William Holden was a Hollywood great. He starred in over 60 films, was nominated for an Oscar three times (winning it once, for his role in Stalag 17) and was even best man at Ronald and Nancy Reagan's wedding. And then he fell in love.

In 1959, with his career flying high after success in The Bridge on the River Kwai he chanced upon Mawingo – a house at the foot of Mount Kenya, meaning "clouds" in Kiswahili – and realised he'd found his dream property. Holden may have arrived on the slopes of Mount Kenya as a hunter, but his attachment to the house, with its magnificent views of Kenya's highest peak, turned him in to a conservator and transformed Mawingo into the Mount Kenya Safari Club.

The original property was built in 1938 by an American heiress but was bought by Holden in 1959, who created the Mount Kenya Safari Club. Over the years the house expanded with the addition of wings and garden cottages, and an extensive redevelopment is just reaching a conclusion: the Safari Club now boasts 120 rooms. Visitors have the chance to stay in a place that's long been good at attracting star quality; a long guest list reads like an Oscar-night red carpet roll-call: Churchill, Mountbatten, Lyndon Johnson, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope have all checked in.

It's highly likely that many of those famous names stood as I did, rooted to the spot, when they first saw that view of Mount Kenya. Whether you're in the white marble reception, leaning on the hand-carved bar or eating in the restaurant, the mountain always seems to be in your field of vision. Just in case you need a closer look there's a new viewing area equipped with telescopes. If the attraction proves too great, the hotel can organise climbs to the summit.

I looked for less energetic pursuits. Riding, bowls, croquet, swimming, golf and nature walks are all on offer. However, I opted for a short walk to the nearby animal orphanage at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, where I was given an introduction to the bongo. You need to be somewhat of an insomniac with excellent eyesight and good fortune to spot this rarest of antelopes in the wild, but at the conservancy it's the subject of a breeding and repatriation programme.


Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, Nanyuki, Kenya (00 254 20 216 940; www.fairmont.com/kenyasafariclub). The hotel is at the northern foot of Mount Kenya, around 10 minutes' drive from the town of Nanyuki.

Time to international airport: The hotel sits almost precisely on the equator and is a two-and-a-half hour drive north east of Nairobi. Alternatively it is a 40-minute flight from the capital (with Air Kenya or Safari Link) to Nanyuki.


Probably because it entertains so many illustrious names and honeymooning couples, the Mount Kenya Safari Club prides itself on its privacy – although the views are so magnificent that you may never want to draw the curtains. The garden cottages don't have the feel of a hotel at all, with their parquet flooring, private patios, comfortable sofas and log fires that the temperature sometimes demands. But whether you stay in a cottage, a room or a junior suite, there's always the chance to dine by candlelight at the river, eat bush breakfasts, or lose yourself in the hotel's very own maze.

Don't be fooled in to thinking that the strutting peacocks are the only wildlife in these parts, either. Buffalo and elephant can often be seen from the game viewing area – and where else do striking black-and-white Colobus monkeys peer through the windows as you're eating that obligatory part of Kenyan cuisine – a full English breakfast with HP sauce?

Freebies: Shampoo, body lotion, bath and shower gel as well as drinking water; tea and coffee are provided in superior rooms.

Keeping in touch: all rooms come with flatscreen TVs and direct-dial phones; internet is available in the business centre and complimentary Wi-Fi is available in the lobby.


Double rooms start at $428 (£245), full board.

I'm not paying that: Naro Moru River Lodge (00 254 20 444 3357; www.alliancehotels.com), situated on the western slope of Mount Kenya, has doubles from €140 (£117), half board.