Kenya: Wild Awakening at Giraffe Manor, Nairobi

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Having Coffee with Sophie at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi

One of the many giraffes from Giraffe Manor in Nairobi on the patio. Janis Turk photos.
One of the many giraffes from Giraffe Manor in Nairobi on the patio. Janis Turk photos.

By Janis Turk

A wart hog and a giraffe at the door at Giraffe Manor.
A wart hog and a giraffe at the door at Giraffe Manor.

A giraffe awakened me on my first morning in Nairobi. Just after 7:30 am, I heard a sound outside my hotel window, so I cautiously opened the curtains. To my astonishment, there before me stood a giraffe peering into my second-story room, begging with her big brown eyes for breakfast.

Excited to be standing eye-to-eye with such a wild enormous creature, I cautiously opened the hotel room’s crank window just a little, only to have the giraffe push it the rest of the way open with her head. The gorgeous gangly girl had obviously done this before. Then, in a flash, her 10-inch tongue lunged toward a flowerpot-sized bucket of giraffe food pellets that the hotel staff had set on my window sill.

The giraffe (which I later learned is named Sophie) batted her long eyelashes at me, and soon I was fearlessly hand-feeding her. When two other giraffes in the garden noticed Sophie was getting breakfast (and all my attention) they ambled over and huddled their heads together below my window. Before I’d had my first cup of coffee, I’d enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime: breakfast with giraffes in Africa.

Safari Collection

Obviously, Giraffe Manor is not your average hotel. One of the fine properties of the Safari Collection of exceptional East African hotels and lodges, Giraffe Manor is a large English manor set on land near the former coffee farm of writer Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa) and is one of Nairobi’s most iconic inns.

Enchanting and enveloped in history, this elegant British Colonial-style manor covered in verdant vines is set on 12 acres of private land within 140 acres of indigenous forest in the Lang’ata suburb of Nairobi, and features green gardens, broad sunny terraces and lushly landscaped courtyards.

The giraffes use their long tongues to snag food.
The giraffes use their long tongues to snag food.

Harkening back to the 1930s when European visitors first flocked to East Africa to enjoy safaris, the ambience of Giraffe Manor, with its stately facade and elegant interior, is extraordinarily appealing.

The most fascinating thing about Giraffe Manor is not its historic manor house and adjacent designed-to-look-old new building, or its elegant interiors filled with antiques, roaring fireplaces, china cups and silver tea services, books and paintings: rather, it’s the herd of resident Rothschild giraffe that that greet guests there each day.

They visit morning and evening, poking their long necks into the windows in the hope of a treat, before retreating to their forest sanctuary. An adorable herd of warthogs, with chimney-sweep-brush-like tails held stick-straight in the air as they run, also are to Giraffe Manor born.

Coffee on the Terrace

Breakfast with the giraffes
Breakfast with the giraffes with guests.

After feeding the giraffe at my window, I took a hot shower in the black-and-white marble-tiled bathroom off my suite, and then I put on a hotel robe and went to sit outside and drink coffee on the terrace just outside French doors that open from my room (The Betty Suite, named for one of the giraffes in residence). The terrace sits just above the breakfast room of the inn, which I quickly realized was another place giraffe like to congregate for breakfast

The Giraffe manor on 12 acres in a forest in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Giraffe manor on 12 acres in a forest in Nairobi, Kenya.

From the terrace, I could see the giraffes coming toward the manor house, and in the distance the knuckle-like silhouette of the Ngong Hills, which Blixen wrote about in Out of Africa were still shrouded in a light mist leftover from the night’s steady rain. Clear skies above the clouds emerged as I watched the morning awaken to the wonders of Africa.

I dressed and walked down the stately wooden staircase into the great room of the manor. There, in the room’s arched front doorway, a staff member was feeding a large giraffe by hand.

I joined in the fun, even petting the giraffe, Betty, for whom my room is named, and then I wandered over to the breakfast room.

To my astonishment, the long necks of several giraffes were arched over the guests’ breakfast tables, and families were feeding the giraffe by hand.

Even children were taking part in the fun. The animals weren’t interested in our omelets, fruit and French toast; they only wanted their own little pellets. While their size is intimidating, the giraffes seem at ease with people and safe to feed.

The biggest concern is that they might accidentally knock their heads against someone, so the staff is careful to instruct guests on how to behave in the presence of these big, lovable (though sometimes clumsy-headed) creatures.

Lodge staff member with the friendly giraffes.
Lodge staff member with the friendly giraffes.

During a stay at Giraffe Manor, guests can continue to befriend giraffes by walking across the Giraffe Manor lawn to the AFEW Giraffe Centre to learn about the endangered Rothschild Giraffe or taing a guided walk around the giraffe sanctuary.

From Giraffe Manor, sightseeing vehicles can also chauffer guests around the area, the Lang’ata suburb of Nairobi, just east of the suburb of Karen. Local excursions include the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where guests can meet, feed and even adopt orphaned baby elephants, and visits to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage and Education Centre, where guests can enjoy a walking safari and see native African animals up close.

The nearby Karen Blixen Museum is another popular attraction for Out of Africa fans who want to visit the historic home of famed explorer and writer Karen Blixen, heroine of the movie and author of that book. The Kazuri Beads Factory and store is also another popular attraction; there local women make and sell colorful jewelry. Guests also enjoy visiting the acclaimed Matbronze Art Gallery and Foundry and the innovative crafts complex, Marula Studios . The cost of driver and vehicle are included in the room rate at Giraffe Manor, too.

Feeding time at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi.
Feeding time at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi.

Giraffe Manor is an exclusive British colonial boutique hotel reminiscent of its original 1930s grandeur with a Downton Abby-style elegance and subtle art deco features and four-poster beds. With eight superior rooms and two standard rooms, each space feels like a suite, and all are decorated in a unique style. All rooms feature spacious bathrooms, modern conveniences (such as hair dryers) and some rooms have fireplaces.

Wi-Fi and Big TVs

Of course, there is also Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and flat-screened large televisions in some areas, and there is laundry service available, too.

Each morning of my stay, guests fed giraffes at breakfast and each evening dined by candlelight in a formal dining room with leaded-glass windows with views of darling wart hogs and elegant giraffe.

The Manor’s delectable Continental cuisine, prepared by Chef Mwangi and his staff, is exceptional, so meals are a special event each evening at this inn. Even my vegetarian friends were impressed by the selections the chef had prepared to suit their dietary needs.

At Giraffe Manor, guests enjoy full-board during their stay, which means all meals and most drinks are included, as is all the giraffe food you’ll need to feed your tall new friends. As I left Giraffe Manor, I could see Sophie looking longingly toward my bedroom window and wishing I’d come back. I’m sure I will someday, and I hope you will too. You’ll never forget your first morning at Giraffe Manor.

When to Go:

Nairobi stands 5,889 feet above sea level, so it may be cool at night and warm during the day. As it is situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are minimal. During the months of June, July and August it can be colder, with temperatures as low as 35F. There are two rainy seasons, March to May and mid-October to mid-December. Global weather patterns are nowadays less predictable, so be prepared for all eventualities. Giraffe Manor, which is a property of the Safari Collection of exceptional East African hotels and lodges, is closed annually in May for maintenance. Visit their website at www.giraffemanor.com. For more information on travel in Kenya, go to MagicalKenya.org and to book a stay at this and other outstanding properties in Kenya, visit www.chelipeacock.com