Wildlife reserves are aplenty in Kenya. What is a little more rare is a private conservancy spread over 17,500 acres, with just one lodge set within it. The Solio Lodge, in the privately-owned Solio conservancy, East Africa’s largest rhino breeding centre located in the Laikipia region at the foothills of the impressive Aberdare mountain range, is as exclusive as an African safari can get. The lodge has just six rooms – you do the math of the humans-to-animals ratio here!
While on safari, the ultimate luxury is that of one-on-one time with the wildlife, and while it isn’t uncommon here to go for game drives for hours with no other car in sight, and encounter a pride of lions within minutes of leaving the lodge, the luxurious comforts of the lodge are no less impressive. The thatched cottage-style villas combine the best of rustic charm to blend in with the environment, with contemporary design. The luxury here lies not in over-the-top opulence, but rather in space – each room, if you can call them that, is massive (the bathrooms are the size of an average Dubai apartment!) and boasts floor-to-ceiling glass windows to maximise the views, as well as thoughtfully curated African art and artefacts dotted around the space for decoration. My tip? Opt for Room 6, which has a watering hole right outside the bathroom, where you’re as likely to have a herd of water buffaloes cast a watchful eye as you brush your teeth, as you are to find a hippo have a leisurely bath as you shower!
The attention to detail is tremendous, not just in the décor but in the personalised service – the fires in your room are lit when you step out for dinner, beds are made up with hot water bags, the minibar is stocked with whatever you want by your personal room butler, and you can dine where and when you choose…
While the dining room in the common lounge area is lovely both by day and by night, lunch really is best enjoyed on the outdoor deck overlooking the reserve. As you tuck into the fresh, light Mediterranean-inspired dishes, whether it’s a healthy beetroot and apple salad, a delicious caprese, an indulgent homemade chicken liver pâté or a piping hot pasta with fresh basil and tomato, expect a zebra or antelope to wander past looking on from a distance.
But that feels tame compared to the bush breakfasts you can enjoy on your morning game drives – after a few hours of spotting lionesses lounging on trees or enjoying a kill, rhinos grazing on the grasslands, and the herbivores darting around, your friendly guide parks in a suitable spot, and voila, as if by magic, tables and chairs are set out, and the sizzling sound of fresh eggs being fried fills the air. This is no soggy sandwich on-the-go kind of breakfast – it’s a full, delicious hot breakfast, complete with cereal, fruit, eggs made to order, and fresh coffee, tossed up by the chef from the back of a 4X4! It feels like an extreme privilege to be enjoying these luxuries surrounded by the natural habitat of the wildlife. Dinner is usually enjoyed communally with all the guests, after social drinks by the fireside, and to mix things up a bit, the menu ranges from Indian curries to delicious steaks with mustard roast potatoes and candied butternut squash, or even local East African delicacies (usually arranged on request).
The lodge’s manager Ava takes a personal interest in the kitchens, and ensures most of the produce is sourced as locally as possible, to make the most of the abundant and high-quality produce available in the region, including from the lodge’s in-house herb and vegetable garden, which grows everything from lettuce, basil and kaffir lime to tomatoes and eggplant. This results in consistently delicious food, using fresh ingredients put together with care – a very important of a luxury safari experience. This, for me, would be reason enough to revisit – if the stylish luxury or fantastic game viewing opportunities offered at Solio weren’t enough.