Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor: Our full report

Rooms
10 double or twin rooms and 2 family suites
Traveller's rating
Excellent (98%) From 12 reviews
Children
Good for all ages.
Open
1 June to 30 April

A temple to the benign cult of the giraffe, Giraffe Manor is one of Kenya's most popular luxury lodges. Originally built in 1932, it has been a country house hotel since 1984. Most of the hotel's patch of land comprises the Giraffe Centre, and a group of these gentle creatures roams the grounds. They visit the house and gardens daily to be fed through the windows. If you're aiming to stay here, book as early as you possibly can, as rooms are often taken a year or more ahead.

Located in the southern part of Nairobi’s suburb of Karen, Giraffe Manor was founded by the US conservationist Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband Jock, who bought the house in 1974, rescued it from dereliction, and opened it to guests in 1984. It was bought by its present owners in 2007.

With the original building in the style of a Scottish hunting lodge, the hotel now has two main buildings – the original Giraffe Manor or Main Manor, with six rooms, and Garden Manor, a six-room annexe architecturally in keeping with the original, that was first completed in 2011, and extended with two further rooms in 2017.

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 all on the ground floor of the original manor house – the comfortable lounge, furnished with a mix of armchairs, sofas, occasional tables and artworks, and the famous breakfast room, known as the 'Sun 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's sticky tongue. Also in the main house is a formal wood-panelled dining room, where dinner is served to guests who dine together at the large table. At the south-east corner of the main manor is the library - a cosy hideaway with books, board games and TV, for evenings or rare indoor days.

The Garden Manor has its own manorial hallway and staircase, stylish sitting room and formal dining room. Behind the Garden Manor, there's a separate, small conservatory or greenhouse called the Orchid House, where people sometimes have private dinners.

Between the main house and the Garden Manor is a pleasant courtyard patio 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$65).

All twelve rooms and suites at Giraffe Manor are en-suite and well furnished, but the eight superior rooms are noticeably larger and/or have better views, than the two standard rooms, and are slightly more expensive. For an idea of how much it costs to include Giraffe Manor in your safari, please look at our two-night stay costs. These costs show the per-person cost in various currencies based on two people sharing a double or twin standard room.

Please note that rooms in the Garden Manor can only be booked by people who are also staying at one or more of Giraffe Manor's sister properties: Solio, Sasaab or Sala’s Camp.

All the rooms at Giraffe Manor are named after living or former giraffe residents of the manor grounds. Incorporated on the first floor of the main manor are three superior rooms:

  • Jock, a fine twin room with two queen-sized beds on the south-east corner above the library;
  • Betty, with a king-size, four-poster bed and a big sofa, on the south-west corner above the Sun Room;
  • Daisy, with a double bed convertible to twin beds, on the north-west corner, above the Sun Room.

Behind Jock on the east wing are Giraffe Manor’s two standard rooms:
  • Marlon in the middle, with windows looking east, which can be a double or twin;
  • Lynn on the northeast corner (double only).

The adult giraffes come to the south-facing windows at Betty's Room and to the south- and east-facing windows at Jock's Room from about 6.30am onwards, so if you're keen to get lots of giraffe-feeding photographs, then these rooms are the two to go for. Daisy is also a good third choice: Daisy and Betty share a lovely, first-floor patio terrace above the Sun Room, from which it is easy to stoop down and feed the adult giraffes through the railings, even though it's a good five metres (16ft) above ground level. You'll need to be on your hands and knees, though, and only the tallest of the giraffes can reach.

The Karen Blixen Suite in the main manor is a huge room usually used for families, with a double and a single on its ground floor and a mezzanine with twin beds 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 Finch Hatton Suite) are superior standard and you can sometimes feed giraffes from Kelly and Helen.

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.. In June 2017, two new rooms opened in the garden manor – Edd and Selma.

All the rooms on the property are equipped with hairdryers, torches, safes, designer toiletries – and small buckets of giraffe pellets of course – but there are no locks from the outside on the doors in the Manor House (Garden Manor rooms are lockable, and all rooms can be locked from within). All the rooms have UK-style, three-pin sockets and you can charge equipment or use hairdryers at any time. Superior rooms all have bath tubs (the three standard rooms do not), and Jock, Betty, Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen have big fireplaces – you may well want to have a fire lit on a chilly July evening.

