Nestled in the valley between the dramatic slopes of Mount Kenya and the rolling peaks of the Aberdare Mountains, Solio Lodge opened in August 2010 and promises to be one of Kenya’s most luxurious properties.
They leave nothing to chance at Solio Lodge: not even the exits and entrances of the rhinos. In the morning, as you draw the curtains back from the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows of your meticulously colour-coordinated designer cottage, a rhino trots purposefully across your field of vision and exits stage right pursued by its calf. In the evening, as the sky softens to dusky pink behind the jagged peaks of Mount Kenya, three rhinos edge out of the acacias, pose with some zebras, and exit stage left pursued by a waterbuck.
On your game drive, made extra-special by the fact that Solio’s planners have attached bench seating to the roof of the safari vehicle, a succession of rhinos pose in photogenic silhouette against the sculptured peaks of the Aberdares. And on the way back to the lodge, nine are found sleeping in a jumble of hoofs and horns beneath a flat-topped acacia. A calf has gone to sleep with its stubby legs draped over its mother’s horn. You couldn’t have orchestrated it better on a film shoot.
But then staying at Solio Lodge is a little like having wandered on to a film set for which you are the unwitting star. Opened in August 2010 and already featured as one of THE places to stay in Tatler Magazine’s ‘Royal Engagement’ Kenya feature, Solio offers just five thatched cottages, each with its own interior décor theme: any of which could feature in Architectural Digest.
Sleekly spacious, neo-sixties styled, and centred around a stark-white eye-level fireplace that would have pleased Frank Lloyd Wright, they’re 50% plate glass, 25% minimalist white or block-colour furniture, and 25% theme-inspired artistic license that extends from the appliquéd cushions to the wall hangings.
In the decadently huge bathrooms, which feature a free-standing tub, twin basins, a cushion-strewn casting couch, and a rainwater shower large enough to deluge a clutch of starlets, the fact that you appear to be standing stark naked on the plains of Mount Kenya with only acres of glass between you and the wildlife can be initially disconcerting. Soon, however, you become blasé enough to fling open the vast glass doors, secure in the knowledge that your perfectly presented interior space is privately enclosed within its own slate-stone walls; even if your imperfectly presented personal exterior is wide-open to the scrutiny of the Egyptian geese, crested crane and vervet monkeys on the lawn.
Housed in its own swooping thatch-roofed space, the inspirationally-lit central lounge and dining room flows through graduating floor levels, around three art-piece fireplaces, up into the vaults of the roof where there’s a suspended WiFi lounge, and out through a wall of sheer glass to a raised deck, in front of which the rhinos promenade punctually just as drinks and canapés are served.
Amid such precision perfection, it’s no surprise to find that the food is as well orchestrated as the wildlife, the salads and herbs freshly picked, the recipes so inspirational you readily accept the offer of having them printed out for you to take home, and the style of hosting as intuitively pitched as you’ve come to expect from what has to be the most ‘designer collection’ lodge of Laikipia’s already design-conscious collection of up-market lodges.
As for the setting, the private Solio Ranch was established in the 1900s and is Africa’s first and most successful sanctuary and private rhino breeding ranch. Home to over 70 critically endangered black rhinos and 150 white rhinos, it also offers an exceptionally well-coached cast of reticulated giraffe, Laikipia Hartebeest, bush buck, waterbuck, eland, oryx, zebra and buffalo. The lions and cheetahs, however, need to read their stage directions more thoroughly.
Distance from Nairobi: 3-4 hour drive, private airstrip.
Activities: Walks, game drives, trout fishing in the Aberdares, trips to Mount Kenya, helicopter tours.
Accommodation: 5 double cottages, (one family cottage with two double bedrooms ensuite). Child-friendly activities available.
Included: Transfers from local airport, house wines and beers, game drives and walks.
Cost: from $545 (depending on season) per person sharing full-board plus conservancy fees of $60 per person.