Cream squeezes plenty into 24 hours in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Story and photography by Antonino Tati
After an adventurous East African safari (see our feature here) it’s a good idea to break up your trip home with an overnight stay in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. This will help you ‘ween’ off that jungle buzz – Nairobi being a kind of urban jungle in itself – while offering some vital relaxation or recreation.
On the ride from the airport to the inner-city, it’s not surprising to witness cattle ‘hanging out’ on the side of the freeway – cows minding their own business, probably having just strayed from country to city – the rural areas of Kenya not being too far from the capital.
You might even find the occasional giraffe poking its head into your hotel window – that is if you check yourself into the Giraffe Manor. Here, after you’ve been welcomed by staff, you’ll be entertained by a giraffe or three who’ll casually pass by your window to see that you’re settling in alright. They might even steal a bit of your bacon at breakfast!
The hotel – a converted manor house from the 1930s – is quaint in style; in fact it looks like a hunting lodge of yesteryear, all brownstone and big windows. Giraffe Manor is so quaint, there are no televisions in the rooms and, since it’s further from the city than most transit hotels, guests get an opportunity to get to know other guests and swap safari stories, should they be so inclined.
For a transit hotel on the other end of the star-scale – one with an entirely grander aesthetic – you can’t go past Hemingways in the heart of the famed suburb of Karen.
The suburb itself was named after Karen von Blixen, the Danish author who was famous for her memoir of travels in Kenya Out Of Africa (later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep as Karen). The suburb is superbly kempt with spectacular gardens and impressive colonial architecture.
Hemingways sits in the heart of Karen, between Nairobi National Park and the foot of the Ngong Hills. There’s a definite tranquillity when you step foot in this magical place, whose name borrows the moniker of another famous author, Ernest Hemingway, and, in keeping with the literature theme, whose rooms are each named after a famous writer. I stayed in the F. Scott Fitzgerald suite which, like all 45 rooms here, faces the amazing gardens.
Speaking of gorgeous gardens, if you’ve got a bit of time, you could take a tour of Karen von Blixen’s house around the corner, which has been turned into a museum and is well worth a visit. Or take an exhilarating trip to Nairobi National Park to see buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, baboon, zebra, wildebeest, rhino and cheetah – just in case you haven’t had enough impressive sightings on your recent safari.
We visited the Nairobi Nursery, set up by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where rescued orphaned elephants are raised and well looked after. The nursery offers a secure base for the bubbas and invites visitors to ‘adopt’ a baby elephant of their own. I adopted a real cutie named Dupotto and was given a certificate and photograph to keep, as well as the option to re-adopt Dupotto annually.
After our afternoon with Dupotto and Co, we set off to a shopping plaza in town to stock up on Masai blankets. I think I came home with about 20 – half of which I intended to keep myself (suffice to say, my house is now very colourful).
Upon return to Hemingways, it was great to just lounge in the suite after a shower in one of the biggest bathrooms I’ve been in. There are his and her vanities, a standalone shower, standalone bathtub (with claws like in the good ole days), and a wardrobe that has its own his and her shoe drawers.
The smallest room at Hemingways is 80 square metres, so you know the space is generous here. The rooms are plush and boast a rustic-meets-postmodern design. A huge mural of ‘touristy’ Kenya greets you upon entering your suite, and there are classic touches with a contemporary twist – such as a huge plasma screen TV that pops out of a vintage Louis Vuitton-style trunk.
I did find the hardwood floors here a bit slippery, mind, so just be sure to take your socks off when chilling out in your room.
After some R&R and freshening up, I met up with the hotel’s manager Mark Wheeler for dinner – a genuinely charming guy and excellent conversationalist.
The hotel restaurant’s menu is extensive but I’d heard the sirloin from their specially-fitted Josper oven is a must-try and so had to partake.
Even the décor of the main restaurant at Hemingways has tongue firmly planted in cheek, with a bright yellow mural emblazoned with famous quotes relevant to East Africa, and a giant statue of an Academy Award posited right next to a poster of the film Out Of Africa.
One thing is for sure: you know you are definitely in one of the finest quarters of Africa when staying at such a beautiful hotel as Hemingways.
Hemingways is situated 146 Mbagathi Ridge, Karen, Nairobi. A part of the Small Luxury Hotels group, for bookings and enquiries phone 1800 219 010 or visit www.hemingways-nairobi.com.
For information on how to adopt an elephant via the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust visit www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org.
Air Mauritius provides flights to Nairobi, Kenya via Mauritius. For package deals including overnight stays in Mauritius visit www.airmauritius.com.