Kenya's most unique and luxurious hand crafted homes - two family stories
Kenya is full of splendour and surprise. Just when you think you’ve got to know it, it offers up a new layer of history, and a new dimension to its culture. As a South African by birth, I have been travelling north to Kenya to visit friends, for work and holidays for many years. There are two utterly unique homes I keenly revisit every time, and I am thrilled to share them with you on an exciting Luxury Kenya Yoga Safari this October.
Both of these homes are actually award-winning lodges set in pristine nature. Sirikoi Lodge and Watamu Treehouse are incredibly beautiful and every bit professional. So much so, they may appear to have been crafted by some smooth luxury boutique hotel team. Surely, you’d think, a lodge that wins World Travel Awards top Luxury Lodge in Kenya, was financed and developed by a hotelier, who swooped in on a helicopter from their property empire HQ? Or surely, you’d think, a National Geographic most extreme homes in the world accolade implies a crazy professional team of daredevils and bold international investors?
Quite the opposite. What sets these two luxury lodges apart is that they both began as homes, and have the sweat, dreams, heart, vision and hard work of their owners built into the very fibre of walls and floors. Both are situated in remote areas with a large cushion of stunning protected wilderness surrounding them, and the home-owners are passionate Kenyans who built from the ground up, for their own families and private use many years ago. Here are their stories.
Sirikoi - a ‘big five’ safari eco-lodge
Willie and Sue Roberts are Kenyan born of British origin. The Roberts family has been in the safari industry for over 50 years, organizing bespoke and highly rated safari experiences, for amongst others, Prince Phillip and members of the British Royal family. Willie, who passed in 2018, was a passionate conservationist and is celebrated in Kenya and the African wildlife community for the incredible work he did in spearheading a community conservancy model in the Masai Mara, which was then replicated in Laikipia, where Lewa Conservancy and Sirikoi is situated. Lewa Conservancy has developed into Kenya’s leading model for wildlife conservation and low-impact community tourism. Indeed, Lewa has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and to date Sirikoi is the largest financial contributor to Lewa conservation, community, education and health projects.
Willie and Sue settled in the gorgeous Sirikoi lodge grounds as a couple in their own safari tent in 2000. Through their joint talent and vision, they began the build of the main lodge and other luxury safari tents. Willie never employed an architect and oversaw every brick and stone in construction. Sue strived to ensure Sirikoi operated in harmony with the environment. The eco-lodge has its own source of power and natural spring water, and a fruit and vegetable garden, which includes over one-acre of organic produce - the most prodigious of its type at any lodge or camp in Kenya. Almost all of the divine fresh food served at Sirikoi comes directly from their garden.
In 2017 Sirikoi was named Africa’s Leading Luxury Lodge by the World Travel Awards, and was added to the Condé Nast Traveller Gold List in 2017 and 2018. Since then, many more awards and acclaim has followed. Willie’s latest vision concretised was the build of the Sirikoi House, an exclusive three bedroomed luxury home, that offers absolute privacy, its own chef, private jeep safari vehicle and Masai guide. (Exotic Yoga Retreats has exclusive use of the Sirikoi House for the safari holiday we are running in October!)
The list of celebrities that have stayed at Sirikoi is both impressive and not surprising - Sirikoi is a place of refined taste and style, yet always homely and approachable. The 68 staff that tends to a maximum capacity of 18 guests are all skilled and exceptional people, who clearly take tremendous pride in their work. Sue still lives in the same luxury tent she and Willie first constructed for themselves on the edge of the grounds, and she joins the guests around the fire for a sundowner most evenings.
Watamu Treehouse - a handcrafted tower on a paradise beach
Watamu Treehouse is a multi-story treehouse tower overlooking the white sand beaches of the Kenyan tropical coast, and a mangrove estuary. It has been crafted with love - each floor and new wing added with acute care and planning over time - and is resplendent with original hand blown glass art. It has a Gaudi-esque feel to it! And considering the organic curves and bridges and 360-degree open-air views, it’s pretty mind-blowing.
Treehouse is owned by the Krystall family. Paul Krystall was born and raised in Nairobi. In 1992 with his young daughter and ex-wife - a yogi and health food enthusiast - he oversaw the construction of a single room home two minutes walk back from the most beautiful stretch of Watamu coastline he knew. Paul chose a spot that had access to a protected marine park, and a stunning mangrove estuary, also a protected wilderness area. Paul commissioned Nani Croze, artist and owner of Kitengela Glass to complete the single room family bungalow with unique and inspired glass features.
Over the years, whenever time and finances allowed, Paul would extend to the original structure. He maintained a strong creative contact with Kitengela Glass, and continued to expand the organic architecture with flair and mind-boggling glass art features. In conversation, Paul told me that he made the commitment to not cut down any trees in order to clear ground for construction. This is why he built up, soaring higher and higher, gaining the soul-igniting views that are now a Treehouse signature.
As the group size of visiting family and friends expanded, so did the incredibly skilled, friendly and loyal Treehouse staff members’ ability to organise and cater for them. Paul is a dedicated yogi himself, and ensured that there was always space and time for yoga and meditation classes. Treehouse built firm relationships with local farmers and Chef Kingi secures abundant fresh fruits and vegetables from the area. Paul transitioned from a private home to accepting paying guests with the intention of sharing the best he knew with others - this includes, connection to nature, rest, rejuvenating beach and forest adventures, yoga and meditation, and healthful, delicious food.
In 2014 the pool and yoga studio were added and Treehouse became a year-round boutique hotel and retreat centre. In 2018, a second yoga room and massage room were added to meet the growing demand of yoga groups and holiday seekers. Treehouse remains a boutique lodge - with only seven utterly unique suites, and many of the staff members have been with Paul since the very beginning. Staying at Treehouse is an unforgettable experience that touches your heart, and lifts your spirit.
Let me show you the best I know!
Join us as we travel to Kenya this October! We’ll be visiting both Sirikoi and Watamu Treehouse on a truly incredible and exclusive yoga safari holiday. I cannot wait to introduce you to Sue, Nikki and Tom, and Paul! The retreat package includes all domestic transport, luxury accommodation, safari excursions, yoga classes, delectable food and drinks. We have gone to great care to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests. Both Sirikoi and Treehouse are situated in safe and stable areas of Kenya and have 24/7 private security.