Old Money, Old World and Modern Luxury: Orient-Express’ Mount Nelson

It is certainly not just a grand hotel, indeed the Mount Nelson is a way of living!

I arrived at Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel in a hot afternoon expecting nothing else than perfection, and since my last stay at the superb Orient ExpressHotel das Cataratas at Iguassu Falls, I was aware that I could expect impeccable service from a Orient Express’ Hotel. Nevertheless, I left Mount Nelson a couple of days later with the felling that more than a luxury stay in an luxury hotel, I got an experience to remember.

This hotel is for sure an institution in Cape Town, and this is nothing new to say, every single touristic guide available, from the new Louis Vuitton’s City Guide Cape Town to the well known Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guides, all of then pay tribute to this place as a isle of elegance, peace, beauty and excellence in the middle of the frenetic Cape Town’s CBD.

The Pink Lady or old Nellie as many capetonians like to call their grand hotel is in the middle of a lush “art” garden where guests find contemporary artworks from South Africans artists while walking towards one of their two amazing heated polls, on their way to the tennis court or on their way to one of Hotel’s restaurants. Every single art piece mingles perfectly with the surroundings gardens in a very clever and tasteful way almost teasing you to find another match of art and nature to look at, and this elegant combination of modern features and classical elements replicates almost everywhere at the interior décor.

Graham Viney, the decorator commissioned by Orient Express to revamp the hotel did this Herculean task without erasing the hotel’s character and history, without neglecting its deep roots in the grand colonial era. In fact, I truly must say one feel transported to an ancient time there! Forget about high speed, high towers, high noveaux riches noses and adjust yourself to high tea, high times and low profile elegance that just really old money can give you. That is the feeling!

All of that is also the result an excellent body of staff. Since the moment I stepped into that heaven of peace I felt welcomed by its staff, from Gillian at the front desk to Byron Page at the concierge and Erica Potter at the reservations office, all of Mount Nelson’s staff had always a big smile on their faces. They were charismatic, elegant, helpful and discreet. I felt that their jobs were to make me feel confortable and taken care off and I could only wonder if that was simply the result of good training or something else.

My great pleasure was to find out later that many of Mount Nelson’s employees work there for years and that feeling of a big family-big team is quite strong because of that. They are not just doing their jobs they actually care about you, your needs and likes. Indeed, had travelled myself many times and had stayed in many luxury hotels around the globe this particular small detail makes a big difference, it is good people taking care of you only because you matter to them.

The impeccable room with champagne, fresh flowers and fruits, the amazing food, the friendly staff, the nice features such as complimentary transfer to other points of Cape Town, their preoccupation with your safety and their willingness of showing the best of their city to you, all of that addeded to the warmth and luster of the Mount Nelson Hotel. Needless to say, being so well pampered there I reserved a few days just to enjoy the hotel and its amazing surroundings.

So true is that amazing power to attract and retain guests and locals inside the hotel that although the Mount Nelson is far away from the V&A Waterfront tourist epicentre it is still a destination for many in the city looking for a place to relax, to eat and to see and be seen. Just have a look at their famous High Tea elegant crowd and you will understand.

However, with all of that in mind I must point out the only disappointment during my stay at the Mount Nelson: The Planet Restaurant! I arrived at their “famous” restaurant on a Saturday night expecting mind blowing service and food, especially thinking that I had just that kind of experience at Cape Town’s top tables naming, the restaurant at Ellerman House, La Colombe, Constantia Uitisig Restaurant and Luke’s Dale Roberts Test Kitchen. Nevertheless, the Planet Restaurant cannot be compared with these dinning wonders. The décor rather odd and seemingly dated.

The food is simply regular, although it is clear that they make an effort to impress, the end result being rather dull both in appearance and taste. To be honest I could foresee that by the emptiness of Planet Restaurant on a Saturday night. Indeed, I came to learn that if a restaurant is almost empty on a busy night like Saturday this is not a good sign at all.

But, in my opinion that was an isolated mistake in an otherwise amazing stay at Mount Nelson hotel and I still believe that the Mount Nelson is a remarkable experience for any traveller looking for a luxury heritage hotel in South Africa’s most beautiful and friendliest city. With all the features of a modern hotel nestling in great history this place is truly one of Cape Town’s highlights.

Murilo Vidal in Sao Paulo