Welcome home,” said the hotel manager to us as we walked into Giraffe Manor. Somehow, it really felt like a homecoming – although I’d never been here before. Not just for the stately yet homely warmth of this boutique property on the outskirts of Nairobi, but for the call of the motherland that seems to instinctively take over when you arrive in Africa. Whether it’s the addictive adrenaline rush of spotting an elusive big cat on safari; the huge expanse of savannah land, humbling in its vastness; or the welcoming warmth of the people – there is something about Africa that makes you feel like this is right, this is exactly where you should be at that point in time.
The inviting comforts of the Giraffe Manor don’t hurt either. Dating back to 1932, this former private home built in a classic English hunting lodge style, and an icon of Nairobi, has just ten luxurious rooms (each named after one of the giraffes), overlooking the Giraffe Centre it is set within. Part of the Safari Collection, an exclusive group of properties across Africa owned by safari and conservation veterans, the Carr-Hartleys, this is an iconic Nairobi hotel recreating the elegance of the colonial era with perfection.
Four poster beds, claw-foot baths, cosy nooks and corners with plump sofas just waiting to be sunk into with a book from the library, Africa-inspired memorabilia adding a personal touch to the décor, and the recurring giraffe theme that is ubiquitous across the hotel – whether it’s in the cushions, canvases, crockery, or stained glass window panels – are all par for course. But that’s not what makes this place unique. It’s the giraffes themselves.
The Giraffe Centre is home to a handful of endangered Rothschild giraffes, who roam freely within the complex, and are usually very happy to join guests for breakfast. In fact, alongside the delicious breakfast offerings of fruit, cereal, eggs to order and pancakes, the menu also includes a jar of giraffe food pellets – which the friendly animals are eager to partake of, poking their long necks in through the windows. A wakeup call from curious Lynn (one of the seven giraffes) snuffling around your first floor window (a reminder of exactly how tall they are!) looking for treats – which are also provided in each room – is an experience that cannot be recreated anywhere else the world. Breakfast then becomes a lively affair in the communal courtyard with everyone busy feeding the giraffes even as they feed themselves, competing for their hugs and kisses, and photo ops galore, while the pack of ugly yet incredibly cute warthogs that also call this home, run around underfoot.
After such an exciting start to the day, you can head out to vist nearby attractions worth checking out, such as the renowned Karen Blixen museum (her of Out of Africa fame), and Kazuri beads, a bead factory and store providing employment to disadvantaged local women. An equally attractive option is to spend your time taking in the serene surroundings of the 140-acre estate, enjoying a civilised afternoon tea, or sundowners in the fireplace-warmed lounge, alfresco lunches and gourmet dinners.
With this combination of urban pursuits with wildlife – the giraffes, while accustomed to human encounters, are, after all, wild animals, and you’re briefed on safety protocols around them right at the outset – provides the perfect introduction to Africa. As it is standard practice to usually spend at least a night in Nairobi before heading out to the bush, there’s no better place to do it than here, away from the hurly burly of the city.
A version of this feature was previously published in BBC Good Food ME.