The thought of a traditional safari kind of filled me with dread. 4x4s waiting in lines crowded around animals and tourists clicking away with their long-range camera lenses.
But in a bid to get off the beaten path and get a unique insight into Africa’s wild landscape, I signed up for a three-night tour in Kenya with The Luxury Safari Company.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed and my fears of being on a ‘mass safari’ were skilfully avoided.
For my first night, I was directed to Giraffe Manor, which has repeatedly been voted one of the world’s most unique hotels.
The grandiose lodge – built in 1932 and based on a Scottish hunting lodge – is home to a herd of Rothschild giraffes, which are distinguished by their white lower legs and uniquely dappled coats.
The place is pretty incredible and you’re guaranteed one-on-one interactions with your fellow long-necked residents.
If you’re after the ultimate Instagram selfie, then this is certainly the place for that! One lady I spotted appeared to change outfit every ten minutes in a bid to get that winning shot.
After arriving at the tucked-away spot around midday I had a lovely lunch on the manicured back patio before a swift trip to the visitor’s centre through the garden to learn a bit more about the giraffes from local guides. I even got the chance to hold a giraffe leg bone, which proved to be a bit of a workout given the weight of it!
At 5pm, I was invited to interact with the giraffes on the hotel’s front lawn along with other guests. At the same time a delicious spread of cake and tea was put out for us to nibble on.
Several of us opted to accompany our sweet treats with gin & tonics. All spirits at Giraffe Manor are included in your stay and the bar features a great spread of liquor to play with.
Back out in the garden, the giraffes came forward one by one to take nibbles of dried food pellets from my hands.
Their long blue tongues – which contain melanin to protect them from sunburn – felt strangely rough and slobbery.
I stood there mesmerised as the gentle giants lowered their heads down with their big black eyes looking into mine.
I discovered if you put a pellet in-between your lips, they will swiftly ‘kiss’ you in a bid to get the snack they’re after. Everyone took it in turns to get a kiss from the giraffes and I couldn’t help think what was running through their minds. Silly tourists!
After the hour-long petting session, we were invited inside to dinner.
The night I stayed at Giraffe Manor there were a handful of other guests who are equally inquisitive about the luxury hotel, which has become increasingly sought-after thanks to lust-worthy shots popping up on Instagram.
‘I’d seen so many photos on social media, so I decided to book but it’s definitely been worth the money. Getting so close to the giraffes is just incredible,’ one holidaymaker told me.
The great thing was, that even though I was staying at the property alone, I felt welcomed to join conversation and wasn’t left out on a limb.
For dinner, I sat in one of the main dark wood-panelled dining rooms and ate by candlelight with two lovely couples from the UK and a couple of girlfriends from Hungary.
On the food front, we were served up a fine three-course meal, with courses including corn chowder, beef fillet and a tasty lemon custard coulis.
The next morning – around 6am – the petting session recommenced and one of the giraffes tapped on the window of my first-floor room with its nose in a bid to get a treat.
Then, moving down to breakfast, the patchwork-coated animals craned their heads into the dining room windows to get yet more fodder.
Along with a container of muesli on the table, there was a pot of food pellets and I grabbed a load to feed my long-tongued dining companions.
After burning through more space on my camera memory card it was time to bid Giraffe Manor a fond farewell.
Next on my tour, I was sent to the Soilo Lodge, which required a 35-minute flight from Nairobi’s domestic airport (Wilson) on a tiny twin otter airplane.
On landing at the dinky airstrip in Nanyuki – a market town some 195km from Nairobi and known as the gateway to the majestic Mount Kenya – I was shuttled to Solio by Amos, who would be my expert guide for the next two days.
The transfer to the exclusive hotel – which is set among 45,000 acres – was an adventure in itself and after we entered the secure conservancy we went on an incredible drive through the undulating shrub-ridden landscape.
To start, we passed by half a dozen reticulated giraffes, before coming across groups of baboons and prehistoric-looking rhino.
Solio prides itself on having a healthy rhino population, with both white and blacks within the stock.
As we trundled over the tufty terrain in a sturdy 4×4 we also found a lioness with three young cubs.
Amos skilfully steered us close enough so we could get a good view without disturbing the brood.
I sat there thinking it was pretty incredible that it was just the two of us witnessing this special sight and there was no one else around.
Eventually, after getting very distracted by so many wonderful encounters, we made it to the equally as wonderful lodge.
Solio boasts six unique cottages, which are enormous. Amos told me jokingly that my room – number one –was large enough to play basketball in and he was pretty much right.
The suite was decked out with a large king-size bed, fire place, lounge area and generous bathroom space complete with a deep tub looking out to the safari plains beyond.
Like Giraffe Manor, I didn’t feel awkward about being a solo traveller and it almost felt like staying at someone’s family home.
Ava, Solio’s hotel manager, is a wonderful lady and makes everyone feel welcome.
At 7pm everyone got together for pre-dinner drinks around the fireplace and the Dawa quickly became my new favourite beverage.
The traditional Kenyan drink consists of a heady blend of vodka, honey and lime. It certainly helped clear my head cold.
On the second day of my stay at Solio the weather closed in a little but I didn’t mind given what a fantastic first day I’d had.
Taking advantage of the rain, I opted to get a full body massage after dipping into the delicious breakfast buffet.
All of the spa treatments take place in your suite with the table erected next to the fire if it’s a bit chilly.
I’ve had quite a few massages, with some of my favourites including one the Mandarin Oriental in New York and the Rosewood Little Dix resort in the British Virgin Islands, but I have to say the treatment at Solio Lodge was one of my best treatments yet.
My masseuse revealed that she had trained in reflexology in Nairobi also and I loved the way she concentrated on the head, neck and feet to release built up pressure
Feeling renewed and refreshed I turned my attention to a spot of art.
All of the rooms at Solio Lodge come decked out with art supplies and I went about trying to paint a little lion I’d seen the day previously.
With the showers outside clearing, I decided to head out on an evening safari drive with a lovely couple who hailed from the UK but were based in Nairobi with work.
It was a pretty epic evening and a group of white rhino ambled around us as we sipped on our sundowners.
One of the horned creatures was just a few metres away and appeared to be unperturbed by our presence.
As darkness descended we headed back to the main lodge for yet another delicious dinner, with soup and a meaty cut of tilapia to greet us.
Sadly, the next morning my quick stint at Solio came to an end and I made my way back to Nanyuki.
Amos was unable to accompany me but an equally skilled driver managed to make it through the muddy marshlands to get me to my destination on time.
If you’re headed to Kenya I can’t recommend Giraffe Manor and Solio Lodge enough as they both offer completely different experiences. Both are part of the Safari Collection’s portfolio.
There are two more lodges which are part of the boutique hotel group and I’m told they are equally as magical.
Sala’s Camp, situated on the Masai Mara game reserve, is said to be one of the best spots to watch the legendary annual migration of wildebeest, while the Moroccan-styled Sasaab resort offers guests the opportunity to learn more about the Samburu tribe and their traditions.
I’m already plotting my return to Kenya!
The Luxury Safari company creates tailor-made itineraries to suit travellers’ needs.
Along with The Safari collection, the travel agency has relationships with dozens of other Africa-based resorts.
One night at Giraffe Manor and two nights at Solio Lodge costs from £2,506 per person including flights from the UK.
British Airways runs daily flights from London Heathrow to Nairobi with flatbeds available in business class for the late-night return leg.
To learn more and to book visit www.theluxurysafaricompany.com