Nesbitt Castle

Nesbitt Castle: Our full report

Rooms
10 suites
Traveller's rating
Average (60%) From 2 reviews
Children
Best for 10+
Open
All year

Built in the 19th century in the suburbs of Bulawayo, The Nesbitt Castle was the romantic vision of Theodore Holdengarde, an eccentric admirer of the Middle Ages. Once a private home, this Gothic-style fortress was widely known as Holdengarde Castle until 1990. It is now a quirky hotel with a unique ambience.

With its thick granite ramparts, twisting staircases and crenellations circling the towers, Nesbitt Castle feels steeped in history, even if the place was built a few centuries later than its medieval style would have you believe. Do take time to wander through Nesbitt's maze of passageways and discover the castle’s remarkable collection of antiques and Gothic curiosities.

Nesbitt Castle has ten suites, including one (The Princess Suite) designed for single travellers. Of the others, two have twin beds (The Diamond and Cavalier suites) and the rest are doubles. All are individually furnished and decorated with much attention to detail. Gold-framed oil paintings, historical wooden furniture and heavy drapes ensure the authenticity and feel of Nesbitt's rooms.

Each suite is equipped with air conditioning, a fan, satellite TV, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and an en-suite bathroom, though some guests may be a little frustrated to learn that most of the suites have a ball-and-claw bath but no shower. A minibar can be stocked at extra cost.

In other aspects, there are notable differences in some of Nesbitt's suites:

  • The Griffin Suite has a kitchenette and a lounge but no bath, only a shower.

  • In The Royale Suite, a special highlight for many travellers is the carved four-poster bed.

  • In The Turret Suite, it's worth noting that the staircase down to the bathroom is very steep.

At the forefront of our minds when we visited Nesbitt Castle in late 2014 were recent reports of a slightly musty smell in the suites. We didn’t notice this, but we did feel that the rooms were a tad dark and dated and could do with a little investment.

Behind heavy oak doors are several opulent main areas, including the lady's lounge with its rose-patterned armchairs and sofas; the main lounge, which features a massive fireplace; a billiard room; a cosy library and an imposing trophy room, which also functions as the entrance room of Nesbitt Castle. In the dining room, a maximum of 18 guests can be seated around a large round table. Nesbitt Castle also has a curio shop selling local souvenirs. And somewhat unexpectedly, there’s an Irish-style pub here, too! Above the pub, the Coach House restaurant can accommodate a maximum of 30 people. The service was good on our last visit, although it was a Tuesday and we were the only people eating here. The restaurant is open to visitors not staying at the hotel, so bookings are recommended on the weekend.

Outside you'll find manicured gardens, where English high tea is served daily from 3pm and a couple of romantic seating areas with white chairs are tucked away amongst the lush vegetation. Nesbitt Castle also has its own little chapel, which hosts wedding ceremonies and christenings, and their large, tented pavilion can be hired for weddings or conferences.

The most recent addition to Nesbitt Castle is The Dragon’s Den – an outdoor bar which specialises in kebabs and cocktails. This more informal dining option is reportedly very popular with locals and we look forward to sampling it on our next visit to Bulawayo.

Activities from Nesbitt Castle will take you into Bulawayo, where you can browse through curio shops and visit interesting museums, particularly the Railway Museum. Day trips to the nearby < a href="/zimbabwe/matobo-hills-national-park">Matobo Hills National Park are possible and should be arranged in advance. Activities at Nesbitt Castle are all at an additional cost.

History of Nesbitt Castle

Although it feels authentically medieval, and does indeed have an interesting (although significantly shorter) history, Nesbitt Castle was built in the first half of the 19th century by Theodore Garde.

Born in 1877 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the son of an early missionary, Theodore was sent to Durham University to study theology. His stay in Durham, with its castle and medieval history, sparked a lifelong enthusiasm for antique artefacts and the Middle Ages. After returning to South Africa, he changed his name to Holdengarde, went on a trip to Zimbabwe and founded a company for construction engineering and hardware.

