'Tis the season of love, and one of the best ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day is with a little bit of luxury.
The hotel getaway is ideal for some personal or shared spoiling, whether through fine dining, sunset views with a sundowner drink, or a spa treatment.
Hemingways is part of the group of small luxury hotels of the world. Members are required to conform to luxurious standards, and undergo an annual independent mystery inspection programme to ensure they are meeting guests’ expectations. The group has over 500 hotels in more than 80 countries, with properties on beaches and in cities.
Talking of beaches, Hemingways Watamu speaks the language of romance: Walking on the sandy beach, lounging by the pool, frolicking in the ocean, watching the sunset, or the moon rising over the water. It re-opened after an 18-month refurbishment of the 30-year old property.
A one-hour flight out of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Malindi Airport, followed by a 35-minute drive gets you to the hotel.
On a recent visit, smiling staff welcomed me with fresh orange juice and towelettes as I checked in for a two-night stay.
Some 39 standard and deluxe guestrooms have four-poster beds, and tea-and-coffee stations. I especially enjoyed the elevated views of the sea from the third floor of one of the rooms. I spent the second night on the residence side of the resort, in a fully furnished two-bedroom apartment. Glass doors open up to a balcony with lounge furniture.
Hemingways Watamu has retained its iconic circular bar counter facing the sea. The overhang of the bar has the original life-size fibreglass casts of large sea fish found in the waters of Watamu such as marlin, sailfish, grouper and swordfish.
There are four swimming pools at the hotel, including a shallow pool for children and the botanical pool. From the ice cream shop, I liked the black cherry and pistachio flavours, which were perfect as I lounged by the main pool.
Instead of the usual hotel buffet, executive chef Omar Menhouk has worked out a more personalised meal experience.
At breakfast, a waiter takes your order of eggs with choice of hot accompaniments. There is a selection of fresh juices, fruits, cereals and home-baked pastries.
Dinner was a table d’hote of three courses.
Seafood is said to be a natural aphrodisiac. Two dishes I recommend are the seafood ceviche, flavoured with lemon and coriander, and the hotel’s signature prawns pilipili cooked in a spicy tomato and ginger sauce.
I had a full-body aromatherapy massage at the spa, which included crystal therapy. Spa manager Isabelle Abwao, a 12-year veteran of Hemingways Watamu, says that besides hotel guests, local residents are also using the spa.
Delivering on the promise of luxury is no easy feat. General manager of Hemingways Nairobi Richard Kimenyi says they have to pay attention to every detail and provide personal attention to guests. To achieve this, the hotel provides personal butlers for each room.
An ideal lunch at the Nairobi hotel would be their house special — prawns masala, accompanied by chapati or naan, rice and a salsa salad. The blueberry cheesecake is a fitting dessert.
To work off the meal, you could take a dip in the swimming pool, just 1.2 metres deep, followed by a massage or a session in the steam bath.
One of the treatments that the hotel offers is the Cleopatra package of a scrub followed by a soft tissue massage. I figure that the spa works closely with the kitchen: For the scrub, I was basted in a mixture of oats, apricot, honey and milk, then covered in plastic wrap to marinate. After about 20 minutes, I washed off the marinade and returned for a full-body massage with lavender and marjoram oils.
I left the spa with glowing happy skin. This Valentine’s, Spa manager Esther Wanjiku has created a special couples’ treatment, incorporating vanilla, chocolate and red wine.
The rooms at Hemingways Nairobi are on two floors, all facing the mature gardens. They are named after famous people, all linked to Kenya’s history, and the writer Ernest Hemingway, whom the hotel is named after. I stayed in the Hollywood-themed Meryl Streep suite; she starred in the 1985 movie Out of Africa, which was shot in Kenya.
The room has a balcony with two sunbeds, and a deep stand-alone bathtub. Unique to the hotel is the TV, which, with the press of a button, rises from a customised travel chest in the centre of the room.
From the upstairs bar, you can watch the sun set over the Ngong Hills, and enjoy a sundowner drink. The chef can prepare a unique dinner at the Brasserie restaurant. I had the lobster thermidor, fillet mignon, jumbo prawns and steamed rice with raisins. The presentation was mouth-watering, and the food was delicious.
As Cupid’s arrow strikes your hearts this season, do enjoy a little bit of romance in luxury.
-Additional reporting by Susan Muumbi.