After the speedy but turbulent hours flight from Nairobi's 'Jomo Kenyatta' Airport, we arrive at the ancient coastal resort of Mombasa. This mecca of white sands is known as the 'white and blue city of Kenya', and our jeep gently drops us at the grand reception area of the Serena Beach Hotel. My mum and my sister both looked starstruck as we entered the atrium. The interior is airy but finely furnished with luxury rest spaces and displayed antiques, built with eco-friendly, local materials. Walls were whitewashed, interspersed with marble and limestone; the coverings and canopies made from Coconut fronds.
A waistcoated butler conjured up welcome drinks of fresh pineapple juice, a sweet relief from the tropical climate, and we are settled into our capacious rooms. Sweaty faces and luggage-bruised bodies were happy to land on cotton-soft pillows. We barely kept our eyes open to find our new quarters furnished with fine hard wood and decorated with local handicrafts in a traditional Swahili village design. We have just enough time to gaze at the coconut palms emerging either side of the balcony, and the emerald bougainvillea vining their way through the metallic filigree, before we drift into dreams in the generous, Queen sized beds.
This was the first family trip we had taken in a decade, my mum being born in Nairobi but not back to visit for forty-odd years, so we chose this gem of the East African coast to be our sanctuary and home while exploring Kenya. Above the temptation to simply eat and sleep our time through Mombasa, we were eager to book a safari trip. Although the concierge expediently handled our request for a journey to the fine Tsavo East Safari Park, for which the hotel is very well located, we couldn't help but be disappointed by a lack of sightings of leopards, cheetah's or rhino's. On reflection, you're better off staying in Nairobi to make a special trip to the Masai Mara park, a trick we would learn for later years, for the highest concentration of wildlife per square metre on the entire continent.
Days lingered by in alternating modes of tranquility and restful ease through to adrenaline-pulsing adventure. At most, energy was consumed moving languorously from bedside, to pool, to cocktail bar, only adjourning in the evenings to a superb dining room, where we fondly found ourselves joking with each other in ways we'd never be able to back home. Later in our stay, we find ourselves taking moments of leave from one another either to indulge in neglected reading, or to take one of the Water Centre's supercharged jet skies out to jump across the mischievous waves of the Indian Ocean. This ensured we would always arrive back to the hotel in thirst of Pina Coladas and games of poker.
While the lobby and restaurants are all perfect examples of traditional Kenyan hospitality, the centrepiece of this jewel on East Africa's coastline is the magnificent and almost mythological African Grey parrot, housed in an antique cage in the corridor running from the reception to the dining room. Pass one evening and our feathered friend will berate you with a slew of insults in a kaleidoscope of continental languages, though I knew enough Italian to pretend to be offended. In the morning, he will lay on you a thick 'Arn't you absolutely lovely!' in his best cockney accent. Forget the guidebook - he was the best representation for the atlas of visitors to the hotel.
Nights were spent watching the sunset from the main bar, listening to singers interpret the Great American Songbook while drinking in the cinematic vistas of the coastline. The cocktail of choice here is the Dawa (literally Swahili for medicine) - an intoxicating African twist on the mojito - muddling local honey with vodka, ice and freshly cut lime, served with a hand carved African wood 'Dawa' stick. With offerings of the local Mombasa liquor 'Amarula' as a digestif, we were well looked after.
Although we stay for a full week, and the reception staff say that it is 'too long', we fail to tire of the enthusiastic Kenyan sun, local bands with their infectious energy, and the chef's consistently exciting menu of global cuisine (and comforting desserts!). Come for relief from the fanfare of Nairobi. Stay to be enraptured by enchanting Swahili hospitality on the dazzling Indian Ocean.