They call it Kenya’s Eco Conferences Centre. Having heard so many good things about this place in the bracing tea country of Tigoni, I have been meaning to go there for the 27 years that I have been writing this column. Maybe I haven’t been before because, owned by the Baptist Church, it is a wine-free zone. Maybe it is because, having been there for over a hundred years, I was sure it wouldn’t go away.
It hasn’t always been a hotel and conference centre. In 1914 it started out as a farm, though it opened up as a retreat for battle weary British soldiers caught up in the First World War that was fought from that year until 1918. So its commitment to hospitality and service began very early in its life. It was in 1964 that what was then the Brackenhurst Hotel was bought by the Baptist Mission of Kenya.
The original name was Three Trees Farm – because there were three large muna trees standing in the grounds. Now, Brackenhurst is a place of trees. The property is a hundred acres and most of those acres are given back to how it once was – a magnificent forest of indigenous trees and plants.
The Baptist Mission has engaged with a number of partners in order to offer the wide range of services now available: a hotel, an international conference centre, a centre for team building; a unique travel agency for holidays and educational tours around Africa – and a very popular Muna Tree Café.
It was last Sunday when my wife and I went, and the café was our target for a relaxed lunch in the sunshine. The drive there was not at all relaxing; because of the roadworks along the Nakuru Road we missed the turning to Tigoni and so had to approach through Limuru town. But there was a splendid transformation as we entered the long driveway to the main Brackenhurst buildings – a gentle drive through the forest.
There were lots of tables set out on the lawns. And the place was alive with people – locals like us out for a Sunday lunch and guests from all over the world on holidays or attending conferences. The website promises peace, but there was some noise – the happy, and not too loud, noise of children playing tag or riding bikes along the meandering pathways.
There was the sound of birds, too. Hornbills were calling from high in the surrounding trees. And a pair of Kikuyu White-Eyes came for the water in a stone basin near our table – sensible birds, they drank before taking their baths.
The café menu is an eclectic and imaginative one. I am rather ashamed to tell you that I went for the fish and chips. But that is what I felt like; the fish was well battered, the chips were crunchy, and my wife approved that there was also a healthy salad on the plate. She actually chose a salad – a beetroot and pumpkin one.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what we missed:
Peter’s Coconut Fish: ‘Chef Peter’s signature dish with chunks of fish, in coconut sauce, served with rice and fresh salsa’.
Bracken Club: ‘the classic club sandwich, with collar bacon, chicken, lettuce, tomato and cheese and pickled veggies’.
Also, I didn’t miss my wine. I had a tangy ginger lemonade, and was also tempted by the coconut iced tea. The prices are reasonable too; all the main dishes are under a thousand shillings.
After lunch we took a short walk into the forest in search of the muna trees. And we drove back across the adjacent tea plantation to join the old Limuru Road through the beautifully named but bustling Banana Hill. A great day out. If you would like to know more about Brackenhurst, their website is simply http://www.brackenhurst.com.