This distinctive landmark has been the grande dame of Cape Town since it opened its doors in 1899 to accommodate passengers just off the Union-Castle steamships. Painted pink in 1918 to celebrate peace--and now celebrating 100 years of the hue--it retains a charm and gentility that other luxury hotels often lack and is affectionately known as the "Nellie". Its lavish high tea is an institution, its glam Planet Bar is an ideal place for a cocktail on a special night out, and its staff are charming without being obsequious. Though very centrally located, nine acres of gorgeous manicured gardens and spectacular views of Table Mountain lend a bucolic feel. It also boasts an excellent spa, frequent events like wine or brandy tastings and art exhibits, and several good restaurants.
YOU SHOULD KNOW For peak season (December–March) it's advisable to book a year in advance, and book well ahead for high tea, too.
Rooms are decorated with fine antiques and fresh flowers and have an air of aristocracy. They are understated and classical in style but not old-fashioned, thanks to touches of personality like clusters of framed pictures, plus modern attention to detail in the crisp white linens and plush upholstery. Some have balconies, some are in the main building, others are elsewhere on the hotel grounds--ask when booking if you have a preference.
Bathrooms, in marble, are elegant and reasonably sized, and well-stocked with Charlotte Rhys toiletries.
The hotel lobby is as chic and welcoming as you would expect, harking back to a past era of travel glamor. The famous afternoon tea is served in the lobby lounge (which can get a bit frenetic due to the popularity) and a pianist plays nightly.
The Nellie has two pools: one of the oldest outdoor heated pools in Cape Town, suitable for all, and another more private pool that's just for adult guests.
The hotel is well kitted-out for kids, including boasting its own kids' activity center with games and organised events like storytelling.
The Librisa Spa boasts an impressive eight treatment rooms as well as a Finnish sauna, steam bath and plunge pool. It also has a lovely conservatory for relaxing in.
The hotel has a fitness center and also offers yoga classes and dawn walks on the mountains, either with a guide or a map.
There are plenty of other activities on offer too, that exercise guests' minds rather than their bodies - such as a painting class with painter Cyril Coetzee.
The hotel's Lord Nelson restaurant (featuring a bust of the man himself in the former writing room) mixes this historic setting with up-to-the minute modern cuisine, and there's a chef's table experience available too. The Oasis Bistro is more of a relaxed affair, featuring a popular jazz brunch on weekends. Guests (and non-guests) can also dine by the pool.
The hotel is in the pleasant Gardens area, walking distance from cool Kloof Street. Otherwise, it's a quick drive to the city center, the mountains and the beaches Cape Town has to offer.
Miller's Thumb (5-minute drive, 12-minute walk) is a convivial joint specializing in tasty fresh fish. Or try Cafe Paradiso (14-minute walk, 5-minute drive) for relaxed Mediterranean dining in the lovely garden.
Cool Asoka (4-minute drive, 11-minute walk) is a gorgeous cocktail bar with a candlelit courtyard. Or Yours Truly (8-minute walk, 4-minute drive) is a cool local hangout day or night.