Where hearts run wild

The rolling savannah worked wonders for Prince William when he popped the question. Ute Junker stops by to rate the romance factor.

PARIS, the Maldives ... Kenya? Although the east African nation has long relied on tourism as a major industry, its romantic reputation has been almost non-existent. Since Prince William chose to propose to Kate Middleton there, however, interest from the wedding and honeymoon sector is skyrocketing.

So just how high is Kenya's romance rating? Prince William's choice of venue was influenced by his long-standing love of the area. He first came to Kenya as a child and has since been a regular visitor. His favourite destination is the northern rangelands, a rolling savannah that spreads north from the snow-tipped silhouette of Mount Kenya, Africa's second highest mountain. Far from the crowds that visit the Maasai Mara, the northern rangelands offer the opportunity to savour the beauty of the countryside, with options ranging from horseback safaris to trout fishing in crystal-clear streams.

Here are three ways to fall in love in this unspoiled part of Kenya.

Rustic romance

Trout fishing, tartan blankets, crackling fires to ward off in the evening chill - although it's halfway up the slopes of Mount Kenya, there's more than a touch of the Scottish Highlands to Lake Rutundu. Given the royal penchant for all things Scottish, it's perhaps no surprise, then, that Prince William should have chosen this as the right place to pop the question.

Rutundu is not your usual African getaway. For a start, it's quite inaccessible, even by African standards. If you visit by car, you'll need to drive several hours from Nairobi, before you turn off the main road and continue another three hours over a rough track. Prince William and Kate took a more direct route by helicopter, but that option isn't exactly cheap.

The two cabins at Rutundu, each with two rooms, are far from luxurious, with rustic timber walls and wooden four-poster beds. There's no electricity: if you want a hot shower, you'll need to light a fire first to heat the water. Instead of a fridge, there's a cupboard outside the kitchen - the cool mountain air has its own preservative effect.

So what makes this a getaway fit for a king (to be)? The isolation, the privacy and the chance to keep things simple appealed to Middleton, who wrote in the guestbook: "I love the warm fires and candlelight - so romantic."

Scenic walks are the main activity, along with trout fishing in the nearby lakes Rutundu and Alice, though it seems the couple were unlucky there. "Sadly, no fish to be found but we had fun trying," Middleton wrote.

It's a no-frills approach to romance that won't work for everyone but was clearly fine for Prince William and his bride.

Roaring romance

There's something inherently sexy about safari. Whether your sightings include prowling cats or giraffes elegantly striding the plain, predators tearing into the carcass of a water buffalo or just a herd of elephant swaying through the trees, close encounters with wildlife get your blood coursing in all sorts of ways. Throw in candle-lit dinners under a canopy of blazing stars and you have a holiday guaranteed to stoke the fires of almost any relationship.

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, just north of Mount Kenya, is one of Kenya's most important conservation areas and has long been a favourite holiday destination for Prince William. The conservancy, which covers 26,000 hectares, was founded in 1995 with the aim of helping preserve Kenya's endangered rhino populations. Today, the area is one of the best places to see black and white rhino, being home to more than 10 per cent of Kenya's population of black rhinos, and 14 per cent of its white rhinos.

A number of lodges are in the conservancy, including Lewa Safari Camp, which consists of a series of tents with thatch roofs, verandahs and en suite bathrooms. The guides are intimately acquainted with the animals in the area and will unerringly lead you to the most interesting spots - on our first game drive, the first thing we spy is a mother cheetah with two young cubs, sheltering in the shade of a small bush.

The highlight of our visit, however, is when we pull up just a few metres from two large lions - one male, one female - lying exhausted in the long grass. It's mating season and lions are known for their prolific lovemaking. They will mate for three days straight, though each bout can be remarkably quick - as we are about to discover.

Perhaps animated by the knowledge that he has an audience, the male suddenly stands up and nudges his mate. Instantly, he's on top of her. A few seconds and a muted roar later, it's all over and they both sink back to the ground.

There's something about Lewa, we decide, that just seems to get everyone in the mood.

Hollywood romance

There's something utterly improbable about the Mount Kenya Safari Club. For a start, the property is bisected by the equator, yet the view takes in the snow-covered summit of Mount Kenya and, due to the altitude, the nights are chilly enough to require a log fire in your room. The resort's 40 hectares are lushly manicured, yet giant marabou storks stalk proudly about as though they own the place.

Unlike most of the properties around Mount Kenya, the Safari Club specialises in old-school glamour: no surprise, given it was once owned by the actor William Holden; past guests include the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Ali MacGraw.

There's a range of accommodation options, from tranquil garden cottages to sprawling presidential suites. But the accommodation is only part of the attraction. What Mount Kenya Safari Club does best is offer opportunities to explore the area's stunning scenery.

See elephant and zebra on a horseback safari, catch your own dinner in the resort pond, which is home to more than 6000 fish, or enjoy a round of golf on perhaps the only course that lets you tee off in either hemisphere.

Hardcore adventurers can sign up for the four-day trek to the top of Mount Kenya. For a more romantic mountain experience, enjoy an outdoor breakfast of champagne and smoked salmon on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Or, if even that requires too much energy, laze by the pool or enjoy a massage.

The writer travelled courtesy of the Kenya Tourist Board.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air Mauritius flies twice a week to Nairobi via Mauritius. Fares from $1833. 1300 332 077, airmauritius.com.

Staying there

Rutundu: Prices start from $US400 ($378)a night for up to eight people, self-catering. rutundu.com.

Lewa Safari Camp: Prices start from about $US320. lewasafaricamp.com.

Mount Kenya Safari Club: Prices start from about $US400 a night. fairmont.com/kenyasafariclub.

More information


Six other honeymoon ideas

1 It's an old-school choice but you can't beat Venice for romance — and the Hotel Londra Palace is one of La Serenissima's most romantic hotels, with stunning views over the lagoon. londrapalace.com.

2 After a Polynesian honeymoon away from the crowds? Le Taha'a is an intimate resort with sprawling overwater bungalows set in a postcard-perfect lagoon. The in-lagoon massage is a highlight. www.relaischateaux.com.

3 Not planning to set foot outside your villa? The Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, near Nha Trang in Vietnam — accessible only by boat — is the perfect place to hide away in the lap of luxury. sixsenses.com.

4 Looking for something other than sea and sand? Amanjiwo has a stunning location overlooking Java's magnificent Borobodur monument, luxurious suites with outdoor tubs and a backdrop of volcanic mountains. amanresorts.com.

5 Treat yourself to a treetop honeymoon at Hapuku Lodge in New Zealand's South Island, where guests can sleep in 10-metre tree houses in the middle of a manuka grove. hapukulodge.com.

6 Wake up to one of the best views in the world on the shores of Peru's magnificent Lake Titicaca. Titilaka Lodge offers indulgence — love the free wines in the minibar — and a chance to explore this unique environment. kiwicollection.com.