Setting foot in Africa: a week-end in Karen (Nairobi)
"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills"
Karen Blixen’s words whispered by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa are among the ones that nourished my teenage dreams of setting off to explore the world, of settling down abroad to discover other cultures, of unleashing a profoundly romantic soul and of writing tales for my loved ones. This is to emphasise how high my spirits were when visiting Karen Blixen’s home in Nairobi and spending a couple of days in the gorgeous suburb that was named after her, Karen. If you are to spend a few days in Kenya’s hectic capital city, especially with children, this is where you want to stay. Hereafter you will find a list of all the wonderful activities and places we enjoyed thanks to our family living there.
Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen’ s former farm house, at the heart of Karen’s suburb, became a museum honouring her memory.
Stepping into that house for someone like me who has probably watched the movie Out of Africa dozens of times felt like going back to a very familiar place. The 19th century bungalow-style house stands in the middle of a green lawn, it is shadowed by gracious palm and pine trees and surrounded by colourful bougainvillea. The property is a heaven of calm and serenity.
The museum offers private guided tours which will take you through all the rooms of the one storey house with large verandas opening to the garden. Personal items of the Baroness are exhibited, they are reminders of her life in Kenya as a farm owner, a hunter, a writer and a painter. To me, it really felt like a house with a soul, one could almost hear the walls whispering the secret scenes they witnessed.
Educational wildlife activities
We went on a tour of the crocodile farm with a very interesting guide who introduced us to adult crocodiles, explaining their life-cycle and specific behaviours with live illustrations! We also got to hold baby-crocodiles and tortoises. The farm focuses on the conservation of these two species. This visit was extremely popular among our kids. I suggest you go early before the place gets busy.
The David Sheldrick wildlife trust
It was a long-expected visit as our son’s class in Hong Kong has been sponsoring a baby elephant from the trust for a year, the excitement of finally meeting little Esampu was great. We went for the morning visit of the baby elephants which is a highly educative and fun activity. You should be aware that it is a very popular outing and unfortunately it gets a bit too crowded. You should really arrive early to secure places on the front row. Else you can get in touch with the trust to organize a private visit which is only offered to sponsor-families. The conservation work of the trust is really remarkable and inspiring. I believe sponsoring a baby elephant is a wonderful way of raising the children’s awareness and getting them personally involved.
The Giraffe Centre
Yet another place where your children will learn a lot about giraffes and their conservation. They will also get a chance to feed giraffes directly from their hand. I believe visiting all these centres before we sat off for a week of safaris in Laïkipia was the best educational introduction for all of us. Getting to watch and admire wildlife with the awareness that all these species are endangered gives more meaning to the experience and invites us to take action.
Family-lunches at Karen’s best tables
This authentic colonial house was turned into a cosy B&B and wonderful outdoor restaurant offering the warmest welcoming to little ones. If you get a chance to be in Karen on a Saturday, go to Purdy Arms for lunch and enjoy the organic farmer market selling vegetables and fruits but also local arts and crafts. You will certainly enjoy unwinding under an umbrella while your kids will run around freely on the lawn from a make-up stand to a pottery atelier or further away to a mini-carting track. The food is nice and fresh with something to please everyone; the children may even bake their own pizza. The only problem… you will never want to leave and neither will the kids!
The Talisman is an institution in Nairobi. This “gastrolounge” is where families gather for week-end lunches in the beautiful gardens, where friends meet around a cocktail at the bar or in a comfy couch by the fireplace, where you can enjoy a fine dinner. We experienced the family-lunch and it was delightful. The kids were running out in the garden and at the playground while we, parents, enjoyed an exquisite lunch with all fresh products coming from the restaurant’s organic garden. We loved everything about the place from the lively atmosphere, the warm hospitality, the gorgeous setting and the fine food. A must!
The hotel is a wonderful place to go for an elegant lunch on the terrace overlooking the lush gardens and the iconic Ngong hills. The Brasserie type food is lavish, the service warm and very professional and the setting exceptional. Once again, the opened gardens offered free exploring and running space for our little travellers.
Where to stay in Karen?
Cosy B&B at Purdy Arms: https://www.purdyarms.com/bed-breakfast/
5 stars at Hemingways: https://www.hemingways-collection.com/nairobi/
Highly exclusive at The Giraffe Manor: https://www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/giraffe-manor/
Where to go next in Kenya?
Best safari experience, Borana in Laïkipia: http://www.borana.co.ke
My “coup de Coeur” on the coast, Peponi hotel in Lamu: http://peponi-lamu.com
Kite-surfers’ hideaway, Che Chale in Malindi: http://www.cheshale.com