1806: The house that was to become the Mount Nelson Hotel was let to an auctioneer, William Maude. It was named the Mount Nelson in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and because of its proximity to Table Mountain.
1843: Sir Hamilton Ross purchased the property and created magnificent gardens around it.
The grandfather clock in the Hotel Lounge dates back to the early 1800s. It is said to have chimed so loudly that an irate guest hammered two six-inch nails into the chimes, and for 20 years it remained silent. It still chimes today, but not nearly so loudly.
1890: The Mount Nelson was purchased by shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie, owner of the Union-Castle shipping line. It was his dream to build an elegant hotel to cater exclusively for the line’s First Class passengers.
1899: Mount Nelson Hotel opened on 6 March. The first hotel in South Africa to offer hot and cold running water, it was applauded for being “even better than its London counterparts”.
1899: On 12 October, the South African War began. The British used the Mount Nelson Hotel as a headquarters from which to plan their military campaign. Lords Roberts, Kitchener and Buller were familiar figures in the hotel corridors, and a young war correspondent based at the hotel –Winston Churchill– described it as: “…a most excellent and well-appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage”.
In the pink
The Mount Nelson Hotel’s second manager, Aldo Renato, celebrated the end of the First World War by painting the hotel pink. Pink hotels were popular throughout Europe for the next few decades, and so it was that Mount Nelson Hotel retained her blush and is still known as “Cape Town’s famous pink hotel”. A definitive “Mount Nelson Pink” has been developed by paint experts, who have formulated a shade calculated to fade to a specific colour between coats.
1925: The Prince of Wales visited the hotel (the Prince of Wales Gate and palm-lined driveway were built the previous year in his honour).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), stayed at the hotel at the end of 1928. A keen spiritualist, he is said to have outraged other guests by holding séances in his room.
1973: The Oasis accommodation wing was added to the Mount Nelson’s main house.
Ship to shore
The wooden chairs in the Garden Room and the Lord Nelson Room were originally used as deck chairs on the Union-Castle Line ships.
1988: Mount Nelson Hotel was purchased by Orient-Express Hotels.
1990: A row of eight perfectly restored, historic cottages in the grounds were converted into the Garden Cottage Suites.
1996: Mount Nelson Hotel acquired Helmsley Hotel and three historic buildings adjacent to Palm Avenue, and all four buildings were restored and converted into guest accommodation.
In 1999, the Dalai Lama addressed over 500 Capetonians in the Mount Nelson Hotel’s ballroom.
2003: The Planet Bar opened, fast becoming a celebrity hot spot.
2008: Librisa Spa opened.
2010: The star-spangled Planet Restaurant opened on the site of the former Cape Colony Restaurant.