Kenya pioneered the concept of bush homes that welcomed safari travelers long before this form of hospitality was adapted by other African safari countries. The early bush homes were originally family residences in the northern region of Kenya set on vast cattle ranches, that also teemed with wildlife of every description. They were warm, charming, cozy and guests were graciously hosted by the families that lived there. And this still holds true today.
Amongst this collection of bush homes, four extraordinary exclusive-use safari villas also welcome guests visiting the vast wilderness of the beautiful Laikipia Plateau. Each one has its own personality, its own charm, its own surprises. And surprises there are a-plenty. In fact, this is what sets them apart: an endless journey of discovery both indoors and out. Each was lovingly built by its owner and is still used by the family for their bush holidays. It’s this feeling of ‘these buildings were built with love and built to be shared by both the families who own them and guests who come to stay’ that makes these safari homes feel so authentic. They live and breathe.
There is only one Ol Jogi on the planet, never mind in Africa. And of one thing I am absolutely certain is that there will never be another. I had no idea what to expect but from the moment I crossed the threshold one line of school poetry buzzed permanently in my head: In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure-dome decree. A trove of priceless treasures does not come close to describing what guests discover here.
Forty years ago, the family who built Ol Jogi amassed a collection of art, artefacts and furniture that quite simply takes your breath away. Ol Jogi’s surprises are too numerous to detail but when you go – and please do – make sure you discover the hide, the cellar and the Moroccan-inspired spa. Remember to ask your host to take you to the rooms (plural) where the crockery, glassware and silver tableware are stored. Downton Abbey has nothing on Ol Jogi. And please also ask for the stories behind each beautiful item, many of which were crafted for the house by Kenyan artists. And all this set in 60 000 acres of wilderness, home to rhino, both black and white, and huge numbers of all the northern Kenyan endemics: reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, vulturine guinea fowl, Somali ostrich, beisa oryx and Jackson’s hartebeest.
Set high up on a ridge overlooking the huge Borana Conservancy with Mt Kenya to the east is Lengishu. The brand promise here is that Lengishu is an authentic Kenyan home. And it fulfils that promise in spade loads. From the moment you arrive you feel at home: kick off your shoes and flop down on an enormous comfy sofa and have a siesta. Even if you might snore a little who cares? It’s home after all. The owner created all the interiors, and they are gorgeous, especially the cheeky use of tartans, a nod to her Scottish heritage. What are Lengishu’s surprises? Beautiful gardens, a different setting for each meal, a snooker table, the pizza oven, and sundowners on the Pride Rock that inspired the creators of the Lion King. It is such an amazing setting, don’t be surprised if you burst into a loud rendition of The Circle of Life. I did.
Just down the road, well 40 minutes but in Africa that is around the corner, and tucked away into the gentle sloping game-filled landscape of the Borana Conservancy, sits the jewel that goes by the lilting name of Arijiju. A feeling of utter tranquility washes over you as you enter. Soft pink walls, a garden spilling over with jasmine, white roses, wild olive trees, and lavender which is surrounded by vaulted walkways and the sound of water running softly envelops you. Inspired by the great sunken cathedrals of Ethiopia, this lovely home feels like it has been here since long before time began. The hammam in the spa, the thatched roofed squash court, sprung floor naturally, the clay tennis court and fitness room are just a few of this home’s surprises. The food is fresh, light, plentiful and delicious. The service is sweet. Be warned – you may never leave. It’s that special.
And then there is Segera Retreat. My Laikipia home from home. Segera is not just a villa but a collection of beautiful villas, each with its own personality. The downside of this is that you must visit many times to experience them all. Set on a 50 000-acre ranch and tucked into a walled garden the Retreat also has its own secrets and surprises: the Explorers’ Lounge (home to letters penned by David Livingstone and Karen Blixen), a sleep out in the Nay Palad Bird Nest, a visit to GAAMY, the Gypsy Moth used in the filming of Out of Africa and tour of one of the world’s greatest African art collections. And all of this before exploring the ranch, home to lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, cheetah and more. Oh, I forgot to mention that the airfield is right at the front door.
Only in Laikipia.