There is so much to love about Olepangi Farm, a place where cliche hospitality industry phrases like “home away from home” and “slice of paradise” indeed find true meaning. And so we stepped through the looking glass and began to wonder and wander.
Photos: Brian Siambi
We were promptly checked into our individual rooms to freshen up before lunch. Olepangi has five cottages including the impressive Round House which has a bedroom on its upper floor and an outdoor bathtub. Mine had a wide four-poster bed dating back to the British Raj, and it even had a bare-breasted angel curved onto its headboard, a fixture I am certain has a backstory I am yet to unravel. The farm does all of its own water harvesting and there is therefore hot and cold running water in the solar powered rooms. The best thing about my cottage was stepping out onto the wooden floorboards of the front porch each cold morning and taking in the sheer beauty of the green Lolldaigas. The highland air was so clean, crisp and fresh that it made the breathing motions of a meditative mindfulness practise I have been cultivating all the more powerful.
Pondering over my stay weeks after, I have since come to the conclusion that the very soul of Olepangi Farm is its owners, Elizabeth and Clinton, who opened this spot in 2012 having built it up from scratch (Under the Tuscan Sun comes to mind, but Elizabeth is yet to write a book). It has indeed been a passion project. There are plenty of bright flowers blooming all around the property, and coupled with all the snapdragons placed in vases around the common areas, they are all grown on the farm. Most of the food is also organic and farm to table, with everything being grown here ranging from lime, guava, avocado and spinach to sunflowers, beetroot, squash, papaya and pomegranates.
This personalisation extends to the decor which can best be appreciated from the grass thatched Party House, a space where bohemian maximalism is at play. Within its high ceilings, it houses a dining area, bar, drawing room with a fireplace for those cold Timau spells as well as an admirable collection of books covering one wall, because the pair believe that “one can simply never have too many books”. The rugs are oriental, the furniture is antique, armchairs are comfortable and there are numerous objets d’art, largely beautiful treasures that speak to the culture of the places they have visited. Clinton has been to 100 countries while Elizabeth has been to 93, but she is quick to point out that there is 13 years between them so there is a bit of friendly competition going on on that front. On our first evening we are having wine by the fireplace while trading stories and laughter like lifelong friends thanks to “the Elizabeth effect” which you will discover for yourself when you visit. “Where did you get this pillow?” I ask, pointing to an intricate and colourful decorative pillow propped against a wall.
“That is from the Banjara tribe in India,” she says. “They are nomadic pastoralists, much like gypsies. They travel all over India and are very colourful in their clothing and craftsmanship, and they actually make this pillow as a bridal dowry piece which the girl carries to her new home after the wedding. I’ve been collecting these for years. I was at Portobello Market in London and there was a stack of them, and the guy didn’t know what he had! When he said they cost between 20 and 30 pounds, I bought them instantly.” Elizabeth also tells me about a blue bowl she got in South Asia. “It is Herat and very old, maybe 700 years. I bought it on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan when I was traveling through there in my 30s. I had collected a bunch of stuff in Peshawar and was running back to the airport when I saw it, and I had nothing left but $40 and sunglasses- which I traded for the bowl!”
Outside the Party House, Adirondack chairs adorn the wide wooden deck which sits on a cliff overlooking a river, croquet pitch and swing bed below. The breakfast deck also sits under a towering tree and overlooks the river which is said to sometimes attract elephants, zebras, elands and impalas.
Olepangi’s stables hold about 18 horses and riding is therefore a key focus here. Firmly clasping the reigns of beaut called Domino while secretly hoping the name is not a hint at its temperament, we go through beginner basics such as good form for walking and trotting. We then set off on a one hour horseback ride changing pace as is comfortable while truly appreciating the beauty of the landscape as though we are indeed one with the wild. Talking about Olepangi would not be complete without mentioning its pets. First there is Colonel Lawrence who given his remarkable height and size is said to weigh about 70kg, an impressive feat for a dog. He is however the friendliest of chaps and will delightfully slobber all over your hand if you let him. There is also Zsa Zsa and Ginger who take sibling rivalry to a whole new level. If you pat one’s head and call her a good girl, might as well do the same for the other just to keep the peace.