Luxury treehouses, under suites, cosy safari camps made out of wood, grass and stone show what architects can dream up as they design the cream of the accommodation crop where travellers love to escape to and relax.
These hotels with experimental architecture and exquisite ambience competed in the coveted Sleep Awards organised by NatGeo Traveller and Saruni Rhino in Samburu was among the top 10.
Only three hotels and lodges from Africa won awards.
The laid-back lodge whose design mixes grass, stone and timber won the Green Goddess category.
Riccardo Orizio, the Saruni lodges’ chief executive and owner said ‘‘modern rustic with a twist of authenticity is a good way of describing its design.”
“We are very happy about this and for the future of such concepts in Africa, with Kenya being a leading market,’’ said Mr Orizio who also owns two other camps in the Maasai Mara and in Samburu.
The hotels competed in 20 categories ranging from ultra-luxury suites and spas to value for-money boutique properties and travellers’ favourites.
“Hotels can be a window into a world, a place to escape and relax, and a decadent, hedonistic treat — often all rolled into one. We are celebrating the hotels that we — and our readers — think particularly stand out,” said the Nat Geo Traveller editor, Pat Riddell.
Saruni Rhino is the only place in East Africa where you can track black rhinos on foot. It benefits not just the rhinos and elephants, but also the local community which receives 40 per cent of its revenue.
‘‘Saruni Rhino is the only camp that for the first time in 30 years has brought the black rhino back to its ancestral land”, said Mr Orizio.
It sits on the expansive 350,000 hectares Sera Wildlife Conservancy in Samburu, one of the largest in the north of Kenya.
The sanctuary has been holding 12 black rhinos for about two years before it officially opened last February.
The camps has traditional but stylish open stone cottages and bandas giving it a rustic feel and design. One has an indoor shower, bathroom and toilet. The other banda—a larger one – has an outdoor roofed shower, and outdoor bathroom cum toilet giving it a perfect blend of the Samburu culture. The remaining building is the communal dining area, lounge and verandah.
The beds are hand-carved from wood found at the conservancy. The outdoor sofa beds are recycled dhow boats from Msambweni, South Coast Kenya and have been adapted to become sofas in the dry lugga riverbed.
The rustic wooden furniture around an evening fire and lanterns near trees with floppy branches and long wimpy leaves elevate outdoor dining experience at the lodge.
“The rest of the décor was chosen for its simplicity and recycled pallet furniture. We have deliberately chosen soft furnishings that both blend in, but add a touch of modernity to the place, to be so much more than a base camp for the on-foot black rhino tracking experience,” said Mr Orizio, a former journalist back in Italy.
Most of the furnishings was designed by Adele Gwet of Recycle Tribe. Ms Gwet heads a women’s cooperative in learning the craft of recycling pallet boxes into contemporary furniture.
The rest of the soft furnishings came from Odds & Ends, Kasmir Arts and other local shops.
The lodge charges about $630 (Sh65,000) per person sharing plus an additional $175 (Sh19,000) per head as conservation fees, which includes the Rhino Tracking Experience.
Mr Orizio said that to allow access to the Sera Black Rhino experience, all bookings require a minimum stay of two nights at Saruni Rhino and two nights at nearby Saruni Samburu. Sera Community Conservancy and Saruni Rhino have two private airstrips.
Other hotels that won awards in different categories include; Babylonstoren of Cape Winelands, South Africa (Gourmet Getaway category), Amanemu in Mie Prefecture, Japan (Spoilt Rotten category and Treehotel in Harads, Sweden (Design Den category).