Twenty years ago, I visited the Mt. Kenya Safari Club for the first time. Then, it was a gracious, historic hotel founded in 1959 by film star William Holden. Set in a magnificent setting with glorious views of Mt. Kenya, the hotel enjoyed a fabled history populated by movie stars, royalty, and African explorers. Now, following a thorough renovation by the Canadian Fairmont chain, the property has become a world class five star resort which retains the history and African luxury that first made it famous. If you are traveling to Kenya, don't miss a chance to visit for a night or a week.
My wife and I live in Kenya and decided to head to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club for an anniversary getaway. We booked a regular "Fairmont Room," packed the car, and headed north from Nairobi for the 3 hour drive. The highway is excellent all the way to Nanyuki, but the last 5 miles from the main road to the hotel is under construction and quite bumpy.
As we pulled through the gate, the guard took our name and directed us to drive to the main building to check in. He must have radioed ahead, because as we pulled up to the main building a porter was waiting in a golf cart, and motioned for us to follow him in our car...and led us to the private two bedroom cottage that we had been unexpectedly been upgraded to!
The entire property has been renovated over the past two years to world class five star standards. Our cottage had a lovely living room with European furnishings, fine linen curtains, a hand carved chess board on a marble coffee table, and a huge stone and wood fireplace. A plasma screen TV with satellite channels, a marble wet bar, and stylish recessed lighting rounded out the room. From the stone paved front porch we had a glorious view of Mt. Kenya's peak.
The bedroom featured a four post bed with a pillow top mattress and soft linens, while the bathroom was tiled in marble and had a monsoon shower and deep soaking tub. Two bathrobes and slippers were set out for our use.
The main building of the hotel is laid out along a mixed open air / elegant lodge design. Cozy nooks abound, and there is plenty of quiet seating in the bar and lounge areas. A small business center is available to guests without charge, and for kids there is a sitting area with a free PlayStation 3 and a small selection of games. Some of the wildlife busts shot by Holden hang on the walls, alongside numerous vintage photographs of Holden and other famous guests of the hotel. Contrary to other reviews, we felt that Fairmont has done a good job of upgrading the hotel to modern standards while maintaining its historic character.
Surrounding the main building are rambling grounds covering more than 100 acres; the cottages are spread in a semicircle facing Mt. Kenya. Down from the main lodge is a freeform pool (currently being renovated until the first week of December), several ponds, a small chapel and a hedge maze. The water and seed spread by the hotel draw spectacular bird life--photographic opportunities abound. Further on is a 9 hole golf course, which is not as carefully groomed as the main lawn. We don't play golf but did wander through the course when looking for birds.
As the hotel is rather isolated, most guests stay on a full board meal plan. Meals are served in a dining room that is integrated into the main club building - vaulted ceilings and dark wood beams are the signature elements. Breakfast and lunch are ample buffets with a chef's station that serves rotating specialties. Dinner is a four course, candlelit affair. There are four choices for the appetizer--with such options as blue cheese souffle or smoked trout--then soup, six main course selections, dessert, tea and coffee. The food was not michelin star quality, but all of the dishes were well presented and quite good. No concerns about food handling--we ate salads and everything else without any trouble.
In the late afternoon the hotel serves high tea in the bar overlooking the lawn, where teak tables and chairs are spread. After dark, lanterns are set out and traditional dancers perform before dinner.
While the Club is somewhat, it is located in a beautiful location on the slopes of Mt. Kenya and offers a wide range of activities. My wife went horseback riding twice with a guide up the slopes of Mt. Kenya, and on the second ride raced two albino zebra across a high alpine meadow. The guides will match horses to the experience of the rider--as an experienced rider, the guides had no problem with my wife riding at a full gallop once the release form had been signed! They were much more careful with two beginning riders who joined on the first day.
As mentioned previously, there is a 9 hole golf course, and the hotel sets out clubs for guests use each morning. Mountain biking, bird walks, and mountain hikes are also available. There is an art gallery on the grounds, and an animal orphanage which is associated with the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. A small salon and spa offers the usual services.
Throughout our stay, the staff were wonderfully welcoming and attentive to every request. Each evening, a porter arrived to light a fire in our fireplace, turn down our beds and place hot water bottles under the comforter. On two occasions (one breakfast, one dinner), we chose to dine in our rooms which was accommodated for a small delivery charge (about $8). On the second night, the manager surprised us with an anniversary cake following dinner.
The only small issues I can think of regarding the hotel are that the road from the highway is in bad shape (though being repaired) and the pool is closed for renovations until the first week of December. Other than that, we could find no faults with the hotel, the staff, or the overall experience. We regretted having to leave the peaceful calm of the hotel grounds for the bustle of Nairobi, but look forward to returning to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club again soon.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- With magnificent views of majestic Mount Kenya, the Fairmont Safari Club's 120 luxuriously appointed guest rooms, set in over 100 acres of landscaped gardens, offer a unique blend of comfort, relaxation and adventure. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club Hotel Nanyuki
- Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Hotel
- Mount Safari Club Kenya
- Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club Nanyuki Town