Three hours’ drive from Nairobi is hilly Nyeri, often overlooked in favour of Nanyuki. But it’s a refreshingly cool and pretty base for the Aberdares and Solio ranch, and boasts several serene places to stay ranging from homestays to a more formal country club.
SANDAI HOMESTAY AND COTTAGES
Forty minutes from Nyeri, Sandai is more of a homestay than a hotel. Guests are welcomed into Petra Allmendinger’s eclectic home, and have the choice of the four original rooms, self-catering cottages or rondavels or a bigger house for families and friends. African prints and colourful quilts reign supreme here, giving every room an individual and homely feel. Two rondavels with a shared kitchen (although fullboard, or individual meals are available) sleep between two and four, while two larger wooden cottages sleep 5-6. The bigger house on the edge of the homestead sleeps up to 8, and has gorgeous views over to Mt Kenya. Meals – with a healthy bent – are served up on the patio of the main house, with Petra almost always in residence, whether it’s just hosting, or running various yoga, painting or wellness retreats. Activities on the farm include horse riding into the neighbouring Sangare ranch, where plains game roam. Rooms cost 60 euros (approx Ksh 6,000) pp sharing FB; Ksh 7,000 s/c for a rondavel; Ksh 14,000 s/c for the cottages, and Ksh 18,000 s/c for the larger house.
ABERDARE COUNTRY CLUB
Probably the plushest place to stay in the locale is the Aberdare Country Club, a sprawling property comprising cottages, health spa, pool and its own nature conservancy. Drop-ins are required to pay a Ksh 500 day fee just to visit. Once ensconced in the hotel, however, you’ll find yourself in something of a haven, with the main dining area overlooking large, hillside gardens, where peacocks roam. Cottages are very comfortable, if a little on the small side, with fireplaces, but no television. A larger, deluxe cottage, comes with more modern furnishings, and of course, a supersize TV. Activities include horse-riding, nature walks to see giraffes and other plains game, golf, and tennis. If you’re planning a visit to the Ark in the Aberdares, it’s booked through the club. Cottages start from Ksh 17,450 FB.
This old colonial hotel, built in the 1920s, oozes history, and is a place for those looking more for nostalgia and fine gardens than mod-cons. Indeed, it feels like little has changed in the last 50 plus years, with dark wooden panelling very much a feature of this Nyeri mainstay. The sitting room is less than cosy, and the rooms are a little rough around the edges, but the standard doubles with wooden floors looking out onto well-manicured lawns are hard to beat. There are no mosquito nets or fans, but in Nyeri’s cool evening climes, these are arguably scarcely needed. Even if you’re not staying, consider dropping in for a outdoor buffet lunch in congenial and peaceful surroundings. B&B starts from Ksh 10,600 per room, sharing.
This 45,000-acre attractive private conservancy 30 km north of Nyeri on the Nyahururu Rd has been a huge success story for the breeding of black rhinos, and is credited with saving it from extinction. It is the one place in Kenya where you’re guaranteed to spot rhino, both the black and white rhino – and not just one or two, but quite possibly dozens at a time. Within the park is the exclusive and upmarket Solio Lodge, run by the Safari Collection, while about a five-minute drive from the conservancy is Rhino Watch Lodge, the more affordable option. Solio is pricier for locals than the national parks, but a worthy day trip if staying in the area. Entrance costs Ksh 3,000 for both residents and citizens, and Ksh 500 for a five-seater car
There are numerous entry points to the Aberdares, but Nyeri brings you close to the Salient, where both Treetops and the Ark are located. Unlike the western park of the park – think moorland, waterfalls, peaks – the Salient is more densely forested, and has frequent rains. A popular hike to the Western part of the park is Mt Lesatima at 4,000 metres, doable in a day from the Nyeri side. With its flora and fauna more reminiscent of a Northern European landscape – although replete with buffalo and elephant – this park offers a very different experience to most safari. Entrance costs Ksh 300 for citizens, Ksh 1,030 for residents. For those seeking to enter via the Ark gate, you’ll need to obtain permission first (readily given) from the KWS HQ in Mweiga.
BADEN POWELL HOUSE AND GRAVE
Lord Robert Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts Association and the Girl Guides, lived three years until his death in 1941 in Nyeri in Paxtu House on the grounds of the Outspan hotel. He once wrote, “The nearer to Nyeri, the nearer to bliss.” Every February, scouts commemorate his memory, descending in their thousands on Nyeri. Besides the hundreds of scouting scarves adorning the walls, there’s been a decent effort to bring out some of Baden Powell and his wife Olave’s lives through photographs, old letters and other memorabilia. In town is the grave of Baden-Powell, well-kept among the overgrown graveyard. It’s worthwhile pottering around the graves, mainly those of Europeans as well as a small corner given over to military graves. Admission to Paxtu House: Ksh 300.
ITALIAN MEMORIAL CATHOLIC CHURCH
Situated about 200 metres away from where Google Maps would have you believe (and 5 km north of Nyeri), this attractive church, situated at the top of a tree-lined boulevard, is a sobering reminder of the high death toll of Italian prisoners of war in captivity in British East Africa during the Second World War. This church was opened in 1952, and houses the remains of some 700 Italian soldiers who died during the war, including the Italian commander in East Africa, the Duke of Aosta. Each has a plaque with their name and regiment inside the church. The Italian community holds a remembrance mass here every second Sunday of November. Hoot at the gate for admittance, but otherwise ask at Caritas to contact the caretaker. Admission free.