Giraffe Manor is a unique and delightful place to stay in Nairobi.
Giraffe Manor: Our full report
Originally built in 1932 in the southern part of Nairobi’s suburb of Karen, in the style of a Scottish hunting lodge, Giraffe Manor has been a country house hotel since 1984. Most of the property’s roughly 700m by 800m (0.6km2) patch of land comprises the Giraffe Centre, run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife to conserve rare Rothschild giraffes. A group of giraffes live permanently in the grounds and neighbouring bush and regularly visit the house and gardens to be fed through the windows.
Giraffe Manor was founded by the US conservationist Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband Jock, who bought the house in 1974 and rescued it from dereliction. The hotel now has two main buildings – the original Giraffe Manor with six rooms, and Garden Manor, a four-room annexe architecturally in keeping with the original, that was completed in 2011.
Giraffe Manor’s style hovers somewhere between playing at lord of the manor and doing it for real. The quite formal physical surroundings are tempered by a focus on comfort and a practical informality of management style that places guests’ needs at top of the agenda.
The main shared areas of Giraffe Manor are in the original manor house – the comfortable lounge, furnished with a mix of armchairs, sofas, occasional tables and artworks, and the famous breakfast room, where the resident giraffes crane their heads every morning through the huge windows to feed on giraffe pellets that guests are encouraged to offer them (some guests are even up for a ‘giraffe kiss’ – holding a pellet between the lips for it to be retrieved by a giraffe). Also in the main house is a dramatic, rather formal wood-panelled dining room, where dinner is served for guests who want to eat with the manager-hosts.
The Garden Manor has its own manorial hallway and staircase, stylish sitting room and formal dining room.
Between the main house and the Garden Manor is a pleasant courtyard area, which is the usual location for lunch, or for guests wanting to eat dinner privately. To the left of the Garden Manor is a shop that carries a good range of interesting and stylish crafts and souvenirs, and a treatment room (one-hour massage US$60).
All ten rooms at Giraffe Manor are beautifully furnished, but the eight superior rooms are noticeably larger and/or have better views, than the two standard rooms.
- Incorporated in the main house are four superior rooms – Jock (two double beds), Betty (double) and neighbouring Daisy (twin or double) and the Karen Blixen Suite – and Giraffe Manor’s two standard rooms – Lynn (double only), Marlon (twin or double). We thought double-aspect Daisy, which can be a twin or a double, was very pretty, and it shares a patio with Betty’s room. The giraffes habitually visit the first-floor windows in the main house, so if you’re very keen to get lots of giraffe action, then the two front-facing, first-floor rooms here – Jock and Betty – are the ones to go for: Jock is a very fine twin with two queen-sized beds on the east corner and Betty, which has a four-poster and a big sofa, is a magnificent double with a lovely patio on the west corner. The Karen Blixen Suite is a huge room usually used for families, with a double and a single on its ground floor and a mezzanine with twins accessed by a spiral staircase.
- The Garden Manor has been beautifully built to stay architecturally close, and as far as possible similar in details and furnishings, to the main house. Being set back from the main lawns, you don’t get the same degree of giraffe interaction here, but all the rooms (Arlene, Kelly, Helen and the Karen Blixen Suite) are superior standard. Not surprisingly, the bathrooms in the Garden Manor rooms are more contemporary in style than those in the main house, with glass-walled walk-in rainfall showers and features such as Kitengela stained-glass windows and skylights. There’s a large, family suite – Finch Hatton – with a big, four-poster bed plus a single on the ground floor and twins in a loft/mezzanine area, and three lovely first-floor rooms – Kelly which can be a twin, triple or single and features a skylight and Kitengela glass, Helen, a twin or double, and Arlene which is a double.
The most popular activity at Giraffe Manor is simply relaxing: there’s a blissfully comfortable atmosphere here and the sort of staff who tend to anticipate your habitual needs, whatever they may be – cold beer, cup of tea, snack, glass of water. Meeting, feeding and observing the delightful Rothschild giraffes is itself hugely enjoyable, and particularly fun for children.
Local visits around the suburb of Karen include Nairobi National Park, the Elephant Orphanage run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the Utamaduni crafts shop, Kazuri Beads (a very worthwhile community jewellery workshop employing homeless women), the Karen Blixen Museum and several small sculpture galleries. When you stay at Giraffe Manor, transport to visit all of them is included, but entrance fees, where applicable, are extra. Only visits to the AFEW Giraffe Centre itself, across the lawn, are included in the rates.
Our viewGiraffe Manor is a uniquely eccentric country-house hotel that has enduring appeal. When it first opened, it was neck and shoulders above Nairobi’s other places to stay. Although we haven’t spent the night here, we can’t wait to do so. Our visits have convinced us that it’s still one of the best places around the city and, having long outgrown its early novelty appeal, is somewhere to which people can happily return over and over again. The difficulty of getting a room here, even sometimes a year in advance, is testament to its allure.
Ideal length of stay: 2 nights
Directions: Allow one hour for the transfer to/from Wilson Airport, and two hours to/from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Breakfast includes homemade muesli, fruit and the whole works if you’d like a cooked breakfast.
At both lunch and dinner there is a set three-course menu. Lunch might feature: chilled pea and mint soup served with a chilli parmesan crisp, followed by red snapper kebabs with shredded cabbage rice and a chilli garnish and finising with a lime and lemongrass sorbet
A classic Giraffe Manor dinner might start with halloumi wrapped in red peppers infused with lemon and chilli and served with a homemade pesto, a main of poached fillet of beef with horseradish spinach and dauphinoise potatoes and dessert of tamarillo tart tatin with homemade vanilla ice cream (the tamarillo is also called the tree tomato, a plummy-flavoured relative of the aubergine)
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All drinks included, except champagne, luxury spirits and premium wines.
Further dining info: Yes, arranged in advance.
Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: Feeding giraffes at the house, visting the giraffe centre itself.
Equipment: Cots and highchairs are available.
Generally recommended for children: We would recommend Giraffe Manor for children. We think most kids would love the whole set up and the house is clearly very welcoming to them. However, parents need to be a little wary of mixing little ones with giraffe hooves and, if their children want to run around or play in the gardens, ensure they have enlisted the help of staff to clear the area of megafauna.
Communications: Free WiFi. In the main house, it’s available only on the ground floor, whereas in the Garden Manor it’s available throughout. A laptop is available for guests’ use. Good mobile signal.
TV & radio: There's a TV room in the main house.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Karen Hospital is a seven-minute drive away. There’s also a branch of Nairobi Hospital nearby that’s open 24 hours.
Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk
Security measures: Karen Hospital is a seven-minute drive away. There’s also a branch of Nairobi Hospital nearby that’s open 24 hours.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all the buildings and Giraffe Manor’s fire policy is detailed in the room packs.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: There are room safes. Foreign exchange is available.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa, MasterCard and Amex are accepted with no surcharge.