The Mount Nelson. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Mount Nelson. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Mount Nelson is one of those rare hotels interwoven with lineage and loyalty, the kind of destination where children come with their parents and over the years end up bringing their own kids.

So when the hotel commenced a year of centenary celebrations to mark "100 years in the Pink" in November, it did so with a certain style. It all started with a garden party, more of a Veuve Clicquot-fuelled fête, on November 10, the day before Armistice Day (which marks the end of World War 1 in 1918).

The hotel was repainted after "the Great War" by its then-manager, Aldo Renato, who chose to recoat the exterior in a shade of pink that, he felt, conveyed a sense of joy at the end of hostilities. According to some, this kicked off a trend in grand European hotels to go pastel.

The Mount Nelson. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Mount Nelson. Picture: SUPPLIED

To celebrate a rosy centenary, the hotel has introduced a series of "Touch of Pink" events. They include an art exhibition that will be curated by artist-in-residence Cyril Coetzee.

There’s also a separate "pink cocktail menu" in the Belmond group for the year. A rose petal oil massage, using an oil blend created specifically for the hotel from oil and petals, has been put together; and Cape indigenous wild plants are being made into tea infusions.

The afternoon tea features delicacies including Turkish delight, raspberry-filled white truffles, pink macaroons, pink pavlova and pink filled éclairs.Pink cocktails served at the ever-popular Planet Bar include G&Ts made with Cape Town Pink Lady Gin, named after the hotel, which is infused with hibiscus flowers and rose petals.

The mother ship

The hotel is part of the history of Cape Town. It opened its doors for the first time in 1899 and was the first hotel in Cape Town to offer hot and cold running water and was applauded for being "even better than its London counterparts".

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

It has played host to world leaders and colourful characters. Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday on the grounds while still a princess. John Lennon surprised guests by meditating in the gardens under a tree.

He’d booked in under the pseudonym "Mr Greenwood" and reportedly was very tidy and made his own bed.

President Nelson Mandela welcomed world leaders for the first World Economic Forum held on African soil, and the Dalai Lama enlightened more than 500 Capetonians who sat cross-legged on the floor in the ballroom.

The SA War broke out a few months after the hotel opened, and the Mount Nelson was used as headquarters for the top brass of the British army — and a young war correspondent who wrote, "… a most excellent and well-appointed establishment, which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage". The journalist was Winston Churchill.

Guest relations manager Joey Michael has worked at the hotel for 29 years. He’s noticed that things that weren’t important before have become imperative over the years. First it was squash courts, then a gym, then a spa and a kids’ club.

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

The cuisine changed as people became less inclined to eat heavier meals. "As the years have gone by, people have become fitter, they care about their bodies, their wellbeing," says Michael. Today the first thing people want to know is the Wi-Fi code.

Most guests are from the UK. In several instances, third-generation guests visit. Around Christmas one will see many of the same families who’ve been coming for 15, 20 years.

The Mount Nelson may have an air of being elegant and stately, but there’s sure to be a fair amount of celebration taking place behind the arched entrance on Orange Street.