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Posts from the ‘Honeymoons’ Category

Belmond Mount Nelson – the Cape Town hotel with a nod to British Royalty

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Belmond Mount Nelson

Where Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are staying while visiting Cape Town is being kept closely under wraps. It’s thought to be an official residence but if so they’re missing out on the best hotel in town that’s hosted Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and one of the Duke’s ancestors.

The Belmond Mount Nelson stands at the end of a grand palm tree lined avenue, reached through a colonnaded entrance, that was created ahead of the Prince of Wales’s visit in 1925. From the saluting guard at the entrance to the top hatted doorman at the front door, guests will have the unmistakable feeling that they’ve arrived at somewhere special. A sugar pink building with white gingerbread trim, the glorious shade dates from just after the First World War when the then general manager decided to paint the hotel a cheerful hue in celebration.


Mount Nelson Colonnade.jpg

Belmond Mount Nelson


With its enviable position at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most recognisable landmark, there’s no mistaking the location when staying at the Mount Nelson. Should guests wish to hike or cable car to the top of the famous flat topped mountain they couldn’t be better placed. And they’ll find the buzzy Kloof Street right on their doorstep. Both the stunning beaches and wine regions of the Western Cape are an easy car ride away from the hotel.

Mount Nelson exterior.jpg

Belmond Mount Nelson

The warm climate from November to May has long made this Coastal South African city and the Mount Nelson a magnet for visitors escaping colder climes. The eye catching gardens, filled with verdant trees and bright flowers, were first developed in 1843. Now they include two outdoor swimming pools – one family oriented and the other for guests aged 16 upwards.

Mount Nelson gardens.jpg

Belmond Mount Nelson


The Mount Nelson was opened in 1889 to provide a suitably first rate hotel for first class passengers disembarking from the Union Castle luxury liners at Cape Town. There was nothing of its standard in the area at the time and it was the first hotel in Cape Town to offer hot and cold running water. The owner also happened to own the Union Castle Shipping Line. The wooden chairs in the Lord Nelson restaurant today are the original deck chairs used on some of the Union Castle ships.

But the hotel’s name derives from much earlier. When the property was advertised for let in the newspaper in 1806 it was referred to as “Mount Nelson”, thought to be a reference to both Table Mountain which it stands in the shadow of and the then ubiquitous Lord Horatio Nelson who died the year before.

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Belmond Mount Nelson

A young Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel as a war reporter during the Boer War  and deemed it “a most excellent and well appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage”. Almost a century later, and a few months before his death, John Lennon checked in under the pseudonym Mr Greenwood. Staff remember him as exceptionally tidy and said he mediated on Table Mountain.

The hotel has seen some intriguing dramas over the years. The imposing grandfather clock that still stands in the lobby is said to have enraged one guest so much with its loud chimes at midnight that he hammered two six inch nails into the hands. The clock remained silent for 20 years until another guest repaired it (these days, the chime is a lot quieter). Guests were also reputedly outraged by Sherlock Holmes author and keen spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle holding public séances in his room.

More recently, Nelson Mandela dined regularly at the hotel. Margaret Roberts a waitress at the hotel for over 30 years remembers he had a favourite table in the restaurant and he would always chat to all the staff including in the kitchen.

Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson, fondly nicknamed “tea at The Nellie” by loyal locals, is an institution. So popular is the tea that the number of sittings per day has been increased from one to four. A morning tea and an evening tea have been added as well as a second afternoon sitting. The morning tea is a little lighter and the evening tea features more cold cuts like smoked ham and biltong and a selection of cheeses.


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Belmond Mount Nelson


Even the standard Deluxe rooms at the Mount Nelson come with a sitting area and most have balconies. The impressive number of suites range from Junior to Presidential, the latter featuring 1930s Baccarat crystal light fittings and a desk dating back from when the hotel opened in 1899. The spaciousness is evocative of the colonial guests from the northern hemisphere who often stayed for months at a time – bringing their own bone china and fine crystal with them. And many present day guests stay for a week or more.


Mount Nelson Pool

Belmond Mount Nelson

Offering the ultimate in luxurious seclusion, there are eight Garden Cottage suites housed in perfectly restored Victorian cottages, each set in its own rose garden with a white picket fence, and right next to the adult’s swimming pool. The sumptuousness is further emphasised by the décor of toile wallpaper, Venetian mirrors, four poster beds and working fireplaces. Not surprisingly they are highly sought after by honeymooning couples and guests seeking privacy.










Amanbagh: a Rajasthani Retreat

Pool and main building at night

[UPDATE: Amanbagh is slated to reopen on September 1st 2020]

Deep in the Rajasthani countryside Amanbagh is the perfect antidote to energetic Jaipur.  The former royal hunting ground turned exclusive retreat is part of the elite Aman resorts. As we draw near the landscape becomes rockier and the road bumpier until we reach the ancient walled grounds of Amanbagh. Within are palm, mango and fig trees and a camel trots down the driveway ahead of us. “He is Babu, our in house camel,” explains our driver. Lucky old Babu being an Aman camel I can’t help but think.

Although Amanbagh is 21st century built it’s classic fairytale India in its design: all romantic domes and archways, colonnades and courtyards, in pink marble and sandstone. Our room is a Pool Pavilion, a standalone villa with its own private swimming pool. We spend most of our time in the terraced garden and are joined variously by families of monkeys and colourful butterflies and birds that swoop over the pool.

