There are very few places you can stay in Kenya that carry such a colourful historical legacy.
Yummy’s travel section explores a variety of sights, sounds and food across the country. This month, Ami-Doshi Shah heads down to Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club and tells us all about the colourful historical legacy and other joys she found tucked away at this getaway.
The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club is one such place that sings of the character of times gone by and of and elegant lifestyle that it once harboured from 1959 when a group of investors, including American actor, William Holden bought the property and officially founded what is now known to us as this delightful property. Over 50 years on, the Fairmont has undertaken a massive overhaul of the property, renovating the 120 rooms in what can only be described as an exceptionally massive endeavour but done with the signature luxurious aesthetic and attention to detail, Fairmont is renowned for.
For the moment you drive down the jacaranda-lined boulevard that leads to the 100 acre estate, there is a semblance of the scale and majesty of this place, sprawled at the feet Mt. Kenya. Even check-in is tinged with a certain degree of pomp and ceremony and comes courtesy of chilled hand towels and a refreshing glass of fresh juice. I was courteously asked if I’d like to take a seat and relax but a 3-hour drive from Nairobi had me wanting to stretch my legs and explore. The kids were equally restless, which I entirely blame on an equal combination of genetics and curiosity.
We were taken to our cottage in the resort’s golf caddy, which was at that moment, pretty much the highlight of the day for the boys. Simple pleasures, as they say. That of course was until we arrived at our cottage and the boys caught a glimpse of Mt. Kenya, which was still shrouded by clouds and then got inside the cottage and saw that there was a television. With DSTV! It is at this point that I admit that when I refer to the ‘boys’ I am in fact also referring to the adult ‘boy’ that I happen to be married to. Cue, rolling of the eyes. As I stepped inside, I had the chance to take it all in myself. The cottage was beautifully appointed, with 2 ensuite double bedrooms, both with a bath and stand-alone shower. Everything, from the marble tiled bathrooms to the furniture in the shared living room was perfection. The fittings and furnishings were clearly chosen for its highest quality and neutral colour palette, and oozed tranquillity and comfort. We took some much needed time to settle in and unpack our bags, i.e., 10 minutes.
We left our beautiful cottage and set off on foot for the Mt. Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, adjoining the Fairmont property, which was also founded by William Holden and has now become a sanctuary for, orphaned or endangered animals and also a centre for conservation education. The Animal Orphanage specifically offers guided tours and a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with many rescued indigenous species of wildlife from Bongo’s, caracals, dik dik, cheetah to numerous primates. Our guide introduced us to Jack, a friendly and boisterous Colobus monkey who was enticed by our offering of maize kernels and confidently jumped on our shoulders, our arms outstretched and carefully picked with his dextrous fingers each kernel and popped them into his mouth.
It was clear to see the wonder with which the kids interacted with these remarkable creatures, from feeding the bongos to riding on one of the Orphanage’s giant turtles, which had now OFFICIALLY become the highlight of their day. At a fee of Ksh1,500 per adult (kids go free), its great value for money and a truly eye-opening experience, not to be missed even if you’re not staying at the Fairmont.
It was early evening at this point and we walked back to the main hotel and helped ourselves to a delicious spread of teas, coffee, fresh juices and bountiful cakes and biscuits. Most of the guests had congregated in the stylish Zebra Bar and the perfectly manicured lawns outside to relax and watch the view of Mount Kenya, standing ominously in the horizon. The evening chill had pervaded and the sun was setting but with that, the clouds around the peak began to dissipate and reveal Kirinyaga, the Kikuyu name for Mt. Kenya. It’s not surprising to see why the Kikuyu hold this epic landmark as sacred, believing that the mountain was God’s or Ngai’s throne on earth. It truly is breath taking Before the sun had completely set, we walked down to the hedge maze that stood as a geometric sculpture in the distance, with shrub walls that stood almost 6 metres high. We entered apprehensively but with some teamwork we man – aged to find our way out with my 4 year-old son proclaiming some – where in the middle, “I need to pee.” Lets just say he marked his territory. So bladder relieved and plenty of giggles later we arrived back at our cottage. The beds had been turned down, fireplace had been lit and hot water bottles tucked away between the sheets. Bliss.
Refreshed, bathed and surpris – ingly hungry, we headed to dinner to the cosy candlelit dining room of Tusks. Since Mount Kenya Safari Club was founded, dinner-time has always been something of a pomp and ceremony, where patrons would don their finest livery and dresses. After all, this property has been graced by the likes of Win – ston Churchill and Bing Crosby and countless other high fliers of the day. Today, it is much more of a down to earth affair, where children are as welcome as the grown-ups. Nevertheless, you can still expect the same flair for service and food as days gone by.
We were treated to an exception – al 4-course meal from a delicious cream of cauliflower soup to a refreshing feta, orange, avocado and rocket salad and succulent beef tenderloin with a peppercorn sauce. The next morning, I had the opportunity to speak Chef Kibet, the executive chef at Fairmont Mt. Kenya, where he spoke of his and Chef Doxis’s, Group Executive Chef for Fairmont East Africa (and winner of Chef of the Year Taste Awards 2015), vision for where they wanted to take the culinary experience for the resort. It was clear that when Chef Kibet was strolling with us through the vast and bountiful Organic Garden within the property that local and seasonal produce is very high on the cards for the new menu with a focus on greater A la Carte offerings. With almost 2 decades of experience within the restaurant industry, here and in the US, his sound culinary skill certainly shines through when it comes to the food on offer. As it stands, much of the produce from lettuce, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower to countless varieties of herbs are used to create and season the Club’s exemplary meals.
The Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club and Resort is an exceptional destination for kids and adults alike with recreational activities rang – ing from Horse-riding, mountain biking, swimming, and a fully kitted playground for the little ones. We allowed ourselves only one sublime night at this little slice of heaven but 2 nights would have been perfec – tion. The withdrawal symptoms of our eminent departure had already set in by breakfast time, which again was nothing short of exceptional.
With the holiday season upon us, the mass exodus of Nairobians heading to the Coast is eminent. Given a choice, I would pack our bags and head in the opposite direction towards the misty peak of our country’s sacred mountain. Whether it’s sitting fireside in Zebras and roasting marshmallows or sitting outside your patio bird-watching, whatever you do at Fairmont Mt Kenya Safari Club promises to be time well spent.