Our own Cathy Courtney continues to share tales from her trip to accompany the leaders of JG Black Book’s Travel Advisor Leadership Council’s trip to East Africa and South Africa this April. Next up: the legendary Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel. Read on to learn why this gem in Nairobi, Kenya holds a special place in her heart.
My trip to East Africa was full of surprises – good ones thankfully! One of the best was my stay at Fairmont The Norfolk Hotel. Many travelers think of Nairobi as only an entry point and way station on the way to other destinations. However Nairobi has charms to reveal, including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Centre, both highlights of my trip! And another asset of Nairobi is The Norfolk Hotel, which was built in 1904 when the city was only 5 years old.
The Norfolk Hotel has an impressive and storied history. It was one of the stops on Theodore Roosevelt’s “African Safari and Scientific Expedition” in 1909-10, a hunting trip still considered the most lavish in Kenyan history. It served as the gathering place and watering hole for legendary figures throughout the 1900s, from Karen Blixen, author of “Out of Africa,” and the aviator Beryl Markham to primatologist Jane Goodall, anthropologist Richard Leakey, and the Adamsons, immortalized in the movie “Born Free.”
These impressive figures and their stories – as well as the images of them that can be found throughout the hotel – lend a sense of place and charm to the hotel. But even if you’re only interested in the here and now, the hotel has a true allure, hitting all the notes you would expect of a 5-star luxury property in regards to accommodations, facilities, and service. But as it’s the little moments that stay with us in travel, I wanted to share a few of my favorites:
1.The Gift Shop: I don’t generally like hotel gift shops. I find them overpriced and uninspired. The gift shop at The Norfolk Hotel was incredible however. Spilling outside the doors into the lobby and featuring inspired vignettes, there were so many wonderful and unexpected options. I was in there at least 12 times over the course of 4 days, I kept seeing something new that I needed to check out. Beautiful beaded sandals and jewelry, scarfs and tunics, sculptures and other artwork, frames, books. Many beaded items made the trip home with me!
2. Cin Cin Wine Bar: I guess it’s not surprising that a wine bar would make my list of favorites! However, I thought the space was well thought out: indoors was a modern take on British colonial; outdoors was more intimate and comfy in an exotic lounge style. Most importantly, the wine list was excellent, drinks were well made and the little bites divine. I recommend the hummus – the best I’ve ever had!
4. The Food: I can’t overstate how wonderful the food was at The Norfolk Hotel. Their head chef – Doxis Bekris – is genius and has his own storied history in the culinary field, including Milos in NYC. He brings a sense of imagination and fun without being fussy or complicated. And his touch can be felt in every meal, from the delicious fresh juice blends at breakfast to the pizza at room service, which was excellent!
5. Potatoes: I realize that this is a strange thing to mention, especially as I just highlighted the food overall. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Chef Doxis’ skill with potatoes. He has perfected them in every form, from the fries in room service to the molten potato-filled roasted potato we had one evening (think of a chocolate truffle style potato). Maybe it’s because I’m of Irish heritage but the potatoes made an incredible impression on me!
6. Last but not least, Regina the hotel cat: As I mentioned before, I found the staff at the Norfolk to be so wonderfully warm and gracious. The type of personal hospitality that makes you feel really seen and cared for. And that care extends to every “guest” of the hotel, including the beautiful cat they adopted. Regina is the official hotel cat, and as such, this well-cared for kitty has the run of the place. But she hasn’t let it go to her head – she is sweet and snuggly. And she will even stay with guests in their room if they are so inclined – she spent the night with our own Jena Gardner and Kelly Berry on separate occasions.
For these reasons and so many others, I recommend you do like the legends of yesteryear – and present – and make The Norfolk Hotel your home base in Nairobi!
Thanks for reading!