Upon my arrival at the hotel’s lobby, I am welcomed by Steve the Chief Concierge who will be taking me through the Heritage Tour. Steve is a long serving staff member and in my view the best historian I have come across. Moments earlier I was received by Mr.Paolo Marro, the General Manager at Sarova Stanley. He promises me that after the tour I am deemed to change my perception about Nairobi’s first luxury hotel. For me, it’s always been a 5 star hotel in the heart of the Nairobi CBD and as such I am beside myself with excitement and curiosity. I felt as one about to embark on a historical tour inside a museum.
We begin the tour at the entrance where a number of picture frames hang distinctly around the walls. Each Picture with a great deal of history pinned to it. The Sarova Stanley prides itself on being a monumental heritage hotel in Kenya. Having launched in 1902, the Stanley has played host to key figures including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her world tour in 1952.
The Stanley, also the oldest hotel in Nairobi was established in 1902 by English businesswoman Mayence Bent. It draws its name from Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh explorer. The Hotel had a capacity of 5 rooms and 15 beds. In 1904 , The Great Fire of Victoria Street set the hotel ablaze. She was however lucky to salvage the 117-year-old revolving door as well as a staircase that’s still in use today. The New Stanley, now ten times bigger reopened its doors again in 1915. How lovely it must have been to get exotic views of the Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya peaks from the hotel’s rooftop. At the time, The New Stanley was among the four big hotels in Nairobi, namely The Norfolk, The commercial and The Empress. The Hotel has had a series of owners including the Block’s and in 1978 the Sarova Group took over and renamed it back to the Stanley Hotel.
There’s an old antique telephone at the Lobby room that is still in good working condition. I am amazed at the preservation of history. We head upstairs to explore more. All this while, Steve is like a walking encyclopedia. The rich information I am being fed on is unbelievable. I am in awe of every detail of history presented to me.
I am delighted to set foot at the Exchange Bar. There’s an aura of power in this grand room. Perhaps it’s because of the exquisite furnishings and Victorian feel dotting every inch and corner of this room. The exchange Bar played host to the first Nairobi Stock Exchange establishment. Staring at the ceiling, I am met with the vintage Punkah-type ceiling fans. Steve mentions that they used to be operated manually by men. It was exciting to see the palm ceiling fans move in perfect formation as much as they are now electric. The exchange Bar without a doubt is no ordinary watering hole.
Steve informs me that we are now about to set foot in one of his favourite rooms at the Hotel. These are the Heritage suites which are named after prominent figures and places. They are one of the best room set-ups I have seen. These suites offer the most distinctive experience amongst accommodation options in Nairobi. I was particularly enchanted by the Karen Blixen Suite, The Lamu Suite as well as the Presidential Suite. Every room has a distinct personality attached to it. I was curious to know how much it would cost me to spend a night at these remarkable suites. Well, you can find out here.
We explore more rooms and all this while taking in the rich history associated with each one of them. Before winding up the tour upstairs, I am taken to the 1902 Club Lounge, an exclusive facility to some package holders. The room screams of executive vibes and for a moment I feel out of place in my casual wear. In addition to the exclusive boardroom access; specialized concierge services; whole day refreshments and city sundowners to wind down your day, the facility also offers you secretarial services. It’s personalized to meet your business needs even when on the move.
The cherry on the cake of this tour was a visit to the thorn Tree Cafe. I am amazed to learn that the restaurant traces its roots to a “Tree Mail”, which was a centrally placed Acacia tree that became a makeshift post office for travellers who left mail pinned onto its trunk. This pavement cafe, the first in Nairobi, evolved around the famous Thorn (Acacia) tree. To date, the third generation tree is still used by guests at the hotel who pin notes at the modern message board.
It’s well past one hour and I am wishing I could discover more and learn a lot more interesting facts from Steve. Every aspect of this tour has been enlightening. The beautiful aesthetics spanning from the hallways, to the rooms, the Churchill Ballroom and even the courtyard were a true delight. This is a tour worth taking up. Sarova Stanley is a historical charm and definitely has a story to tell.
Other Interesting Facts about the Hotel:
- In 1922, the serving of the first Tusker bottles took place at The Long Bar, the Stanley’s precursor to The Exchange Bar.
- Various prominent world leaders, renowned authors and international celebrities including Queen Elizabeth II, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Clark Ga-ble, Grace Kelly, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Frank Sinatra have stayed at the Hotel
The Heritage Tour is absolutely free of charge and open to the public upon prior arrangements with the hotel. It is definitely a good addition into your itinerary if you are visiting Nairobi. Even as a local resident in Nairobi, it would be nice to get a whole new overview of the hotel’s History and that of Nairobi as a whole.
Be sure to also book a stay at Kenya’s leading Heritage Hotel