CASTLE LODGE IN THE HIGHLANDS
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
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.