Luxury means different things to different people. For some it’s being waited on hand and foot and not leaving your five-star sun lounger for two weeks. For us, real luxury is the opportunity to experience new things. That’s what gives us itchy feet, makes us book flights to far flung destinations that we can’t really afford or pronounce and gives us a ravenous appetite to keep on travelling.
So despite the fact we’d be arriving from Richard Branson’s ultra-luxurious safari camp (which you can read about here), Watamu Treehouse completely held its own in the luxury department – albeit in a different kind of way.
The sleepy coastal town of Watamu sits north of Mombasa and even nearer Malindi, on Kenya’s picturesque coast.
Open to the elements, the treehouse is the stuff of dreams. It takes a certain level of self-belief to take on a project like this and owner Paul has got it in spades.
He’s the biggest fan of sunsets (I mean, who isn’t), so bought a plot of land right by the beach, promised he wouldn’t chop down a single tree and then constructed this dreamlike tower so you’d be able to see the sun set from every room – as you do.
Home to the cheekiest of monkeys (which unless you happen to be made of Nutella, are completely uninterested in you), we were staying high up in the honeymoon room (aren’t we always, eventually he’ll get the hint). Each room is completely unique but ours had a huge balcony area complete with day bed, a shower which overlooked the trees below and a giant 7ft by 7ft bed.
Inviting nooks and crannies appear throughout with bespoke furniture, and you’re served your meals in a different location each day. Everywhere you look there is blue stained glass that reminds you of the sea and the sky. It’s truly beautiful and a complete labour of love. It started out as a much smaller home for Paul and his daughter and has grown with him into the home that he kindly shares with us today. The piece de resistance being the yoga room at the very top of the house with 360 degree views of beach, creek and the canopy of trees below. Due to the nature of the house, rooms are very much open, meaning we could hear others guests and they’d be able to hear you. However, it’s such a respectful place that this only adds to its charm.
We were staying on a B&B basis but quickly realised that the best food to be had in Watamu was indeed at the treehouse. We’d recommend going half board so you get to choose between lunch and dinner. Influenced by the likes of the Helmsley sisters, Paul himself is vegetarian but they serve a pescatarian menu to guests that want it.
Breakfast might be homemade granola, fresh fruit and yoghurt followed by healthy pancakes and eggs or perfectly presented smashed avocado on toast. Dinner always starts with soup and might follow with delicately spiced fish curry or skewers served with brown rice, bowls of veg and dips. It was genuinely faultless. It’s the kind of food that makes you feel perfectly content and rebalanced but in no way missing out on anything. Desserts included chocolate avocado mousse and raw cheesecakes. They don’t serve booze but are happy for you to bring your own. You might want to have a glass of wine during your first sunset (which takes place after the daily evening yoga class, where sundowner smoothies are included in the room rate) but it felt quite nice not having booze on tap, it just felt right in this space.
Aside from the treehouse we had a great lunch at nearby Crab Shack. Just getting there felt like a magical experience, as you walk along the rickety bridge, through the mangroves. We ate crab samosas and red snapper ceviche followed by the catch of the day. Proceeds go back into helping the local fishing community and staff there are lovely (actually, everyone we met in Kenya was SO loveley). Non solo Gelato is also a great lunch spot, where aside from the ice cream you’ll find fresh focaccia stuffed with cured meats and gorgonzola, imported directly from Italy. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that there is a big Italian community in Watamu, and that’s reflected in a lot of the food.
So, what is there to do aside from eating? Well we were fortunate enough to visit during the full moon. Paul kindly took us under his wing and shared some of his favourite activities with us. These weren’t boring, organised tour groups, this was Paul, showing us what he liked to do. It felt like we’d won the lottery.
One day we walked (barefoot, Paul insisted) through the mangroves, with water up to our knees. Eventually this opened up into a lake where stand up paddle boards were waiting for us. Fresh juice was shared around and we had a practise go through the mangroves, learning to turn and stop before venturing out into the middle of the lake. Once we were suitably too far to turn back, we dropped our anchors and watched the sun set in front of us, before turning to see the moon rise behind us – all with a cup of hot chai in hand. We paddled back (some of us were more dragged to be fair – ahem) in the light of the moon, returning back in time for dinner. SO special.
Another morning we got up mega early, walked through the nearby village, past the baobab trees in order to float down Mida Creek. It’s only possible to do this during the full moon when the pull of the current is so strong you don’t really have to do much. I can’t really swim so it was with some trepidation that I chucked myself in but somehow ended up on the beach some 60 minutes later where a traditional (and incredible) breakfast had been set up for us in the shallow clear waters.
If that all sounds a little too energetic, it’s worth popping into the Local Ocean Trust opposite. They’re a non-profit organisation that work tirelessly with the local community to educate on the importance of looking after the ocean and beach. They nurse poorly turtles back to health with the aim to rehabilitate them once they’re well enough. Again, all the stars aligned for us and we were lucky enough to help release this fella back into the ocean. But even if you’re not so lucky, it’s well worth a visit for the eye opening facts on plastic and what we can do to help the planet in our own little way. Kenya has actually completely banned all plastic bags with bottles following by the end of April. It’s a radical, progressive and drastic measure that highlights the impact this is having on our wildlife and habitat.
Our holiday drew to a close with a massage in our room ($25 for an hour – total steal!) as the sun set behind us, the orange glow filling our hearts, just as the moon had during a beach meditation we’d taken part in earlier in the week.
So if holidays are all about experiencing new things, you really couldn’t ask for a more luxurious holiday.
Need to Know
We flew into Malindi from the Mara-Olare Orok airstrip with Air Kenya and arranged a taxi transfer with the treehouse directly (about £20). On the way home, we got our flight from Mombasa which is further away (about 2 hours & ½ hours, and £60) but will take you directly to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for a direct flight back to Heathrow. Again, our international flight was with Kenya Airways.