There are many reasons as to why growing up in Kenya lead to a rather magical, privileged and enviable childhood, but one of them was almost certainly my close proximity to Giraffe Manor. I grew up visiting it’s neighbouring Giraffe Centre, a breeding programme for the endangered Rothschild giraffe, most days after school (frequently feeding the giraffe from my mouth, driving the tourists wild, and driving my poor mother to absolute distraction!) I would often gaze onto the Manor ahead, dreaming one day I would live there, alongside my wondrously leggy and lashy friends.
Giraffe Manor was built in 1932 by Sir David Duncan, half an hour outside Nairobi, on 12 acres of picturesque private land, next to 140 acres of forest with stunning views of the Ngong Hills. In 1974 Jock Leslie-Melville and his American wife Betty, who founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), bought the Manor, bringing with them two baby Rothschild giraffe, the first of many generations to inhabit the estate. After Jock passed away, Betty opened the house up to visitors, and to this day staying at this colonial residence, and having giraffe poking their heads into the dining room looking to share your breakfast, is one of THE most unforgettable experiences you can have in Kenya, if not Africa.
Well, my dream of owning Giraffe Manor sadly did not come true, but I did have two wonderful recent opportunities to visit the Manor. Before Christmas I was invited for breakfast with my sister and my niece Willow. Willow, a New York resident, was six months old and on her first trip visiting her mother and aunt’s beloved Kenya. Sharing darling Willow’s first meeting and greeting with my giraffe pals was so unbelievably special. Not an ounce of fear in her little body, my niece launched forward to touch Helen’s face, who seemed far more interested in the grain pellets I had in my hand than the tiny baby poking at her eye (a relief to us all as as these gentle giants have been known to give a ferocious head butt if irritated… I unfortunately, albiet amusingly, have a couple of experiences of this!... OUCH!)
Steering clear of the warthog, hilariously funny to watch following the giraffe around in the hope of finding discarded food, but obviously less baby friendly, we ate delicious pancakes and enjoyed fresh juice and coffee to the accompanied sounds of Willow’s excited shrieks.
Then earlier this year, I was asked, alongside some other bloggers and journalists, to stay at Giraffe Manor for the night by The Safari Collection, the latest owners of the residence and several other luxury holiday hot spots around Kenya. I know… I say it time and time again, but my job does NOT suck. Reminiscent of the homes existing in Kenya’s colonial heyday, a time when my grandparents were living in the country, the hotel is cosy and romantic, and a little insight into a bygone era.
After a wonderful morning visiting the elephant orphans at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, we returned for a lovely lunch (munch, drool and slurp!) on the Manor's sunny verandah. We were then left to enjoy the Manor in it’s entirety for the afternoon. There are spa services available, a gift shop and copious wildlife photography books, and famous colonial Kenyan’s autobiographies scattered around the sitting room and library for your perusal; an entirely relaxing environment. That is, until 4pm, when non-residents can now venture in for their afternoon tea. This is a brilliant time to explore the nearby boutiques or historical attractions (feeding giraffe, as experienced with Willow, can cause extreme excitement and squeeeeals!)
After a delicious red wine fuelled evening dinner in the candle-lit dining room we all sat by a roaring fire (Langata, and Karen where I was raised, can be notoriously chilly at night due to their high altitude) drinking our choice of tea and sharing stories. Old-school elegance at it’s best.
Sadly, no giraffe came to my window the next morning but boy, did Ed over-compensate for that at breakfast! One of the larger males, Ed showed no desire in waiting his turn in line, as he repeatedly lunged through the dining room windows towards our plates of pancakes and fruit – totally hilarious, and yes, like I said, an unforgettable experience that only this unique property afford you.
Yes, some of the bedrooms in the main house are a little basic and could use a minor lift… Yes, the wifi frustratingly only works in the Manor’s extension, and not in the main house… BUT, lest we forget, YOU GET TO EAT BREAKFAST WITH GIRAFFE!! And for that amazing reason, these small details are easily forgiven. A brilliant, and beyond special, start or end to your holiday in Kenya.
Below: Could my giraffe-tastic SENSO IDA XI mandals beeee anymore perfectly placed?!
TLC ON TOUR... GIRAFFE MANOR SUITCASE:
(Click on the items below for their direct links)
Below: Willow's experience at Giraffe Manor clearly stayed with her. When back in New York she immediately went to kiss her giant toy giraffe, a trick her naughty Aunty maaay have taught her! See below (and hover for links) on some of Willow's favourite 'Sophie La Girafe' toys and products.