It’s a memorable way to arrive in Nairobi. Straight out of the airport, next to the first roundabout a herd of wild zebra are grazing. “Look,” says Joseph my driver, “they’re here to personally welcome you to Nairobi.”
It’s late, which is a godsend, as Nairobi traffic can be challenging to say the least and luckily it’s way past rush hour. So in under 30 minutes, I’m in the warm and comfortable embrace of Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel; still looking beautifully elegant and serene after 114 years.
It seems I’ve struck lucky; the Harry Thuku signature suite no less, one of only nine speciality rooms, each one themed around an influential figure from Kenyan history.
At first glance the hotel looks like a comfortably large colonial house. The lobby resembling a well-heeled someone’s front lounge with deep settees, varnished wood and period furniture. Yet wander further inside and the true depth of the hotel reveals itself. Four acres of mature tropical gardens, an open courtyard surrounded on all sides by 170 guest rooms on two floors and behind all this, an outdoor pool, health club and spa. Dotted about the courtyard lawns are a few pieces of vintage transport, remnants of Nairobi’s origins as a pioneering safari town.
Upstairs, my signature suite doesn’t disappoint. I am sure the great man would have approved. A huge lounge, plenty of comfy furniture and a large flat screen television. A generous balcony rests outside overlooking the tropical courtyard below. Best of all for me, a functioning kettle and plenty of that delicious Kenyan tea tucked away in a period style sideboard. The bathroom is wall to wall marble with a shower cubicle and separate bathtub, while a pride of Miller Harris luxury amenities decorate a nearby shelf.
The bedroom is dominated by a huge king bed dressed with the right kind of linen for me. The kind that silkily wraps you up and takes on a journey of peaceful slumber.
It’s getting late and I’m looking forward to my slumber journey, but first, it’s back downstairs for a quick bite and nightcap out on the Cin Cin bar terrace. The late-night tapas menu is a welcome friend and I order a plate of hot salted almonds and an intriguing dish of watermelon, halloumi and sesame seeds. I washed them down with a glass of Tusker, the local brew, and tune in to my fellow guests chattering about their various wildlife adventures at Fairmont’s two other Kenyan properties; The Mount Kenya and Masai Mara Safari Clubs.
Morning dawns hot and sunny and after a glorious breakfast buffet in the hotel’s legendary Lord Delemare Terrace (named after the British ex-pat who famously rode his horse through the restaurant), I spend the day touring Nairobi’s often overlooked attractions. The National Museum and its Cradle of Humankind exhibition exceed my expectations, but over in the very smart Karen/Langata districts, the Giraffe Centre and the Elephant Orphanage are the showstoppers. Astoundingly, the huge Nairobi National Park manages to offer a genuine wildlife experience whilst still remaining within the city limits. The drive through Nairobi away from bustling downtown offers a kaleidoscope of local colour; roadside stall vendors, parks, leafy suburbs and markets.
Returning to the Central Business District and the tranquillity of The Norfolk I gratefully accept a hot scented towel, the concierge beams a “welcome home Mr Andy” at me and I sit and sip another glorious cup of Kenyan tea.
My world is complete once more.
A relaxing massage and an indulgent nap later, I’m back downstairs to sample Tatu, the Norfolk’s fine dining restaurant. It’s leather tablecloths, mono prints of tribal characters, orange and brown tones and open plan kitchen are in complete contrast to the hotel’s authentic colonial theme. There is an emphasis on quality dry-aged Angus steaks here but plenty of seafood and vegetarian options too. Smart service and the theatre of the open kitchen which, incidentally, has a chef’s table to witness the culinary magic close up, is an excellent example of Kenyan fine dining done very well.
There are many things Fairmont The Norfolk does exceedingly well. The Lord Delemare Terrace has moved on from its yesteryear reputation as an after-safari watering hole. Its daily buffets are imaginary, particularly it’s themed weeknights and the Sunday brunch banquet, with its free-flowing Prosecco and Bloody Mary’s included in the price. The hotel ambience is one of refined elegance equally matched by the service. It is a place with real character, far removed from the bland corporate feel you find in many other international brands.
After 114 years, this grand old lady on Harry Thuku Street is doing very well thank you.
I swear I can almost feel her smiling.
Images of Norfolk Courtyard, Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Park and Tatu food (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Fairmont The Norfolk
Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel Harry Thuku Rd, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254 20 2265555 Fax: + 254 (0) 20 2216796
Sunday Brunch at the Lord Delamere Terrace – Ksh 4,000 per person (approx.: £28.50 per person)
The Fairmont Classic Bush Safari (2 nights at The Norfolk, 2 nights at Mount Kenya Safari Club and 3 nights at Mara Safari Club) – approx £5,400 per person sharing – full board accommodation inclusive of local flights and transfers.
Getting to Kenya: British Airways offers direct flights to Nairobi with fares from £474 return, and includes its new World Traveller catering.