The Kijani Hotel onLamu Island,Kenyais a secret garden and a stately swahili retreat. Off the bustling waterfront of Shela village, dhows sway gently on the incoming tide as merchants and fishermen cross back and forth on the shimmering sand. A few steps away, a few white steps and a small entrance way, framed by clusters of frangipani and bougainville a flowers, opens to cool shade and green shadows.
Entering Kijani House is like stepping into a secret garden. Two aquamarine pools glow gently in the shade of giant kunazi trees, small tables and beach chairs lie in the shade of a profusion of different species of palm trees, and flowering flamboyant and yellow oleanders branch out over large terraces that face the ocean. ‘Kijani’ means green in Kiswahili, at once invoking the colour of Islam, the small hotel’s verdant gardens, and new growth. Swiss owner Pierre Oberson created Kijani House to revive the tradition of stone Swahili houses and create an authentic retreat for visitors looking to experience Lamu’s past.
It tookPierremore than ten years to rebuild the hotel from the ruins of three old houses, and he used only traditional methods and materials in the restoration. Kijani’s rooms and gardens are filled with antiques or handmade replicas of the furniture, lanterns, ornaments, and utensils that graced the stately houses of Lamu’s past. Copies of Old Portuguese lanterns hang from white archways. An arrangement of ceramic water pots stand – used to carry oil and water aboard ships centuries ago – stand under the shade of a palm tree.
Members of the village even borrow Kijani’s ceremonial chair, crafted from hardwood and wickerwork on the nearbyislandofSiyu, for weddings and special occasions. True to the atmosphere of a Swahili house, Kijani’s rooms and central areas emphasize the aesthetics of privacy and space. Each room has a private veranda shaded from sight by arabesque archways and trees.
The 10 rooms are vast and cool, shards of sunlight and ample breeze welcomed through tall shutters. A canopied Swahili bed stands beside antique cupboards and tables coloured with hand-painted Indian tiles and painted glass. In the bathroom, intricately carved mirrors set off the sensuous effect of the walls, ceiling, and floor in warm ochre, its heady oriental effect heightened by shafts of light filtering through shutters from the world outside.
Kijani House offers a retreat from the bright bustle of Lamu’s waterfront – a lush oasis of green gardens, pools, and cool rooms in all their Swahili splendour. Kijani restaurant offer an exotic selection of seafood, Swahili dishes and a touch of Italian cuisine. Fruit and vegetable are coming from the Kijani small farm in the middle ofLamuIsland. Available from the cellar, a good selection of Italian and South African wine’s.
(Check out www. kijani-lamu.com for more information)