Having breakfast with a giraffe probably tops my kids’ list of best-ever meals, and while they may not remember what they ate, they will always remember the company and the setting. Giraffe Manor, on the outskirts of Nairobi, offers its guests the chance to live on the grounds of special giraffe sanctuary, and yes, to feed the glorious animals. Guests who check in to Giraffe Manor, can open their drapes in the morning and see a parade of beauties. Downstairs in the breakfast room, Lynn or one of the other gregarious giraffes will reach her head right in the window to request her morning pellets. Cosmos, the head houseman, serves coffee and eggs to guests while they, in turn, can feed the giraffes (and their companion warthogs). The handsome ivy-covered stone lodge, the kind you would expect to find in Scotland, has the trappings of many colonial estates—fine antiques, family portraits, well-worn books. However, in their love for animals the Leslie-Melvilles, the family who lived here for decades, went beyond collecting sculptures and painting of game. After a trip in 1974 to a Kenyan cattle ranch, Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville brought a baby endangered Rothschild giraffe home with them. At the time, there were only 120 of the species alive, and the Leslie-Melvilles were the first people known to raise a giraffe, which they called Daisy. Their initial success inspired them to acquire four more babies, which grew into a breeding herd, and eventually the Leslie-Melvilles were able to relocate offspring to reserves in Kenya and Uganda. There are now approximately 500 Rothschild giraffe living in the wild. A number of the descendants of the original Daisy still wander the 140 acres surrounding the manor. And with the breakfast ritual in place, sightings are guaranteed. There’s a wonderful ambiance in the house, which still feels like a private home, thanks to the family’s memorabilia. (Be sure to look for the book Raising Daisy Rothschild and other titles that Betty wrote documenting her animal adventures.) Guest rooms resemble those that you would find in the house of a grand elderly aunt with floral bedspreads and ceramic tiled bathrooms. Apparently, the manor has been sold recently, to the Carr-Hartley family, renowned safari operators, who will hopefully keep it intact. After all, if the children love feeding the giraffes, for their parents, a stay here affords the chance to step into an era of Africa that feels very distant but treasured. Rates $322.50 per person, with half board.
Who it’s right for: Since many international visitors going on safari in Kenya or Tanzania will need to overnight in Nairobi, this is a charming option that is especially popular with families. (When we stayed, a couple on their honeymoon from San Francisco were there as well as a couple from Boulder with their granddaughter.) You will feel that you are a guest in a friend’s grand manor house with Dr. Doolittle worthy breakfast companions. Most guests spend only one night and visit the adjacent Giraffe Centre after breakfast. The couple we met who had stayed two nights had also visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Trust and the orphanage for cats at the Nairobi Game Reserve.
Who it’s wrong for: This is more of a European-style guesthouse than a modern hotel, so those who want CNN and a mini-bar in their room are better off at the Norfolk.
Tip: Since there are only six bedrooms in the house, you need to reserve way in advance. If they are full, it’s worth putting your name on the wait list as spots do open up. You may also want to try to specify your room as not all have ensuite bathrooms. The best one for a family is the one above the living room, which has a master with a bathroom connecting to a room with twin beds for kids. It is also possible to reserve a day room if you are departing on a late flight from Nairobi.
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