Creature Comforts at The River Cottage

For the long Mashujaa Day weekend, my wife and I were on the hunt for a good value Airbnb on the outskirts of Nairobi. The criteria for our search was fairly basic: a small house or cottage with a garden, in a quiet neighbourhood. What we found was far from basic, but it otherwise fitted the bill perfectly.

The River Cottage is at the bottom of a large property along Mbagathi Ridge in Karen, next door to the Hemingways Hotel. Once through the gate we followed a cobbled track to a wooden bridge, where an ominous sign said: ‘Beware! You are entering gorilla country’. I was sceptical, but our lush surroundings certainly resembled gorilla habitat.

Not far beyond the bridge, we spotted the thatched roof of The River Cottage. As its name suggests, the cottage sits on the bank of a river, within a tangle of long reeds. Its wood-cladded walls blend in well with the thick, encroaching vegetation, and on one side a protruding wooden platform provides an attractive open seating area.

Inside, the cottage is cosy, with one bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen-cum-living room. The kitchen comes stocked with a few basics for breakfast – eggs, juice, milk, tea and coffee – which is a nice touch.

Elements of the interior are in keeping with the log cabin exterior, like the fireplace and the aged leather armchair. But otherwise the décor is quite quirky. On the surfaces and walls of each room is a mishmash of artwork and ornaments that the owner, Jonny, has collected on his travels.

On the mantelpiece, for example, are brass dragon candlesticks and a couple of miniature Lamu dhows. Beside the fireplace is a painting of a gorilla holding a skull, and above the kitchen counter is an image of an elderly Indian man with an impressive white beard. There is more artwork from India in the bedroom, along with a slightly more risqué and trippy piece of a nude woman and a tiger.

Behind the cottage amongst the reeds is a wooden deck which serves as an outdoor lounge area. There are plenty of interesting trinkets here, too, as well as a collection of books and a table tennis table.

Further along the driveway is the main building on the property, an elaborate structure called The River House. Elevated on stilts within a grove of eucalyptus trees planted by Karen Blixen, this unique tree house is as eclectically designed as the cottage, and can also be rented out on Airbnb.

We received a warm welcome when we arrived from a large pack of dogs, and a huge pig called Ziggy. It was a nice change from our fourth-floor apartment to be surrounded by so many animals – including a noisy flock of guineafowl, and a pair of peacocks.

One of the dogs, an old Great Dane and Ridgeback cross called Bagheera, was particularly affectionate, and he joined us at the fireside as it rained in the evening. The following morning we were woken up by a sudden grunt at the door, which turned out to be Ziggy, chancing for some breakfast.

As the weather had cleared up, we joined one of Jonny’s neighbours, Cynthia, for a walk along the river. There are a number of scenic trails through the farms behind the cottage, with views of the Ngong Hills, and plenty of birdlife. To avoid stumbling into the wrong property without permission, it’s worth asking the gardener, Jacob, for the best routes.

So if you ever fancy a quick and quirky escape from city life, look no further than Jonny’s two unique homes. For more information about both The River Cottage and The River House, check out their pages on www.airbnb.com.