Travel: 24-Hour Room Service: Mount Kenya Safari Club

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The Independent Culture
BUILT IN the Thirties, first by a rich widow and then by a rich divorcee (both of whom were accompanied by game-hunting lovers), there's more than a whiff of White Mischief about this luxury hunting-lodge-turned- hotel. In 1959 it was "founded" as a club by the Hollywood smoothie William Holden, and played host to the proverbial rich and famous: Lyndon Johnson, Bing Crosby, Lord Mountbatten. It still styles itself as Kenya's equivalent of Beverly Hills; MGM has built a studio in the Club's garden, and the houses of Stephanie Powers and John Hurt are in the grounds.

The hotel, set amid 125 acres of neat green lawns, offers the usual range of leisurely sports: there's a golf course, a tennis court and a bowling- green, as well as facilities for horse-trekking and fishing among spectacular scenery. But there's also an orphanage for lost game - cheetah, leopards and zebra - and marabou storks and Egyptian geese can be seen strolling nonchalantly across the croquet lawn.

When it gets nippy at night, people gather in the so-called Trophy Lounge, to be served drinks around the huge central log fire.

Location, location, location

Mount Kenya Safari Club, Nanyuki, Kenya (0176 30000, fax. 0176 31316, e-mail: lonhotsm@ for-net.com) On the equator, but at some 7,000ft, the club nestles in the foothills of Mount Kenya, the mountain whose snow- covered peak dominates every view - hence the hotel's nickname, "Mawinga", Swahili for "the clouds". There is a stylish on-site shop, full of soapstone chessboards and ebony animals, for those who can't bear the endless bargaining of the nearby market in Nanyuki.

Transport: Because it's a gruelling three-hour drive from Nairobi, many visitors instead use the airstrip, which makes for a quick half-hour hop from the Kenyan capital.

Time to international airport: Between that half-hour and the painful three. There are occasional flights direct to Mombasa on the Kenyan coast, and erratic buses that will, for a few quid, take you back to Nairobi via the Rift Valley.

Are you lying comfortably?

There are a variety of room options, from family villas dotted along the lakes to smaller singles and twins. All are tastefully spartan, with a wood-and-rug feel. They have ample bathrooms and beautiful coffee-tables inlaid with every imaginable sort of coffee bean and lentil. A warning, however: although the club is now a nature reserve, animal-lovers may be dismayed by some of the decor: tusks, skins and so on.

Freebies: Full board includes temporary membership of the club, so you will briefly be among the other elite members, such as the Aga Khan and President Daniel Arap Moi. Prices also include access to the golf course and, if you stay two nights, entrance to the game sanctuary. What to book: Definitely the "Presidential Suite", the centre-piece of the hotel's horseshoe which overlooks the pool and the mountain. The rooms are panelled with cedar-wood, and come complete with sunken Jacuzzis and antique bureaus.

Keeping in touch: The idea of this rural retreat is more to lose touch. Rooms are thankfully free of television sets, and for all mod cons you'll have to visit reception. There is also a swank boardroom, complete with all the office paraphernalia.

The bottom line

Prices vary enormously between villas, cottages and suites, but generally a room will cost about pounds 200 per night, full board.

I'm not paying that: there are discounts for residents of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and deals on extended visits.

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