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. You can do this a breakfast time in the Sun Room, or out on the terrace at tea time in the afternoon. If you’re staying in the Garden Manor, or your group is large, you should make a special request for a time to have breakfast in the Sun Room, as tables may be occupied by Main Manor guests.

The Giraffe Centre, which gives Giraffe Manor its raison d'être, is run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife to conserve rare Rothschild giraffes, and it’s open daily from 9am to 6pm (no charge for Giraffe Manor guests). You can feed and photograph giraffes from the high-level viewing platform here.

While at Giraffe Manor (between the 11am checkin and 10am checkout) you have use of a driver and vehicle for any local excursions you wish to make. Local visits around the suburb of Karen include 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 galleries and shopping centres. 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.

To visit Nairobi National Park, it’s best to book an early morning or late afternoon visit in advance with Expert Africa, as the lodge has to organise a suitable 4x4 vehicle (additional costs). You can also spend the day volunteering at a One Horizon feeding centre in one of Nairobi's slums (additional costs) - which is about as far from Giraffe Manor in every sense but distance as you could possibly imagine.

Our view

Giraffe Manor is a unique and charmingly eccentric country house hotel that has enduring appeal. When it first opened, it was neck and shoulders above Nairobi’s other places to stay. Our many visits, and finally a stay in Betty's Room in 2017, have convinced us that it’s still one of the best places around the city. Having long outgrown its early novelty appeal, Giraffe Manor is somewhere to which people can happily return over and over again. The frequent difficulty of getting a room here, often as much as a year or more in advance, is testament to its allure.

Geographics

Location: Nairobi, Kenya

Ideal length of stay: 2 nights

Directions: By day, allow one hour for the transfer to/from Wilson Airport, and two hours to/from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). Arriviving late at night into JKIA, we reached Giraffe Manor in 25 minutes.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Tanya and Mike Carr-Hartley.

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. The eggs are full-flavoured, with rich, yellow yolks, and the toast crisp and seedy.

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.

If you arrive very late, off a flight for example, you will be offered a later supper. We had a very good chicken pie and mange-touts, with some excellent red wine, fulled by a sticky, chocolate pot.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included, except Champagne, luxury spirits and premium wines for which there are set charges. You can also put in special requests in advance which will be supplied at cost where possible.

Further dining info: Breakfast is eaten in the Sun Room, a conservatory-style room at the west end of the main manor, which is the daily venue for the famous giraffe-feeding when the giraffes crane their necks through the large windows for pellets. Guests usually eat lunch in the outdoor patio area between the main manor and the garden manor and dine together in the evenings around a large table in the formal main manor dining room. Arranged in advance, you can also eat in your room. Betty and Daisy rooms share a first-floor patio/roof terrace, which is a popular spot for a romantic dinner.

Special interests

Photography holidays: Giraffe Manor is a wonderful place to get close-up photos of giraffes. It also makes a very appropriate venue for photographing special occcasions. If you prefer to have this done by a professional photographer, Giraffe Manor can lay on a photo shoot at extra cost.

See more ideas for Photography holidays in Kenya

Children

Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: Feeding giraffes at the house and visiting the giraffe centre itself are both very popular with children.

Equipment: Cots and highchairs are available.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Mains Electricity

Power supply notes: There's a backup generator.

Communications: There's free WiFi throughout the main manor and garden manor. There are good mobile signals for most networks.

TV & radio: There's a TV in the library in the main manor.

Water supply: Mains

Water supply notes: The Nairobi Water company provides treated water for the plumbing, while drinking water is decanted to flasks and jugs from bought-in supplies.

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: High Risk

Security measures: The giraffes around the grounds have a gentle demeanour but they are very large and can kick, so guests need to observe house rules when getting anywhere near them while outside. The manor has round-the-clock security, including a guarded gate.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all the buildings and Giraffe Manor’s fire policy is detailed in the room packs.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service is included, and takes 24-48 hours depending on the weather.

Money: There are digital room safes in every room. Foreign exchange is available or can be facilitated at nearby forex centres. There are ATMs at nearby shopping centres in Karen, which can be included in your excursions in lodge vehicles.

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.

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