Inside the posh Nairobi suburb of Karen

First image...
A young visitor makes a new friend at The Giraffe Centre...

Couture and Nature

Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, emerges as a hotspot for fashion and outdoor-driven travelers.

...a Dawa (vodka, honey, and lime) ...
... and the Karen Blixen Museum.

By Lanee Lee
Photography by Axel Fasio

Originally appeared in July 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life; browse the full issue here.

Karen is to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi as Berkeley is to San Francisco: an affluent enclave of progressive artists, skilled craftspeople, and environmentalists. Bordering Nairobi National Park and home to an 18-hole golf course and Oloolua Nature Trail, Karen, about 45 minutes southwest of the city center, appeals to nature lovers and those preferring a quiet alternative to Nairobi’s kinetic commotion. To set the historical stage, visit the Karen Blixen Museum (Karen Road), the house where the Danish-born writer lived and operated a 4,500-acre farm and coffee plantation, and which later served as the setting for her book Out of Africa. Get a pre-safari wildlife hit by feeding friendly Rothschild giraffes at the Giraffe Centre (Duma Road) and watching orphaned elephants play, bathe, and feed at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (Mbagathi Road).

Set in a lush, serene garden, Talisman (320 Ngong Road) is the area’s best alfresco restaurant, serving eclectic fare from burgers to Zanzibari coconut seafood soup. Feast on local oysters or Kenyan filet mignon at Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden (Karen Road).

Take afternoon tea – a tradition instilled during British colonization from 1920 to 1963 –
at Giraffe Manor (Koitobos Road, Langata). If you’re lucky, a giraffe (or two) may join you: They often poke their heads through the dining room windows in search of snacks. As the sun sets on the Ngong Hills, join well-heeled imbibers at Hemingways Bar (Mbagathi Ridge) for the author’s beloved cocktails, such as the Papa Doble or brandy Alexander. For a casual, everybody-knows-your-name vibe, sample a Dawa – Kenya’s national drink of vodka, honey, and lime – at Purdy Arms (61 Marula Lane).

Home to internationally renowned designers and artists, Karen beckons the adventurous shopper with off-the-beaten-path and by-appointment-only studios. Splurge on pashmina scarves adorned with ostrich plumes and suede trench coats accented with Masai and Samburu beading at Anna Trzebinski (94 Tumbili Road). Score ornate horn jewelry at designer Penny Winter’s boutique (Ngong Road). For stingo (Kenyan slang for “super-cool”) souvenirs, Nairobi stylist and designer Sunny Dolat recommends a calfskin leather folder or beaded belt by Rift Valley Leather (Tembo Road). Utamaduni Craft Centre (Bogani Road East) is a one-stop shop showcasing roughly 18 vendors’ work, with a wide range of authentic Kenyan arts and crafts, from kitchenware to carvings.

For a hotel with historical soul, check into Nairobi’s oldest, the 170-room Fairmont the Norfolk – built in 1904 and located 30 minutes from Karen. Your travel advisor can arrange a driver, tour guide, and studio appointments. Doubles from $219, including breakfast daily and one massage per person for two guests.

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