Scottish splendor in the sub-tropics of Zimbabwe. Welcome to Nesbitt Castle.
(Written and published elsewhere a few years ago, but I want to put a spotlight on Zimbabwe again—as it needs all the TLC and attention it can get! The financial, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country is dire indeed.)
You wouldn’t think there were any similarities between the city of BULAWAYO in Zimbabwe, and the city of ABERDEEN in Scotland. In sharp contrast are southern hemisphere versus northern hemisphere; dry, dusty thornveld in clear sunlight, versus a soft, green and misty land; a land-locked area famous for cattle ranches and wildlife, versus mountains, dotted with woolly white sheep, overlooking the North Sea.
And yet…they are twin cities and each flies the other’s flag. And there’s another similarity, even more unexpected; they both have castles.
Nesbitt Castle in Bulawayo is based on an archetypal Scottish castle. Built in 1905 by mayor Theodore Holdengarde, it was converted in 1990 to an exclusive luxury hotel by the Nesbitt family.
Nestled in the quiet suburb of Hillside, Nesbitt Castle is a huge rambling stone building that really does look like a Scottish castle, with massive grey, hand-hewn stones, small towers and crenellations. It’s set in an enormous 14-acre garden, part green and landscaped, part bush with a number of ostriches and impala (antelope) in a fenced enclosure—a mini wild-life park.
The hotel is/was well-known as a conference and entertainment venue—what a beautiful setting for a wedding reception—and also offers lunches and dinners.
But perhaps the most spectacular offerings are the lavish afternoon teas, presented outside on the lush green front lawns, under huge jacaranda trees, fringed with flowering bushes. Guests sit on lacy, wrought-iron chairs with fat burgundy cushions, at a wrought-iron table graced with a cream colored tablecloth, burgundy cloth serviettes, and heavy silver cutlery. It’s the quintessential setting for a formal British Colonial afternoon tea, with the added touch of an African bush park and gorgeous indigenous African birds twittering in the trees above.
The tea menu usually offers scones with strawberry jam and cream, lemon cheesecake, chocolate cake, muffins, or flapjacks (small pancakes) with honey. They are all exquisitely served on white china plates, decorated with sprinkles of white powdered sugar, halved Cape gooseberries, and pink rose petals. A charming young Ndebele (the local tribe) waiter in formal black and white serves various teas, or freshly-brewed coffee in a large glass pot.
After a leisurely, relaxing tea you can take a tour of the Castle. The decorations are a mixture of old-English (splendid heavy oak furniture, brocade furnishings) and African, with wooden masks and hunting trophies—elephant, buffalo, and zebra heads—and cured skins. A beautiful zebra skin stands out. A similar hunting theme can be found in many Scottish castles, just with different mounted animals. The hunting theme is not obsolete, even today, as the hotel is also linked with the Nesbitt Safari, a Hunting Safari Adventure, in the Zimbabwe low-veld close to the town of Chiredzi.
Please note that Zimbabwe’s economy is experiencing extreme difficulties, and that the exchange rate changes almost daily. Hence, prices are liable to change. In fact, many place no longer accept Zimbabwe dollars and want foreign currency, so it’s best to check before going. Hotel rates are available on request.
The Nesbitt Castle Hotel, 6 Percy Avenue, Hillside, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe