Sleep well: Elsamere

A stay at Elsamere, the former home of George and Joy Adamson, with its views of Lake Naivasha and its unique and fascinating history is an experience to savour. And it’s good for the wildlife too, as Lizzie Williams explains.

Elsamere lies on the banks of Kenya’s picturesque Lake Naivasha and is the former home of George and Joy Adamson. The couple, who met on safari in 1942 when George was the game warden for Kenya’s northern frontier, became world famous for their pioneering conservation work and relationship with Elsa the lioness, as told in Joy’s bestselling book and subsequent film Born Free. Today the Adamsons’ former home is the Elsamere Conservation Centre, which also provides afternoon teas for day visitors and comfortable and unique accommodation for overnight guests.

It is one of the most famous wildlife stories ever told: the Adamsons raised a lion cub after George found it in a cleft of rock in 1955, after shooting its dangerous man-eating mother. Despite their deep affection for her, they agreed Elsa must be rehabilitated back into the wild. Once they had painstakingly taught her how to hunt and kill, she was released into the bush. The Adamsons knew for certain that they had been successful when they left Elsa for a week and returned to find that she had killed a waterbuck. This ground-breaking project was completed when she mated with a wild male and bore three cubs. Joy wrote Born Free in 1959, and it went on to sell millions of copies in a dozen languages.

Sadly, in 1961, Elsa died of tick-bite fever. She was buried beside the Tana River, in what is now Kenya’s Meru National Park (which the Adamsons helped to establish in 1968). Both the Adamsons were brutally murdered some years later – Joy in 1970, aged 70, in Shaba Game Reserve by an ex-member of staff in retaliation for being sacked; and George in 1989, aged 83, in Kora Game Reserve by bandits. They each left their entire estates, including Elsamere, to the Elsa Conservation Trust, which supports numerous wildlife education and conservation projects in Africa.

In 1964 the Born Free movie was filmed in Kenya. Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna played the parts of George and Joy: they too were married in real life. Working alongside George and Joy profoundly affected Travers and McKenna and influenced the rest of their lives. Bill turned his hand from acting to making wildlife documentaries, and in 1984 the couple founded the Born Free Foundation. Today this Foundation represents many global wildlife charities and initiatives that undertake conservation and public awareness campaigns to prevent animal abuse and to keep wildlife in its natural habitat.

Earlier this year, Kenya Airways joined forces with the Born Free Foundation and the deal was unveiled by Virginia McKenna and the Kenya Airways CEO, Dr Titus Naikuni, in the Nairobi National Park on 10 February 2013. The Foundation and Kenya Airways are now working on some exciting projects involving anti-poaching campaigns and raising funds for wildlife conservation.

Elsamere remains much as it was when George and Joy lived there. It houses a collection of memorabilia from the Born Free story, including personal photos of Elsa and first editions of Joy’s books, while the dress she wore to the royal premiere of the Born Free movie and the typewriter she used are on display. Day visitors are welcome for the legendary Elsamere afternoon tea on the green lawns under giant yellow acacia trees occupied by an entertaining troop of black-and-white colobus monkeys. Additionally, overnight guests can sleep in the several spacious garden cottages with views over Lake Naivasha, or in George and Joy’s bedroom in the main house, which is decorated with Joy’s own paintings. Dinner is in the Adamson’s dining room, while watching hippo coming up from the lake to munch on the grassy lawns. Guests can hire boats, walk in Hell’s Gate National Park or Crescent Island Game Park, and visit Lake Naivasha Country Club. All profits go to the Elsa Conservation Trust.

Further info:
Elsamere is on the Moi South Lake Road, 22km from its junction with the old Nairobi/Nakuru road at Naivasha town, which is 90km northwest of Nairobi. Transfers can be arranged. US$240-275 for a double room full board. Tel: +050-202-1055;