Our experience began in Nanyuki the gateway town to The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille. My wife and I had traveled by plane all the way from the Masai Mara in the southern part of Kenya that morning back through Nairobi and then on up to Nanyuki.
We were greeted with warm smiles from our guide-turned-friend Timothy. A true Masai, standing over 195 cm, Timothy was in fact a gentle giant with a great sense of humor. The moment we packed our bags in the open-aired Land Rover and shared a few laughs as we headed on our way, we knew we had a special chemistry with Timothy that would carry us through the entire visit.
On the drive Timothy shared great insight about the beautiful region he called home, its people, wildlife and was also forthcoming with details about the challenges they were facing. He was university educated at the University of Nairobi (studying Conservation) and was the exact person we had been envisioning as our guide given the goals of the visit were as much about education from this foremost community-based conservation tourism property as it was about relaxation.
After an easy and picturesque 1.5-hour drive we began to ascend to a small peak with villas perched up high overlooking the valley below. The setting sun was perfectly hitting the property and rich orange tints and shiny overtones could be seen from the unique roofs and large glass windows of the villas. ‘Is that where we are headed?” I asked Timothy. “It most certainly is!” he replied. All of a sudden the Land Rover was switch-backing up the peak making for a most dramatic entrance to the property.
Upon arriving at the property we were welcomed personally by the owners, John and Gill Elias. They invited us over to the outdoor terrace reception area with beautiful seating carved into adobe retaining walls and 270-degree views of the valley and Ol Lentille peak in the distance. We enjoyed a welcome drink and brought them up to speed on our journey, learned more about their background and vision for the property and the numerous amenities to enjoy. They were most gracious hosts and it felt very much like they were welcoming us into their home. We loved them from the start. Before concluding, they introduced us to the support staff dedicated to ensure our visit was of the highest standard, which included Chris, our diligent butler, and Anne, our friendly valet and general villa-keeper. They pampered us and took such great care of us from start to finish.
On the short walk from reception to our villa, The Eyri, Chris gave us a tour of the property stopping at the pool terrace, which offered expansive views of the west valley (great for sundowners) and an impressive study / library. We also met our Spa attendants and scheduled visits for the following day for a couples massage and pedicures. It was a great to get that scheduled as we knew the bumps of being out in the safari vehicle during the day would be soothed by the spa staff once we returned!
We ascended the final few steps from the study/library to our special hideaway villa perched at the top of the rock peak. We were so excited to see the plush accommodations that would be “our home in the bush” for the next few days. The Eyrie house was nothing short of stunning and decorated in African retro style. The house featured one en-suite bedroom (perfect for honeymooning couple as we were) and an adjacent sitting room with open fireplace, fully-equipped entertainment system and a stocked bar for apperitifs and nightcaps after dinner. The house also included indoor and outdoor dining areas – we enjoyed morning breakfast out on the deck and candlelit supper in the circular, private dining room.
The unforgettable feature of the Eyrie house was the circular bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the room with a perfectly complemented and gigantic round bed. It was only a few steps through the French doors centering the room to reach our own secluded outdoor double rock batch with a world-class view over the rugged hills and Ol Lentille peak in the distance.
Every special touch was considered upon arriving in the room. Our bags had been unpacked and clothes neatly placed in the drawers or hung up. A full turn down of our room took place while we dined that evening, including hot water bottles under the covers given the cool nights common in August / September, additional water, reading materials and even our soiled clothes had been removed to be laundered. My wife and I love lavender and they included this around the room, even placing it on a stack of clean towels as a cute finishing feature. We were in heaven!
The cuisine was fantastic. We thought this was cool – The meal you were having would always be featured on a menu card, and on the reverse would be the menu for the following meal. We found this very smart, and allowed us to make any small tweaks to the menu in the case of a specific preference or food allergy. The meals were prepared right in the adjacent kitchen of the house ensuring both a five star quality but with a very personal/homey feel. Chris was extremely attentive as a server/waiter and went out of his way on many occasions for last-minute requests we asked for while dining.
This five star quality food extended to all remote-based meals we enjoyed on the pool terrace one afternoon, sundowners and appetizers at the foot of Ol Lentille and for our traditional bush lunch under a beautiful treel in the centre of a driver river bed. Dining away from the house was always of the same high quality and I commend the team on their consistency. The food was always still piping hot, all utensils provided and comfortable chairs/tables to enjoy a perfect meal in the unique settings we enjoyed.
Our two days of activities in the local community rank among the most educational and touching days of our life. My wife is a photographer and was keen to shoot the surroundings and people – she was not disappointed! We made visits to two schools, a rural bank, hospital, water reservoir and a well that was under construction. All the tours were handled under the guidance of Timothy who would introduce us to the staff responsible for each outfit followed by a 20-30 minute informational meeting and tour of their facilities. There was always time to ask questions and the experience was eye opening.
On the second days of activities in the afternoon a private visit was arranged for us to visit a simulated village with the local people that gave us insight into life of the peope. Over 25 local people turned out to welcome us. We sang songs and danced to local music, learned how the they make fire and even got a chance to enter a sample hut to see an example of their living quarters. Finally there was an opportunity to purchase handmade crafts and art from the people. We brough home some amazing souvenirs that we will cherish forever.
The two days in the community brought a whole range of emotions that were both inspiring, fun-loving and humbling. The work Ol Lentille are doing, led by John and Gill, is nothing short of unbelievable given the short timeframe. But, there is still so much work to be done and with challenges across education, healthcare, water issues, food and conservation it’s hard to define what issue should take precedence.
The fact is that they are all important, but my opinions leaned towards water being of the greatest importance. Water is the foundation. With a steady source of clean water you can irrigate, have drinking water as well as reserves for cooking/cleaning. With this in place it makes tackling the other issues a whole lot more realistic. It’s a struggle that is common to many parts of Africa and left an impression on my wife and I that more has to be done. We want to learn more about the issues and figure out how we can help. We have another trip planned to Africa for late 2012.
After the steady pace of activities over two days, we retired back to The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille. First order of business each day was relaxing massage treatments to ease out the tension in our back/neck from the bumpy roads The spa therapists rejuvenated us for the evenings and made us sleep that much better. It was a godsend!
On the final evening, John and Gill joined us for dinner along with a good friend of theirs staying with them. She had visited the property earlier in 2011 and it left such an impact that she went home to the UK and raised over $5,000 to help build a drinking reservoir for the elephants. She loved animals and wanted to help so was back in Ol Lentille to begin the project. It was an evening full of thought provoking conversation, story-telling and laughs. We will never forget it.
The following morning we said our goodbyes to the staff and Timothy returned us to Nanyuki airport for the flight back to Nairobi. John and Gill are doing a wonderful job with the property and surrounding initiatives in the community – it was great to support their drive. Their passion in providing unique luxury experiences and commitment to our fellow man is amazing. They are true philanthropreneurs in every meaningful measure, quenching their entrepreneurial spirit and doing unbelievable good while they are at it.