I Fell in Love With Giraffes Over Brunch at Nairobi’s Most Famous Hotel — Then I Fell in Love With the Rest of the City

The entire town of Cape May, one of the oldest seaside resort towns in the U.S., is a National Historic Landmark—and appropriately so. At the southernmost tip of New Jersey, it's got old-fashioned Victorians and a lighthouse built in 1859, as well as pristine beaches, surf and fine dining.

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a giraffe standing in front of a window: Giraffe Manor, Kenya

Golden light had just started to fall over the lush landscape, the rising sun warming up the red brick courtyard overlooking the 12-acre property just outside of Nairobi. The shaking of pellets in a metal bowl sounded and a group of giraffes started to slowly make their way across the greenery to the edge of a 1930s property that felt like it was plucked straight from the English countryside.

We had just arrived the previous morning on a brand-new Kenya Airways direct flight from JFK and were, naturally, exhausted. But as we drove past the city and pulled through the heavy gates of Giraffe Manor, catching our first glimpse of the iconic animals in the distance, the jet lag seemed to melt away. Many in the tourism industry throughout Kenya have said they’re hopeful the new direct flight will bring in more business, but one thing was for sure: there was nothing quite like going to sleep in New York and waking up to giraffes.

“Being able to interact with giraffes firsthand allows you a deeper knowledge of how unbelievably beautiful they are. And then the second reaction is ‘this is wildlife and it’s threatened wildlife,’” said Tanya Carr-Hartley, the owner of the Giraffe Manor and The Safari Collection. “We try and let people understand this is a breeding program and this is a threatened species—of course, the whole eclectic thing of having this neck inside a house is beyond ridiculous.”

a bedroom with a large window: Courtesy of Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor was first built in 1932 and welcomed its signature lanky animals in the 1970s. The Manor, and the adjacent Giraffe Centre, now have 10 Rothschild giraffes that move freely through 140 acres of protected land. The Giraffe Centre began as a breeding program to combat the dwindling number Rothschild giraffes in Kenya, and now there are over 300 throughout the country. The Giraffe center itself has welcomed five young giraffes, according to Carr-Hartley

The Manor usually books anywhere from nine months to two years in advance, with most people staying one or two nights, said Edgar Orlando, one of the managers at the hotel. And between the hotel’s small size (there are only 12 rooms and about three staff to every guest) and lack of fencing, you’d be forgiven for feeling like these towering animals were there for you and you alone.

a group of giraffe standing on top of a grass covered field: Courtesy of Giraffe Manor

The star is Edd, the biggest of the giraffes and one of the friendliest. But watch out for Daisy and Salma, while happy if you have treats to give, they’re known as “head-butters.” With these tips in mind I settled into one of the plush chairs on the terrace with a glass of red wine in hand a few hours after we arrived. The mist started to settle on the grounds, lending a surreal feeling to the property, and one of the manor’s staff softly called out to the distance, “Stacey.” She was far away, but giraffes have impeccable hearing. She turned her head in the half-darkness and almost begrudgingly, Stacey made her way toward us as Lily, her baby born in 2016, bounded in her wake. And just like that, I was face-to-face with a giraffe, standing on top of a raised terrace as her scratchy, wet tongue pulled a treat from my hand.

Related video: Related video: Why I’ll Never Ride an Elephant — and You Shouldn’t Either

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