Illawana House is straight out of the Italian countryside. The house – arches, distressed furniture, and dusty mirrors – feels like something born out of someone’s wistful imagination.
Although it’s not much from the outside, the house itself has a unique charm. I imagine that it’s a house for congenial, grown-up parties. There is much attention to detail to lift the ambience. Ornate candle holders adorn the long table on the verandah, wispy white curtains hang artfully over the blue shuttered windows, and vintage lamps dotted all over the house bestow a warm glow. The house is also well-stocked with board games, which we played in the evening in front of a roaring fire.
Despite its European feel, the location is very Kenyan. The house is owned by the Marrian family and several of artist David Marrian’s pictures hang on the walls. A Jacaranda tree – in bloom during our stay – is a beautiful sight to wake up to in the gorgeous master bedroom, by far the loveliest room in the house. Two more bedrooms adjoin – both airy, with light streaming through the windows.
The aim is lofty, and more than partially achieved, but the execution is marred by some maintenance issues, such as missing or loose floorboards in the bedrooms. Then for a family, there is not a huge amount to do. We made use of the swimming pool at Kilima Kiu manor a kilometre down the road – the actual hotel was closed when we were there, but is due to reopen soon – and walked and cycled (we brought bikes) in the surrounding area. One morning, we made the trek up to Ulu forest conservancy, although we saw no animals on our drive.
It would, though, make an excellent weekend getaway for those content just to relax and potter around the neighbouring area, or a stop on the way back from the coast. The house is a two-hour drive from Nairobi.
The house is booked via Airbnb, and is advertised at around $130 (Ksh 14,500) a night for a family of five. That sounds pretty reasonable, but once service, cleaning and bank fees were added, the total cost came out at Ksh 58,000 for three nights. At nearly Ksh 20,000 a night, it felt a little pricey.
Things to note: The house has three main bedrooms, and one smaller bedroom. The house is not on mains power, so a generator is turned on at dusk until the last guest goes to bed. The gas-powered fridge is semi-effective at keeping food cool, but the freezer works well. The kitchen is very well-equipped.
About the Author
I'm a former travel magazine editor, focused on Kenya, before which I covered news in Africa and beyond. These days, I travel with my kids.