ME­DIEVAL: The ho­tel has a crenel­lated roof, char­iot seats at the check-in desk, an­cient mo­tifs em­bed­ded in the floor, a dun­geon room for late evening en­ter­tain­ment, and a Ro­man-type out­door am­phithe­atre for events

The East African - - MAGAZINE - Kari Mutu, Spe­cial Correspondent

Ta­faria Cas­tle and Coun­try Lodge is a unique hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion in the cen­tral high­lands of Kenya. Ge­orge Ta­faria Wat­itu and his wife Eu­nice chose the gen­tly rolling hill­sides of sheep and dairy farms as the lo­ca­tion for the ho­tel.

Ta­faria opened in 2012. Waititu says he was fas­ci­nated by the ar­chi­tec­ture of Euro­pean cas­tles as a child, so he de­signed a ho­tel that looks like one.

We drove up a paved drive­way to the front of a sandy-brown cas­tle with rounded tower cor­ners. The staff wel­comed us with a re­fresh­ing glass of ap­ple juice. From the ho­tel you can see the Aber­dares range in the west and, on a clear morn­ing, the sum­mit of Mt Kenya in the east. Art­work and sculp­tures around the gar­dens are by top Kenyan artists such as Bertiers, Longi­nos Nag­ila and Kevin Oduor.

The ho­tel has me­dieval fix­tures such as a crenel­lated roof, char­iot seats at the check-in desk, an­cient mo­tifs em­bed­ded in the floor, a dun­geon room for late evening en­ter­tain­ment, and a Ro­man-type out­door am­phithe­atre for events. A huge crown hangs over the large wooden doors that lead into the re­cep­tion area, which has a mish­mash of dé­cor with dif­fer­ent coloured so­fas that do not quite blend. It seems as though in­suf­fi­cient thought went into merg­ing the styles of fur­ni­ture and fix­tures.

After a has­sle-free check-in, we were led down flag­stone path­ways to our rooms. The ex­te­ri­ors of the 48 rooms are de­signed in dif­fer­ent styles with names from the mid­dle ages. The Knights Quar­ters look like mini-cas­tles, the Viking’s Quar­ters are tented rooms, and the Lord’s Court on the up­per floor of the cas­tle is re­served for VIP guests. I stayed in a Damsel Room that re­sem­bles a small town home fit­ted with mod­ern ameni­ties, as are all the other rooms. This re­gion gets cold at night, so the hot­wa­ter bot­tles in the beds were wel­come; some of the larger rooms have fire­places.

The lights along the path­ways are shaped like the mush­rooms that sprout overnight when it rains. How­ever, a num­ber of walk­ways had no lights, and nei­ther does the pe­riph­ery fence, so one had to be care­ful walk­ing around at night.

A colour­ful out­door gym, an im­i­ta­tion of sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties found in Euro­pean parks in the sum­mer, was more pop­u­lar with chil­dren than grown-ups. I did not mind that our tele­vi­sion did not work as we spent most of our time out­doors. There is also an archery field. We opted to go on a horse­back ride.

Later, it was too rainy for a swim so we sat in a par­lour with a fire­place. The chil­dren, be­tween the ages of six and 16 years, en­joyed rid­ing around on the ho­tel bi­cy­cles.

One af­ter­noon dur­ing our stay, we went on a ride in a plush white car­riage pulled by two white horses and guided by coach­men in tail­coats and tophats. The ride took about five min­utes, and was more of a photo op­por­tu­nity than a real ex­pe­ri­ence of me­dieval trans­port.

The ex­pan­sive din­ing room has high ceil­ings, tall win­dows, and bright red chairs around linen-cov­ered ta­bles. It was buf­fet ser­vice for break­fast, lunch and din­ner with enough hot food op­tions although the salad se­lec­tion was lim­ited and desert items of­ten not re­plen­ished.

We wanted to or­der from the menu at lunchtime, but the waiter in­formed us that it would take about an hour to get our meal so we gave up and ate off the buf­fet line. On our first night, the power went on the blink re­peat­edly and the gen­er­a­tor was not work­ing prop­erly, so din­ner was mostly eaten in dark­ness as there were few can­dles avail­able.

The cook­ies and scones served with af­ter­noon tea were de­li­cious. The restau­rant ar­ranged a bar­beque one evening, which was a nice change from chaf­ing dish meals, although smoke from the fire kept blow­ing into the din­ing room.

One morn­ing, the ho­tel or­gan­ised a morn­ing game drive in Land­cruis­ers at So­lio Con­ser­vancy, about 45 min­utes away. This pri­vate wildlife ranch is spread over open grass­lands, aca­cia forests and wet­lands with a river run­ning through it. We spot­ted lions, gi­raffes, buf­falo, an­telopes, white rhino and sev­eral bird species, es­pe­cially by the swamps.

Pic­tures: Kari Mutu

Ta­faria cas­tle.

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