cape Town, where you can pick up more traditionally touristy handicrafts. THE DETAILS Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk) has a ten-day/seven-night self-drive Taste of South Africa tour priced from £1,995 per person including flights from Heathrow with British Airways, airport transfer, accommodation with breakfast daily and car hire. A three-night upgrade to the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is priced from £285 per person.
By Susan Henderson