February 1, 2011 – I don’t know why it’s shocking when you stumble onto a bubble of luxury in the middle of the Savannah.
You know, when out of an expanse of nothing forms a structure of wood, cement, stone, grass and cushion; as tastefully done as if it were an orchestra?
Save for the noise that you make, the air is completely still at Olarro, a luxury lodge situated just 3 hours from Nairobi by road.
As if to complement the curves that are trademark of Anthony Russell’s architecture (Shompole) hugging the nine cottages that make up Olarro, the wind makes its own music as it blows in the stillness.
Olarro is stuck on one side of the Loita Hills, not tucked, but rather jutting out proudly amid stone and shrubbery. The paths that intertwine between the lounge and cottages and spa and dining areas curve so that you pant a little less when walking them.
Each cottage has its own look. The trademark however is a winding staircase leading you to a bathroom with no door. There is a curtain at the doorway though should you desire to be discreet.
The theme at Olarro is white and brown, and other hues that blend with nature.
“Most of our linen and furniture is from South Africa, simply because we couldn’t get the quality we wanted in Kenya, which is a shame really,” says lodge Manger Mark Gilks.
Gilks, who was born and raised in Kenya, says Olarro has been up and running for just about one year now.
“The lodge was built by an Italian sort of like a family getaway. But when he realised that for most of the year, there was nothing happening at the property, he decided to rent it out during the spaces in between. The property was purchased much later and re-done. It is now owned by a company called Vittoria Limited,” narrates Mark.
There is nothing mediocre about Olarro. Everything has been thought out and each aspect plays itself meticulously into the next. For instance, the natural soap in the bathroom has no anti-bacteria so that it doesn’t mess up the recycling process.
Water from the shower or anywhere else is recycled and then reused in the gardens.
There is a small garden – run with the help of locals – which provides for the kitchen, and even grows flowers used in the rooms. The shop has beaded clothes and jewellery, all created by women in the surrounding villages, with help from Chania at the lodge.
The solar panels provide all the electricity in the venue with a surplus of about 20%.
“The initial cost is massive. But once the system is up and running, little maintenance is needed,” explains Sunil – who handles all the conservation systems and anything to do with maintenance on the lodge.
“In the last four months, we have only used the back-up generator once. The system is flawless. We even have a windmill. It generates about 10% of our power.”
As if that were not enough, to make up for scanty Safaricom network, guests are given little walkie talkie radios through which they can communicate on different frequencies.
“Each group of guests is on the same frequency, so you cannot eavesdrop on what another group of visitors is saying,” Assistant Lodge Manager Kara Bhartley fills me in.
“This is an exclusive facility. There’s no signage. If someone comes in here its someone who has a reservation. We offer relaxation and a luxurious experience. If a guest wants to go for a game drive in the Maasai Mara, we can offer that too.
But that’s not the main thing,” Gilks adds.
Olarro is perfect for couples. The peace and quiet is conducive for bonding and there’s a hint of romance in the three-tier swimming pool that is fed by a natural spring. While the cottages have either a king size bed or two smaller ones, there is a part of the lodge that can be cut off from the rest.
Little Olarro is like two cottages in one with a living and dining room in the middle. It has its own deck and lounge area, complete with massage room and fireplace, where a group of four and more can have meals as they look at the plains surrounding Loita Hills.
For exercise, treks and bike rides are available, and so is a trip to the nearest village.
“From now until February 20, we have an offer. Three nights for the price of two. Full board,” Mark concludes. “No one should
really come here alone,” he says smiling.