The first in three-part Kenyan travelogue, Gina Baksa heads for Nairobi and a stay at the iconic Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel
Landing in Africa to be greeted by her life-affirming, body-warming sunshine is always a joy. Azure sky, red dust, lush vegetation and the ever-present buzz of traffic and people. Our car is waiting to take us to Nairobi’s most iconic hotel, Fairmont The Norfolk. Haunt of the Happy Valley set, Churchill, Hemingway, Roosevelt; princes and politicians, the original vision of hotel baron Abraham Block is now privately owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and managed by Fairmont.
Located directly opposite the University and Kenya National Theatre, Fairmont The Norfolk was Nairobi’s first luxury hotel (opened in 1904) and still stands a proud sentinel of a by-gone age. Well located in lush private gardens, The Norfolk’s 170 rooms and suites are well protected. Security is tight. Massive grill gate slides across the driveway entrance; bags and bodies are scanned before we can reach the cool spaciousness of the veranda and reception inside.
The Cin Cin lounge bar just off the vast lobby area features a selection of paintings by local artist Coster Ojwang. Curated by William Ndwiga of Nairobi’s acclaimed Little Gallery, Coster’s landscapes and portraits are vivid with colour.
Walking past Lord Delamare Terrace, Tatu restaurant and the T Lounge, I’m soon in the quiet, shady courtyard garden with its palms and green grass. It’s hard to believe I’m in the centre of a city of more than 3.3 million.
My room is a gorgeous Deluxe Veranda room in the two-storey 1937 wing that overlooks this peaceful green oasis. Spacious with a separate lounge area – and beautiful Kenyan roses, a lovely touch – and even a terrace for breakfast. Air-con is efficient, there’s a capacious power shower and the design is modern yet retains its 19th-century glamour and charm. For further luxury choose either the Karura or Signature Suites with elevated views of the courtyard.
We have massages booked for our group, so I happily doze on a sun lounger by the heated outdoor pool (warmest pool ever) before my aromatherapy session. There’s a well-equipped gym here at the Pambo Health Club, but I haven’t the energy!
Surrounded by high hedges and trees, the pool area is overlooked by adjacent buildings, but this doesn’t interfere with my relaxation. Hotel cat Regina appears for a cuddle, before vanishing into the foliage.
Exploring the hotel post massage bliss, I discover the T Lounge, serving traditional English High Tea and Snacks, and the Cin Cin bar – great staff and service – with its outdoor terrace.
We have lunch at the adjacent Lord Delamare Terrace. An all-day dining restaurant specialising in Pan-African cuisine with a strong Kenyan focus. There are myriad stations and super food. Breakfast is served here too. It’s a large space but very comfortable and relaxed.
Cin Cin served up superb G&Ts before dinner at The Norfolk’s award-winning Tatu restaurant. An inspired menu of local specialities and international favourites, I had a superb salmon ceviche in coconut milk, with avocado and red radish for starters. As well as a taster of crispy fried crocodile (surprisingly tasty). Meat features highly on the menu here, as you’d imagine, with superb choices from various steak cuts, lamb shank and ostrich burger. I opted for the ostrich burger for mains. Again, a surprisingly tender cut cooked in caramelised red onions. Our 2013 Catena Alta Malbec was a medium-bodied delicious accompaniment to the meat dishes. Book ahead for a fabulous chef’s table experience under the expert eye of Head Chef Aris Athanasiou.
Sleep that night was deep and very welcome. Heat and altitude – I’d forgotten Nairobi is at 1,795m – made me weary and the reminder to pace myself.
It’s a rosy-fingered dawn (I’m up early) the following day with a backdrop of excited birdsong and a subtle hint of the heat to come. A magical time to enjoy breakfast in my room. Coffee excellent. Huge fruit bowl, excellent scrambled eggs and delicious local jams with croissants.