A luxury resort nestled in a private conservancy in Kenya turns out to be a surprise gourmet destination.
The concepts of safari and luxury couldn’t be more far removed from each other – one is about roughing it out in the midst of wilderness, and getting back to nature; the other, man-made mod-cons and fine dining experiences that are all about pampering and indulgence. And yet, the luxurious Lake Elementeita Serena camp in Kenya seems to have effortlessly married the two, to give travellers the ultimate combination of creature comforts with real-life jungle creatures.
This is no ordinary tented camp – located on the banks of a pristine salt-water lake inside the Soysambu conservancy, this intimate resort takes rustic luxury to a whole other level, starting with the welcome glass of bubbly served on arrival. The reserve, a mere two hours’ drive from Nairobi, is home to hundreds of bird species, as well as the usual safari suspects, including herds of zebras, giraffes, water buffaloes and lots more.
The resort, nestled amidst acacia groves in the midst of the golden savannah, and overlooked by volcanic mountains, offers faux tent-style accommodation all offering direct views of the serene lake. The generously proportioned rooms (sorry, tents) boast private verandahs, four-poster beds and oversized bathrooms with luxury amenities. If you can tear yourself away from the room, the tastefully appointed lounge area – which looks like the drawing room of a wealthy aristocrat, complete with vintage memorabilia reminiscing a colonial heritage – is equally inviting.
You can choose to do as much or as little as you want here. Typical activities of a safari resort, ranging from game drives to bush dinners, are available, but I chose to go down the as-little-as-possible route. Waking up to exotic bird calls I’d never heard before and my morning cup of tea looking out to the flamingo-fringed lake from the verandah; lazy laps in the infinity pool; and relaxed alfresco lunches feasting on local produce was about all the exertion I put myself through.
The food at the resort’s fine dining restaurant is superlative – it never fails to amaze me how such gourmet delicacies can be rustled up in remote locations like this – and the service strikes that perfect balance between friendly and discreet. All four-course meals are served in a set menu style, with plenty of choices to satisfy any palate – from classic European flavours to Indian curries, and traditional African delicacies. Head chef Paul Mwara invests a lot of time in experimenting with different herbs and other ingredients in an effort to create unique, exciting new tastes in a constantly changing menu that reflects seasonal trends. “We get our ingredients from the freshest sources, and also make it a point to interact with guests, so we can incorporate their tastes and preferences in the food,” he says.
So, while you could be tucking into Honey glazed duck breast served with red currant gastrique and creamed potatoes one day, it might be a Pan fried escalope of milk-fed turkey with a cinnamon and raisin sauce the next day; a Spring panzanella could be followed by an oxtail soup; you could choose between a Beef wellington served with tarragon jus, or a Thai vegetable stir-fry; and a Baingan (aubergine) masala could compete for your attention with a Mattar paneer (Peas and cottage cheese curry). In spite of the diversity of cuisines, every dish is impeccably presented, and packed with flavour. The dessert options includes irresistible raspberry parfaits, chocolate terrines, and Armagnac crème brulee to name just a few, and is typically followed by a cheese course, and petit fours, washed down by the beautiful freshly brewed Kenyan coffee. Suffice to say, the team ensure you don’t go hungry!
An un-missable highlight of a stay here has to be the ‘Sundowners at the Ciff’ experience. An afternoon game drive – with spotting of rare Rothschild giraffes, water buffaloes, gazelles and more on the menu – ends at a cliff edge with a vantage point over the picturesque lake, where a private set-up of canapés and chilled beverages await. Complete with white linens, silverware, and tasty light bites like cheese and fruit skewers, salmon rosettes, and fish fingers, this is a rare culinary experience. Watching the quintessential African sunset over the lake, while getting pampered by the attentive staff on hand, offers a postcard-perfect moment of utter tranquility.