On the outer periphery of Nairobi National Park, perched on the elevated cliff at the bank of the Mbagathi River, Ami Doshi Shah finds Ololo Lodge, an unexpected gem of a place.
Abafflingly stressful Monday morning at work had gradually led to an eager anticipation for later that afternoon when my husband and I drove through the Kenya Wildlife Service main gate of Nairobi National Park where we spotted three bored impalas with Nairobi’s sprawling skyline as a backdrop. We could have admittedly tried a little harder in a park teeming with wildlife to search for game, but on this occasion being self confessed glampers, the desire to make the most of our one night at Ololo Lodge won over.
A 35 minute drive through the park and we arrived at Ololo Lodge, crossing a wooden suspension footbridge that swayed gently with our movements and up a gravel pathway to the property. Thatched roofs, exposed raw stone masonry walls and cottage windows softened by English garden landscaping sat unobtrusively overlooking a horizon of acacias and waist-high straw-coloured grass that swayed with the wind from an incoming rainstorm. The earthy addictive smell of rain in the distance wafted through, and I find it interesting that this has a name – petrichor.
Over some homemade pistachio biscuits and coffee, we learned from the manager that Ololo Safari Lodge has been operating for 2 years now and as such, has been organically growing its client base over that period. It was originally a family home owned by Australian couple and tea tree farmers, Joanna and Craig Chapman. Having bought the property over a decade ago, they conducted extensive renovations of the existing colonial farmhouse over the years and eventually decided to turn their hard work into a hospitality business, which now includes Old Stables, Stable Rooms, Terrace Room, The Tower Room and Tented Cottages, bringing the total to 12 rooms with a three bedroom family cottage.
Inside the property, the incredible attention to detail and clear passion for creating a casual space without foregoing eclectic design sense became obvious. Framed sketches and intricate drawings of wildlife interspersed with contemporary landscapes hang on almost every wall. A mixture of Scandinavian style sofas and armchairs were combined with antique dressers and four poster beds with authentic touches of local materials. The spaces exposed a love for beautiful objects – put together and styled effortlessly as magazine- worthy vignettes.
Our evening was as special as our first few hours. I soaked in our clawfoot tub with dried lavender bath salts, and this was blissful. We had dinner in the open dining room gorging on homemade arancini and a delicious savoury tart with tender steamed asparagus and finished off with a glass of wine next to the roaring fireplace in our room.
The main reminder of the proximity of Ololo to Nairobi’s urban sprawl was the commercial airliners flying above the National Park to and from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport occasionally interrupting the lullaby of frogs and crickets.
There was something truly special about the opportunity to experience and enjoy someone else’s home. Something comforting in the feeling that every space and room was put together in a unique yet deliberate way and that even the glazed terracotta water jug in our room was personally chosen and not bought en-masse. If you don’t enjoy that level of intimacy, Ololo Lodge, or any family-run boutique property, might not be the right place for you. For us, the chance to get away from the maddening Nairobi pace (and dare I say, my kids) within an hour and for a night while still experiencing the solitude of the bush and home in this whimsical country-style property was magic.