Ever so often our review team visits a different hotel, resort, safari lodge or tented camp and submits an exclusive review for our clients. Our reviews are intended to give an entirely fair picture of the accommodation unit in question, highlighting both good points and bad. We will also give information on the area around the unit, the type of recreational facilities, the standard of cuisine, welcome and ‘feel good' factor.
As part of our annual hotel review programme, we went out to review Peponi Hotel ... A small hotel on the exotic island of Lamu, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya.
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............... 'the Lamu Legend' Peponi Hotel, Lamu Island
A small hotel on the exotic island of Lamu, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya... "Peponi is simple, fresh, cheerful and everything about it is totally original and genuine - no frozen foods here, nor frozen smiles."
Harpers and Queen
There's a certain feeling of superiority as you walk through the Peponi Hotel's famous bar, packed as usual with an eclectic crowd of casually glamorous regulars, tall tale-telling fishermen, expensively bedraggled ‘yachties', darting dhow captains, and itinerant people-watchers. You could, of course, join them in the acknowledged ‘place to be' of Shela Village where anyone and everyone eventually turns up to see and be seen. But there's a certain éclat to rejecting it all in favour of a camel.
One of an astounding number of activities offered by Peponi's dynamic management, the ‘Sunset Camel Walk' begins on the beach below the hotel, where the camels wait, legs patiently folded, saddles plumped, impossibly long lashes disdainfully downcast. There's no glamour in getting a leg over, and the sickening lurch as the back legs rise before the front must have riled even Lawrence of Arabia, but once you're up and swaying past the faux Beau Geste fortress that stands sentinel to 14km of dune wilderness and creeping tides, it's difficult not to experience a certain camel-smugness.
This may falter as you climb through the coarse tussock-grass of the dunes, where even the camels indulge in the odd slither, but exultation returns as you crest the peaks, now golden-tinged by a sinking sun. Having parked your determinedly indifferent camel, you climb to a vantage point from whence it seems you can see all the way to the Tana Delta. Here, with careful concentration, your camel minders produce ice, glasses and drinks. Then the vast swathe of beach, where flying fish and dolphin leap, is yours.
Descending darkening dunes on a camel can be daunting. By this time, however, your inner Bedouin should have emerged, and may even remain dominant as you sweep back through the bar, which is now much noisier than before, and where a large man with a grey pony-tail is inexplicably nursing a seagull, a Nefertiti-faced cat is licking its paws on the seawall, and a dreadlocked local is making muscular overtures to a cluster of fuchsia-faced belles.
The Kathmandu at the end of the African hippie trail, Lamu hit the hip listings in the 1960s. Since then, backpacks have increasingly given way to boutique hotels, especially in Shela, where the property boom is marked by a steady train of donkeys carting sand and coral-blocks from ancient dhows to metamorphosing Swahili mansions.
Originally the home of a colonial colonel, thereafter a gay millionaire, the Peponi Hotel stands at the end of the Shela seafront, with only a couple of houses between it and the dunes. Eccentric and rambling, it offers 22 tastefully and efficiently presented rooms, which appear to have evolved over time into an organic jumble of staircases, terraces and meandering palm-garden pathways, and are now being extended to include a selection of self-catering apartments.
If you wish to dine at the hotel, you must make your choice from the extensive menu before 5pm and, depending on how full the hotel is, you may be seated amid the crisp-white damask of the terrace, in the fern-grottoes of the swimming pool, or lantern-lit on the breezy flat roof. Excelling in seafood, and fielding a superb Sushi selection, the cuisine is faultless, as are the white-clad waiters, some of whom have been in attendance for forty years; as indeed have some of the guests.
And here lies the secret of Peponi: simultaneously a much-loved anachronism and one of the most uniquely novel ‘brands' the Kenyan hotel trade has ever (or will ever) devise, it's as much home to the old guard of crusty old sailors and kaftan-swathed ladies of a certain age, as it is to visiting globe-trotters and tousle-haired hunks in expensively ripped shorts. Meanwhile, beyond the hallowed precincts of the bar is a bougainvillea-shaded terrace; a no-man's land where dhow captains, back-packers, would-be gigolos, cats, entrepreneurs, young bloods and ancient waiters mingle in happy chaos. If you put the scene into a film, it would be deemed contrived: at the Peponi Hotel, it's just one more day in an epic existence.
Rates: per ensuite room inclusive of airport transfers:
• Superior (B and B) Euros 275,
• Standard: Euros 215.
The rates apply per room, not per person and Peponi does not offer Half Board stays.
All rooms are sea facing with private shower and verandah. The hotel remains closed in May and June.
• Kayaking adventure on Manda Toto
• 3-Day kayak safari to Kiunga Marine Reserve
• One day's camping
• Guided tours of Lamu
• Sunset dhow trips
• Dhow trip to Takwa Ruins
• Speedboat safaris to Pate and Kiwayu
• Full moon dhow cruise
• Deep-sea fishing
• Dinghy sailing
• Dolphin-spotting at Kinyika Rock
• Snorkelling and fishing off Manda Toto Island
• Island BBQ's and snorkelling trips
• Camel rides and sundowners
• Bird watching
• Visit to an Orma goat farm
• In-room beauty treatments and massages
Peponi Hotel is one of Lamu's most famous and iconic hotels. First opened in 1967, it is a small and personal hotel, right on the water's edge in Shela Village, a few kilometres walk, or a 20 minute dhow ride away from Lamu Town. Guests arrive at the hotel by dhow and then walk along the sandy beach to the hotel.
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