Magazine article The Spectator

Kenya Catch It While You Can

Magazine article The Spectator

Kenya Catch It While You Can

Article excerpt

Charlotte Metcalf finds a hidden paradise on Kenya's Swahili coast

Last November I took my four-year-old daughter to Africa for the first time. We flew in a tiny plane from Lamu, travelling up Kenya's Swahili coast to the Kiunga Marina Reserve where the Pelizzoli family owns and runs Kiwayu Safari Lodge.

The 'lodge', in fact a collection of about 20 huts, lies on a sheltered semi-circular curve of pristine white sandy beach on the Indian Ocean.

Kiwayu was built in the 1970s by Alfredo Pelizzoli, an Italian with a passion for Kenya and a keen eye for property. I met Alfredo in the late 1980s when I was living in Nairobi, but only now have I made the journey to Kiwayu. The lodge has changed hands several times, but about ten years ago the Pelizzolis wrested back ownership.

Today Simone, Alfredo's middle daughter, lives there with her two-year-old daughter and runs it with her husband, George.

Years ago Alfredo tried to advertise Kiwayu in The Spectator. 'Come and enjoy delicious fresh crab served by beautiful black angels, ' was a typical example of what he wanted printed. After Alfredo had built a honeymoon suite on its own island, complete with baobab tree house, he tried again: 'Having trouble conceiving? Come and try our lovers' paradise, the Baobabs of Kitangani.' Even the non-politically correct Spectator balked at running such provocative copy. Alfredo died three years ago and there never was an advertisement for Kiwayu in these pages.

The Pelizzolis have a knack for making places beautiful. Here, they have allowed the wild, natural beauty of the surroundings to dominate. The huts blend into the environment with mukutu roofs and makeke flooring. They are decorated simply but exquisitely with shells, driftwood and local textiles, and comfortably furnished with vast beds under mosquito nets, hammocks full of oversized cushions and carved Victorian day-beds from Lamu.

This is luxury with none of the glitzy, discordant luxe like brass period fittings and heavy, colonial-style furniture provided by some Kenyan camps that can make the visitor to Africa feel queasy.

Every hut has a big wooden chest in which to keep valuables safe from monkeys. There are no windows or doors. You wake up and look straight out at the ocean. For a security-conscious European accustomed to privacy, it can seem bizarre to shower virtually in the open or to stroll off down the beach without a key, but after a couple of days, testament to the friendly staff and secure family atmosphere, you are worrying about nothing more than the crabs that scuttle over your bare feet as you roam the beach. …

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