Nairobi was named the world’s best city to visit in 2024. The perfect base for exploring it? This boutique hotel, which drips with colonial elegance… and is just 20 minutes from the airport

MailOnline Travel's Fiona Hardcastle checked into House of Waine in Nairobi, Kenya


‘I don’t want to go to a museum. I don’t want to look at a market. I just want to lie down. I’m shattered.’

It is a rare moment of surrender for Felix, 11.

But then anyone who lands at Wilson Airport in Nairobi – named the best city to visit in 2024 by Lonely Planet – after a week-long safari will understand the deep exhaustion that comes from seven days of dawn starts, eight hours of bone-jangling daily game drives and the Have-I-Lost-My-Mind exhilaration that comes from staring leopards and lions in the eye as they devour their kills in front of you and living to tell the tale.

The brain is overloaded. The heart is full. But boy, the body needs a rest. And ideally a dip in waters that are not teeming with hippos and crocodiles.

As our jeep weaves through the morning chaos, streets alive with workers and hawkers, I begin to wonder if we will ever find an oasis of calm before we board our flight home the next morning.

MailOnline Travel’s Fiona Hardcastle checked into House of Waine in Nairobi, Kenya

The family-run hotel features one suite (Malaika above), 10 rooms and a self-contained cottage

The family-run hotel features one suite (Malaika above), 10 rooms and a self-contained cottage

Large wooden doors lead into the lobby of the boutique property

Large wooden doors lead into the lobby of the boutique property 

A taxi careers towards us, the pink neon strip on its windscreen shouts: ‘God is the answer!’

He may well be, but our needs are more urgent and centre around the essentials of peace, quiet and, preferably, a pool.

House of Waine, a boutique hotel twenty minutes drive from the airport, turns out to be just the place for a spot of emergency R and R before boarding a flight back to England.

Set in the leafy suburbs on Masai Lane, its sweeping entrance through a gated driveway gives a hint of what’s to come.

Formal front gardens frame this gracious manor house and a colonial air hits you as soon as you’re inside.

A polished stone lobby gives way to gleaming teak floors, tasteful modern furniture and a choice selection of African art.

Double doors lead out to a courtyard from which manicured gardens fan out on both sides. Palm trees shade the sun loungers that line the swimming pool while canopied tables and chairs are dotted across the lawn.

Fiona's son Felix was particularly impressed with the outdoor pool, even though it is unheated

Fiona’s son Felix was particularly impressed with the outdoor pool, even though it is unheated

Above is the house of author Karen Blixen (now a museum), where she was inspired to write the novel Out of Africa in 1937

Above is the house of author Karen Blixen (now a museum), where she was inspired to write the novel Out of Africa in 1937

Not even the famed Karen Blixen Museum or the David Sheldrike Wildlife Trust – both landmarks a stone’s throw from the hotel – can lure us outside.

Felix is begging to jump in the pool – his first of the week – but first we are shown to our rooms.

Rose, 17, and Evie, 16, are led back to the main building and taken upstairs to ‘Tembo’- the Swahili for elephant – a spacious and bright double room looking down onto the gardens.

To Felix’s delight, the rest of us are led back to the pool and given the keys to a charming cottage tucked away behind a hedge.

With its own veranda, stylishly furnished sitting room, dining area, fully equipped kitchen, and two bedrooms with sparklingly clean en suites, it could be a family home for a week. We have just one night so there’s no time to lose.

Eager for their own space at last , the girls announce they will do their own thing. Rose takes a book to the garden while Evie, reunited with WiFi, assumes prime position on the balcony at the front of the hotel.

Fiona stayed in The Cottage (above), which has its very own veranda and fully equipped kitchen

Fiona stayed in The Cottage (above), which has its very own veranda and fully equipped kitchen

With a double room and one single, The Cottage provided the perfect space for Fiona's family

With a double room and one single, The Cottage provided the perfect space for Fiona’s family

Rooms at House of Waine start from around $420 (£330) a night at the time of writing. Above is one of the hotel's communal areas

Rooms at House of Waine start from around $420 (£330) a night at the time of writing. Above is one of the hotel’s communal areas 

I can’t wait for a long hot bath and am soon pottering around in a fluffy white robe and slippers, flicking through the cottage’s selection of illustrated hardbacks on African life.

Felix tears to the pool, terrorising his father to join him in the bracingly cold water. Like a saint who must submit himself to ever colder temperatures, he does – on the agreement that within the hour we are all to meet at the shaded seating area for our first board game of the holiday – Ticket To Ride: The Heart of Africa, our latest fix of this insanely competitive series.

As ever, an hour whizzes by in a heated bout of family rivalry and geographical domination.

Relaxation soon gives way to recrimination as routes are foiled and victories dashed. Strangely, we feel ourselves again and are ready for dinner. Although we’d better stop sniping before the starters arrive.

Fiona's daughters, Rose and Evie, stay in a 'spacious and bright double room' (above) called 'Tembo' (Swahili for elephant), which looks down onto the gardens

Fiona’s daughters, Rose and Evie, stay in a ‘spacious and bright double room’ (above) called ‘Tembo’ (Swahili for elephant), which looks down onto the gardens 

Fiona and her family spotted leopards, lions and hippos on their Kenyan adventure

Fiona and her family spotted leopards, lions and hippos on their Kenyan adventure

Baby elephants in the Nairobi National Park orphanage

Baby elephants in the Nairobi National Park orphanage

The dining room at the front of the hotel is a pleasingly formal affair, all hushed tones, starched white tablecloths and attentive waiters in smart waistcoats. The food, while nudging ever so slightly towards the old fashioned, is well presented and the portions are sizeable.

Red snapper and steak Diane are hits with the meat eaters, while the vegetarians are content with their aubergine pasta and potato bake.

A hearty bottle of South African Chardonnay prepares the ground for bed. The thoughtful addition of piping hot water bottles nestling under the covers on our return to our rooms only eases us closer to sleep.

We awake refreshed and as ready as we’ll ever be for a 4,000 mile flight.

House of Waine has made us whole again. And renewed this Big Five with enough energy to face our journey home.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Fiona was hosted by House of Waine, where rooms start from around $420 (£330) a night at the time of writing. Visit www.houseofwaine.com.

PROS: Colonial elegance. Calm service. Outdoor (although unheated) pool.

CONS: Slightly dated restaurant food.

Rating out of 5: 4. 

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