The company did well and Holdengarde became a successful businessman. He purchased 0.4km2 of land on the outskirts of Bulawayo and began to realise his dream – the construction of a Gothic fortress in the middle of Africa.

Over the next 30 years, Holdengarde ran his business, served the community (for which he was awarded an OBE) and functioned as the mayor of Bulawayo. At weekends, he, his wife and a small group of workers built the turrets and towers, twisting passageways and crenellations that were to become Nesbitt Castle. Holdengarde's vision, dedication and persistence replaced any plans or architectural drawings and enabled the team to face many obstacles, from heavy rains to the eccentric character of the owner, who would from time to time demolish and then rebuild his work. In true adherence to the Middle Ages, Holdengarde even refused running water and electricity, although his wife had electricity installed in his absence. Running water, flush toilets and a telephone, however, were not added until after his death in 1948.

Over the following few decades, the castle fell into a sad decline. More or less abandoned by the owners, it was occupied by squatters, Satanists and other dubious people, who even burnt down part of the building.

By 1988, when the castle was bought by Digby Nesbitt, it was a shabby, rain-invaded ruin. Nesbitt renovated and restored the building, stumbling across hidden niches and alcoves. In 1990 it was finally opened as a boutique hotel, The Nesbitt Castle.

Our view

Our View


Nesbitt Castle has an offbeat, romantic feel. The quirky style won’t be to everyone’s taste but we were impressed by the grandeur of the building and enjoyed the lush gardens. We can’t help but feel that it’s a moderate renovation away from being truly special, but until that happens it’s still a very pleasant place to stay. The staff are very attentive and friendly and the location convenient, making it a worthwhile stopover for anyone spending a night or two in Bulawayo.

Geographics

Location: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a stay of one or two nights at The Nesbitt Castle. It works well as a place to rest your head on the way through Bulawayo or as a base for anyone looking to explore the city in more detail.

Directions: Nesbitt Castle is located in the suburbs of Bulawayo, about 5km as the crow flies from the airport. It's about a 45-minute flight from Harare to Bulawayo.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Lee Nesbitt

Food & drink

Usual board basis: B&B

Food quality: The food at Nesbitt Castle was very good when we last visited in July 2015.

A large full English breakfast plus a continental buffet set us up for the day ahead.

Dinner was a very tasty three-course meal. We ordered a steak, which was cooked very well, with a standard accompanying salad and French fries.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: £15-20

Drinks included: Drinks are not included at Nesbitt Castle.

Further dining info: The menu at Nesbitt Castle is quite expensive by Bulawayo standards. Diners can expect to spend around US$20-25 per person for a three course meal, not including alcoholic beverages.

Children

Attitude towards children: Nesbitt Castle welcomes children of all ages. However, please note that no children are allowed in the Griffin and the Turret Suite.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: Camp cots for the suites are provided on request.

Notes: In those suites where children are permitted, under-threes stay free, while children aged four to twelve pay a reduced rate.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Mains Electricity

Power supply notes: The electricity can be temperamental in Zimbabwe and Bulawayo is no exception. Be prepared for power cuts on a relatively regular basis. The camp has a back up generator which it runs in the evenings if necessary.

Communications: Nesbitt Castle has free WiFi available.

TV & radio: There is a satellite TV in every suite at the Nesbitt Castle hotel.

Water supply: Mains

Water supply notes: The water comes form the mains water supply.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Bulawayo and for anything very serious Medivac to Johannesburg is on standby.

Dangerous animals: Low Risk

Security measures: A perimeter fence surrounds the whole castle and guards patrol the property 24 hours a day.

Fire safety: Nesbitt Castle is fully compliant with all the Zimbabwean Fire Departments requirements and we’re told they come in often to check everything is up to standard. Fire extinguishers are located throughout the hotel and there are smoke alarms fitted throughout the hotel.

Extras

Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Laundry can be done on request, for an extra cost.

Money: Valuables can be kept in the safe at reception. The hotel does not offer currency exchange.

Accepted payment on location: Both Visa and MasterCard are accepted at Nesbitt Castle.

X  Close