Five years ago, Kiruja Micheni and his wife Lucy aspired to build a rural home after staying in cities for close to three decades; they had lived in the UK for 17 years and in Nairobi for most of their working life.
Their idea was a retirement home where they would retreat for holidays and spend quality time with family and friends away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
But the four-bedroom house they built brought in a business idea that has slowly blossomed into a renowned seafood restaurant and holiday destination not only for Kenyans but also for visitors from across the globe.
Driving towards Mount Kenya off Embu-Meru road some five kilometres after crossing Mutonga River, a visitor enjoys panoramic views of rolling tea farms and lush vegetation, rising to the level of over 10,000 feet above sea level.
Tucked at one of the corners past Kinoro tea factory is Anabas Trout & Seafood Grill, one of the new tourist attraction sites in Meru.
In 2015, after two years of looking for land in their Kinoro village, South Imenti, the Michenis came across a rocky patch on the banks of Mutonga River.
Lucy recalls that when they first visited the one-acre plot and expressed interest to buy it, people thought they were out of their minds.
“My husband had to endure taunts by relatives who asked him what we would use the land for. But in these rocks, we saw a gem. With beautiful views of the hills and water-falls, the atmosphere is cool and we knew it would be ideal for a retirement home,” says Lucy, adding that they have since bought more land around the area totaling to 10 acres.
But she admits that building a house in such land is quite costly since they had to invest a lot of money in landscaping and reinforcements to minimise the effects of landslides.
During holidays they would retire to the four-bedroom cottage and at times invite friends and relatives for stay overs.
Enchanted by the environment, the visitors wanted to stay on so they started renting it out when they were not on holiday.
They decided to convert their home into a business and build an eco-lodge that would attract visitors interested in a serene environment as well as adventures to Mt Kenya.
She placed the cottage with a capacity of six guests on Airbnb and it was an instant hit, attracting visitors from Europe, the US, and Australia.
A lover of trout fish, Lucy got into fish farming using the fresh water from the river and built three ponds, starting with 2,500 fingerlings in 2017 and after a year she had over 5,000 fish.
The mother-of-four now manages the business and attributes the establishment of the restaurant to visitors who would ask if she cooked trout so that they could taste.
“We had not intended to have a restaurant and I wanted to only supply fish to hotels but people started asking if they would taste it. Since there is no seafood restaurant in Meru, I decided to exploit the opportunity,” says the financial expert who worked in the UK as a director in a government health institution. At the time, her husband was working with the International Maritime Organisation.
The property is located on the banks of Mutonga River, which boasts of spectacular views with undulating waterfalls. There are three falls, providing beautiful views on a 200 metre stretch through lush vegetation where guests take a nature walk.
One of the falls near the gazebo initially used to entertain guests for mbuzi parties — now turned restaurant — has a natural pool in which people can swim during the dry season when the water level is low.
They have also built cabins with a capacity to host eight guests. The cabins are built using biodegradable material, including boards made from recycled plastic.
The couple estimates they have spent about Sh40 million on the property including the cost of the land.
Lucy says they serve organic dishes sourced from their garden with selected farmers supplying other foodstuffs. As for seafood, they get crabs and prawns from Mombasa with the trout fished from the ponds each morning.
“For sport fishing enthusiasts we organise fly fishing tours along the river towards Mt Kenya which includes camping,” she adds.
The business has however suffered the effects of the current Covid-19 pandemic, with all guests who had booked for the April holidays cancelling their reservations.
“We had to refund the money but some of them asked us to keep their deposits saying they would visit when the pandemic is contained,” says Lucy.
She views Mount Kenya as a gem in the promotion of tourism in the region, especially with a new route that has been opened to the mountain.
The 25-kilometer road allows access to Lake Ellis from Meru, a major attraction site at the heart of the mountain at 13,000 feet above sea level.
The new road starts at Nkubu 16 kilometres from Meru town, cutting through tea estates and the forest, providing an alternative and cheaper access route to the attraction site.
Initially, mountain climbing enthusiasts used to access the lake either from Chogoria in Tharaka-Nithi or Nanyuki, Laikipia. There are also tour packages to the site by helicopter from Nairobi, with each trip costing $2,500 (Sh250,000).