Main pathways
Pool pavilion pool

Some guests come to Amanbagh for safari trips to the nearby Sariska Tiger Reserve (further afield Ranthambore may be more well known but Sariska is less crowded and has a high rate of tiger sightings); others book in for the four to 21 day Ayurvedic programmes. And there are easily doable day trips to lesser visited sites such as the temples of Neelkanth, serene Somsagar Lake (good for picnics or meditation) and the abandoned city of Bhangarh where you are more likely to encounter monkeys and peacocks than other tourists. As such it makes for a special place for a yoga session. But one of the unique, unforgettable experiences of Amanbagh is simply to witness rural Rajasthani life around you.

One evening we joined aarti at the local roadside temple where devout locals banged drums, rang bells and chanted to herald the last hour of prayer. Another night we joined The Cow Dust Tour, so named after the Indian phrase for the time of day when the cows are lead home, stirring up dust as they go.

Ajabgarh fort

Just before dusk we head out in an open topped jeep and pass a smattering of chhatri, a hillside fort and temple (once connected by tunnel) and a “haunted” village. In the golden light we pass camel and carts and goats being herded. Long, loopy tailed langur monkeys regard us from stone walls and smaller macaque monkeys crouch overhead in the trees. There’s an abundance of peacocks and it’s easy to see why this area is a bird watchers’ paradise even though at the time of our visit many have already migrated.

Women in brightly coloured safaris and headscarves of orange, yellow and purple farm the fields for wheat or okra, the former impressively balanced on their heads in huge parcels and the latter a local speciality that later we see being sold in the village centres. As we drive through tiny enclaves small children run out waving and calling “goodbye!” to us and we are invited in for chai several times.

Dining Terrace

That evening we sample both okra and goat on the Amanbagh’s superb pan Indian menu. We eschew the pleasant air conditioned dining room each meal for the terrace, overlooking the fabulous swimming pool and serenaded every night by traditional musicians. There are also opportunities for private dining on the lantern lit roof terrace or more intrepid locations in the surrounding countryside.

Experiences Chhatri dinner

As with all Amans there’s a calming energy about the resort that’s hard to leave. And of course the spa is fantastic (the suites are particularly stunning). As well as ayurvedic treatments, following a consultation with a traditional Indian medicine doctor, there’s a range of body treatments on offer such as the Maharaja or Maharani massage which I opt for. The masseuse applied just the right amount of firm pressure to sort out my back tension and I emerged feeling as if I was walking taller.


And if you haven’t had your fill of shopping by the time you reach Amanbagh, the boutique here has a tight, expert edit from some of Jaipur’s finest including The Gem Palace and Kashmir Loom. This being Aman they promise to fetch more from Jaipur if you wish.

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A Private Island Paradise for World Earth Day

Cempedak Island 1

What’s the story?
Cempedak (pronounced Chemp-e-dak) is a new private island resort in the Indonesian archipelago, five years in the making. This just opened venture is from the same team behind nearby Nikoi Island, another Robinson Crusoe-esque set up.

How does it differ from Nikoi Island then?
It’s a few notches up on the design and cuisine front. What they can’t better is the service which is legendarily good on Nikoi – it’s as equally smiley and attentive on Cempedak. The main difference is that Nikoi is geared more towards families with young children whereas Cempedak is for adults only.

You’ve got my attention, how do I get there?
Catch a ferry from Singapore to Bintan (an hour’s crossing) where you’ll be picked up by private car and driven across the island (another hour) then it’s a 30 minute speedboat ride to Cempedak. Trust us, it’s worth it. Or you could arrive direct by yacht.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Best and Worst Hotels of the Year


Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

The Good

Good is an understatement: exceptional would be more apt when describing the best hotel Chopstix checked into this year: the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India.

There are some hotels that have such a stellar reputation that staying at them can be a disappointment. Not so the Lake Palace which actually exceeded  our expectations.

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Is this the Best Hotel in the World?

Taj umaid palace exterior on horizon

Is the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, on a hill overlooking Jodhpur in Rajasthan, northern India, really the Best Hotel in the World as declared by Trip Advisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2016? Having stayed earlier this year, Chopstix can confirm it’s definitely up there. Here’s why:

1.The sheer scale and grandeur – Yes it’s a palace and it’s staggeringly vast (our first sight of the place was from the plane coming into Jodhpur airport, it’s so big and majestic you can’t miss it). The sight of it is overwhelming when you draw up outside and that feeling never really leaves you throughout your stay.

2.The Royal Welcome – we don’t want to spoil the surprise but it really is special.

3.The Maharaja lives here – Maharaja Gaj Sing and his family still occupy one of the wings. In fact his Highness doesn’t want you to think of it as a hotel but a home.

4.The lobby – you’ll be lead here for a welcoming drink of bubbly when you arrive and take a moment to sit down and marvel at this marble wonder with domed ceiling. International designers flock here for inspiration – Rolex modelled a watch face on the design.

Taj umaid palace lobby fisheye view

5.The elevator – just off the lobby, manned by a uniformed butler and including a cushioned banquette.

6.The indoor pool -subterranean, circular, art deco and flanked by steamer chairs. Need we say more.

7.The outdoor pool – with a view of the impressive Mehrangarh Fort in the distance.

Taj Umaid swimming pool with Fort

8.The gardens – vast and ornamental. And home to several strutting peacocks.

Umaid Bhawan Palace/Jodhpur/India

9.The restaurants – choose between the outdoor terrace of Pillars with a stunning view of the gardens and Fort, both flood lit at night or lavish Risala (which also has a pretty terrace). Or don’t – you can opt for either menu (European or Indian) at both restaurants.

Taj Umaid Pillars restaurant

10.The service – attentive without being obtrusive. And the only hotel we’ve stayed at where we were asked what they could improve – the answer is nothing.

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