Travel & Adventure: Facing Mount Kenya

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Every time I drive to Nanyuki, I laugh when we pass by Naro Moru and I see the lettering on the façade of a shop, “Facing Mount Kenya”.

Dream Destination: Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club

 

There’s nothing wrong with the name of the shop, it is indeed facing the beautiful and majestic mountain, yet it’s a pun on the book by our very first president, Jomo Kenyatta, that goes by the same title. And lately, it’s become the tag line of many a jokes around here.

Jokes aside, Nanyuki is a beautiful area lying in the central-east of the Rift Valley (yes, it’s not in Central Kenya). Just off the equator at 1° north, the town was started by British settlers during in the early days of colonial Kenya in 1907. Some of their descendants still live in or around the town. The town is today multi-cultural and is the market center for farms, ranches, game parks and wildlife conservancies in the region. (Wiki).

Nanyuki is sort of a second home for me, and I love popping into the Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club, or as many love to call it, FMKSC, when I’m around the town. Just before you get into Nanyuki town proper is the FMKSC, a stunning piece of colonial architecture set at the foot of Mt. Kenya. Welcomed by gracious and helpful staff, led by their General Manager Niall Cowan, you immediately feel at home as you walk through the halls and rooms in the club. Pampering is their middle name – by the end of your time there, you will wish you had booked for a longer stay. You’ll even feel more at home when you meet Tusker and Grammy, the two canine ambassadors. They work hard at making your day more beautiful and playful as they jump around, splashing in the ponds and chasing birds. Once they give you their adoring look, you will love them forever.

Tusker and Grammy, Labrador and Ridgeback Mixes

For those travelling to Nanyuki, it’s a great place to pop in for Sunday brunch and enjoy the exquisite cuisine prepared by the staff. With a huge welcoming buffet spread, you are hard pressed to choose from the selection of sumptuous meals and great wines to choose from. Just remember to spare some time for some dessert, and maybe some fresh Kenyan tea or coffee… or escape to ZeBar for a quiet drink later on as you watch Mt. Kenya darken in the sunset.

Brunch to die for!

The Mt. Kenya Club is filled with so much history and celebrity footprints. From William Holden who was one of the founders, you might run into others like Stephanie Powers once in a while. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot another founder, now a resident at the club, film director, producer and now author Ralph Helfer. He tries to be incognito most of the time, but the welcomes and laughter from the staff always sell him out.

Back in the days, with Ralph Helfer (R) and William Holden (2nd l), with a …erm.. one of Ralph’s Hollywood star pets.

Like many of East Africa’s pre-war dreams the then ‘Mawingo’ and now known to us Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club was born of a love affair, and one that had all the ingredients of an epic Romance, a handsome older woman, a dashing aviator and, for their playground, all of Africa. However, what gave the creation of ‘Mawingo’ its sparkle was the unlikeness that almost typical of the spontaneous, champagne years that gave the Kenya of the 1930s its notoriety.

Rhoda Lewinsohn was married to a millionaire financier from New York. She had everything: a philanthropic husband of good social standing and two grown-up daughters, but also a rare ability to enjoy life to the fullest. She took upon herself to come to Kenya on holiday, and her life changed from that moment on when she met Gabriel Prudhomme . Rhoda divorced her then husband and discarded her life, marrying Gabriel in Paris and settling in Kenya to live at Njoro.

The William Holden Cottage

Rhoda and Gabriel were anxious to build their own home and had chosen as a setting an enchanting expanse of forest and field at the foot of Mt Kenya near Nanyuki. After acquiring the property from a Mrs. Wheeler from San Francisco the Prudhommes started to build immediately and completed the house in a year. It was Rhoda who gave the house the name ‘Mawingo’, the Kiswahili name for ‘the clouds’ that so often skirt the slopes of Mt Kenya. The Prudhomme Mt Kenya idyll lasted just a year before the onset of World War II shattered it in 1939, when Rhoda returned to New York. Tragedy ensued. Having fought for the Free French in Algeria, Gabriel flew to the United States to rejoin Rhoda but, without the sparkling air of the Kenyan highlands to nourish it, their relationship soured.

Mawingo was bought in 1948 by Abraham Block, who extended the house and turned it into an Inn. In 1959 the film star William Holden stayed there with his friends Ray Ryan and Carl Hirschmann, the latter a Swiss Banker. They were in the middle of a shooting safari, and Ray Ryan needed to recuperate, having sustained a cut eye from a gun recoil. All three men succumbed to Mawingo’s charm. They bought the property and turned it into one of the most unusual and exclusive Clubs in the world, ‘The Mt Kenya Safari Club’. Following his death, it has now become the William Holden Foundation.

Read the full history of Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club

As you walk around the hallways, go round one corner and drop into Mawingo Botique for a bit of shopping. Outside you will find amazing paintings by Susie Beveridge-Cowan. Her artwork is available at the Club or at Dormans Nanyuki.

Beautiful art by Susie Beveridge-Cowan outside Mawingo botique

You won’t get bored while you’re at the FMKSC: get into the swing of things and take on some horseback riding, golf, croquet, a bowling green, table tennis, swimming, a beauty salon, an animal orphanage and much more.

After a great weekend at the FMKSC, I was not ready to go home, despite the number of times I have been here. There’s simply no way you can have enough of it.

So, shall we have Sunday brunch?

Join the Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club Facebook Fan page and share your memories!

(Click on pictures to enlarge)

Pictures copyright Fairmont Mt. Kenya Safari Club, and Naomi Mutua

 

Accommodation at FMKSC

There are 120 standard and superior guest rooms spread throughout in the delightful grounds of the Fairmont Safari Club. Superior accommodation comprise of Suites and Cottages. All rooms feature a fire place, in room safe, a fully stocked mini-bar, tea and coffee facilities, separate bathroom and rain shower.

Activities:
There are many recreational activities available: horseback riding, golf, croquet, a bowling green, table tennis, swimming, a beauty salon, an animal orphanage and much more.
Please contact kenya.reservations@fairmont.com for specific information and recommendations.