Let me tell you about the most beautiful country manor in the charming, leafy suburb of Karen, Nairobi (named after Karen Blixen herself) where gentle giraffes actuallyjoin you for breakfast. And if you dare, they’ll even kiss you! Not to worry, their saliva has antiseptic properties, so you’re safe … but I can’t guarantee you won’t fall in love with these long-legged, long-lashed beauties.
Giraffe Manor had long been on my bucket list, so earlier this year I chose to kick off my birthday celebrations with my sister at the one-of-a-kind manor and it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience we’ll both never forget.
One of the friendly, knowledgeable &Beyond drivers will collect you at the airport and whisk you off to the world-famous manor, a must-see property for every Kenya luxury safari. Our comfortable, spacious vehicles have full wifi, so even if the streets of Nairobi are bustling, you can log on to pass the time.
As you reach the shaded, tree-lined streets of Karen, you’ll pass vibrant Maasai markets, selling everything from pineapples and cashew nuts, to woven baskets and brightly-coloured Maasai shukas. Eventually you’ll proceed through a large wooden gate and there, in all its original glory, is the ivied, stone manor set amongst 12 acres of private land within a 140-acre indigenous forest.
With a fascinating history dating back to 1932, the Manor was originally built by Sir David Duncan of the Mackintosh family … the sweet-loving geniuses behind the Rowntree Mackintosh confectionary, which produces famous family-favourites such as Quality Street, Smarties, Kit Kats and Mackintosh’s Toffee.
In the 60’s, the manor fell into disrepair and was temporarily occupied by peace-loving hippies until 1974, when it was purchased by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville. Every evening, as the couple sat on their veranda, three wild bull giraffes would visit them. They named the inseparable trio Tom, Dick and Harry, and not long after that, a friend asked them to look after a young orphaned giraffe named Daisy.
The manor soon became a sanctuary for the endangered Rothschild giraffes – at that time, there were less than 100 of these rare giraffes left. Betty went on to found the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) and the luxury suites at Giraffe Manor are actually named after the original donors.
During Betty’s time at the manor, the Rothschild’s giraffe population grew from 100 to more than 400. Jock and Betty are the only people to have ever successfully raised wild giraffe, and those giraffes have now grown up and produced their own offspring.
Jock sadly passed away at 52 and Betty eventually remarried and moved abroad. AFEW is still run by Betty and Jock’s son, and Giraffe Manor, now one of Kenya’s top luxury hotels, is now owned by The Safari Collection. Travel + Leisure recently named it the Best Family Lodge in Africa and the Middle East.
So here’s the nitty gritty. You need to arrive before 17h00 so that you can settle in, grab your camera and wander down to the front patio and order yourself a glass of wine. The butlers will bring out silver bowls overflowing with small pellets and, with just a few taps on the metal, you’ll soon see the giraffes emerging from the forested area and making their way straight towards you.
Like our own families, each giraffe has its own distinct personality. The matriarch Kelly is a bit of a bully, Stacy is a bit more shy, and then there’s gentle Jock who’s a bit of a class clown. The ousted matriarch, Daisy can be a little grumpy from time to time, and young Kamata is the journey’s (did you know the collective noun for giraffes is a journey or tower?) rebellious teenager.
The secret ingredient in the pellets is molasses, which the giraffes clearly can’t get enough of (they gobble down 65 kg a day!). Grab a handful and get up close and personal with the gentle giants. They’ll use their long, black tongues to lick the pellets right out of your hands … or from your lips, if you really feel like kissing a giraffe!
The sun will set over the famous Ngong Hills and you’ll drift off in your luxury suite, excited, knowing you’ll be having a truly once-in-a-lifetime breakfast with the giraffes the next morning. From 07h00, a wholesome, delicious breakfast is served downstairs, with giraffes poking their heads in looking for pellets, and those guests lucky enough to be in a front-facing room on the second storey (ask for the Kelly Room) can actually feed the towering giraffes from their bedroom window!
This is bucket list material. It’s the only place in the world where you can feed a giraffe from your bedroom window or have a giraffe peer its mighty head over your shoulder as you eat breakfast.
It was the perfect place to spend my birthday. In fact, it’s such an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience, that I had to go back TWICE on the same trip because one visit just wasn’t enough. If you’re planning a Kenya luxury safari, or you’re looking at ideas for fun-filled family holidays in Kenya, Giraffe Manor is an absolute must.