Mount Nelson Hotel is a five-star property that attracts the rich and famous. // © 2012 Mount Nelson Hotel
Stretched along the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town, South Africa, has the flat-topped Table Mountain, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, as its backdrop. The verdant mountains and hills plunge into the Atlantic, making this city one of the most dramatically beautiful in the world.
Cape Town is a city of contrasts. There are million-dollar homes as well as sprawling townships filled with thousands of people. It has the Victoria and Albert Waterfront that rivals mega-shopping centers in the U.S., as well as Greenmarket Square where Africans sell their crafts from make-shift booths.
The contrasts continue with Cape Town’s hotels. About a 15-minute drive from the heart of Cape Town is the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, a member of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. Surrounded by the Twelve Apostle Mountain range and Table Mountain on one side and by the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this 70-room property is a relaxing getaway from the city. Some rooms face the Atlantic Ocean, affording stunning sunset views, while others face the mountains or gardens and two heated swimming pools. The hotel has all the amenities clients would expect from a high-end hotel, including built-in international adaptors, electronic safes, free Wi-Fi access, comfortable beds and bathrobes. But there are also a few surprises (a candle left flickering in the bathroom at night, a helipad behind the hotel and original South African art in every room). Walking through the halls, guests can stop and enjoy the historical Dutch 19th-century paintings as well as a wall dedicated to pictures of the protea, the national flower of South Africa. The hotel has a 16-seat cinema, a business center, a lending library and mountain walking trails right outside the hotel. The spa’s seven treatment rooms feature beauty products made in Africa specifically for the hotel. An underground grotto-like area has a brine pool and warm- and cold-water plunge pools.
Twelve Apostles supports local ecology by planting indigenous vegetation on the property to help the environment, easy to do since more than 2,600 different plants grow on the Cape. For an ocean excursion, scuba diving trips can be arranged, but there is no easy access to the ocean from the hotel.
A buffet breakfast is included in the price of the room and is served in the Azure Restaurant with its expansive ocean view. Hot and cold entrees are available as well special cheeses and even champagne. In the evening, the Azure Restaurant serves South African specialties such as springbok tenderloin, a duo of quail as well as locally caught fish and calamari. The sommelier pairs the courses with South African wines, especially enticing if a tour to the nearby wine country is on tap. For guests wanting a relaxation away from the city, the Twelve Apostles Hotel is the way to go.
However, for another experience near the heart of Cape Town, try the Mount Nelson Hotel, a bit of Britain transported to South Africa. The hotel opened in 1899 and has had the rich and the famous like Winston Churchill, the Prince of Wales, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Lennon and Leonardo Dicaprio among many others stay here. In 1988, the hotel was purchased by Orient-Express Hotels.
The four buildings of the hotel, painted pink to celebrate peace after World War II, offer 124 rooms, 77 suites and eight separate garden cottages, all decorated differently with subtle original paintings and prints and lush British-inspired fabrics and furniture. It’s evident that the hotel was built more than a century ago since there are spacious hallways and every room is a good size.
Afternoon tea is a must-do activity at the hotel for locals as well as travelers. While piano music plays, people all ages enjoy tea in a room that could have been plucked whole from a English country house. There are British engravings on the wall, antique china in an armoire and over-stuffed wing-back chairs and sofas for relaxing. The Mount Nelson tea, a blend of six teas, is a favorite here but just about every other tea is available too. The elaborate buffet, served on the antique Windsor Table, features an array of sweets and savories including cucumber sandwiches, lamb focaccia and spinach quiches, as well as black forest cake, macaroons and milk tarts. It would be almost impossible to taste everything, but it’s worth a try and, at around $22, it’s also a good deal.
After tea, perhaps a visit to the Librisa Spa would be in order with its treatment rooms, saunas, steam baths and refreshing conservatory. Or walk through the flower-filled observatory to the gardens and stroll among the towering trees. There are complimentary rides into the heart of town, but it’s easy to follow the walking guide in the hotel room and check out local art galleries, art museums and the Company Garden with its begging grey squirrels, exotic birds and flowering trees with Table Mountain in the background.
All in all, a tourist could not go wrong choosing either hotel. Both offer five-star experiences in totally different environments.