Tried & Tested

Hotel review: Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection

8 Sep 2019 by Jenni Reid
Sankara Nairobi exterior

Background

Sankara Nairobi opened as an independent hotel in 2010 and in May joined Marriott’s upscale and fast-expanding Autograph Collection, amid growing competition between big hotel groups in the Kenyan capital. 

There are touches of Marriott’s presence around the hotel, and of course you can now book through the Marriott website and use Marriott Bonvoy points, but the hotel has retained its individual character.

It recently finished converting its seventh floor from a spa into 12 new top-end rooms, including a presidential suite, with all these rooms locked off from the rest of the hotel.

Sankara Nairobi atrium

What’s it like?

The hotel was conceived as a “boutique business hotel”, according to General Manager Krishna Unni, and that is a fitting way to describe it. The lobby’s mix of dark wooden wall panelling and furniture, white marble floors and local artwork and sculptures didn’t feel very corporate, and the trendy rooftop bar attracts locals for evening drinks, but there are also good business facilities and the majority of guests seemed to be there for work (though I visited in low season). 

Sankara lobby

Security is tight, with access through a large wooden door which is always manned before a second glass entrance with more security guards. All guests pass through airport-style security gates and have their bags scanned. 

The staff were welcoming and helpful, and happy to provide local tips.

Sankara Nairobi reception

The reception is overlooked by a mezzanine with various dining options, including a patisserie, steakhouse, world food restaurant and coffee shop/bar. I was travelling alone and found the coffee shop, which is called the Gallery, a good place to read the local papers with a latte and watch the world go by through the large windows.

On the second floor is a lounge space which doubles as a gallery showcasing works by local and regional artists. Drinks receptions are held here every month or so. There are also prominent African artists featured along the corridors around the hotel.

The seventh floor has an executive lounge geared towards business travellers, as well as a gym and steam room/sauna. Outside there’s a rooftop pool, though this was being renovated during my visit, plus a champagne lounge and an upmarket yet relaxed bar.

Sankara Nairobi atrium

Where is it?

In the increasingly popular Westlands neighbourhood. Numerous businesses are relocating to the area, and hotels are springing up accordingly. While Sankara’s general manager Krishna Unni says there wasn’t much competition around when they opened nine years ago, recent arrivals to the area have included the Villa Rosa by Geneva-based Kempinski, as well as Pullman, Movenpick and Ibis Styles properties from Accor and a Park Inn by Radisson.

There are several options for dining and drinks in the area, though you will need to get a taxi at night since most of them are across a major road. Ask staff for recommendations – I tried the very nice Nyama Mama. There is a secure ATM opposite, which is handy. It’s also easy to get to the nearby Arboretum and Karuka forest for a walk, or down to the leafy suburbs of Lavington and Karen.

Rooms

The hotel has a variety of room types, the ‘lowest’ of which is called a Superior, rising up to Executive rooms to suites, as well as a huge presidential suite (this will set you back about $10,000 a night, with a special room for your bodyguard next door).

The seventh floor rooms are called Executive Sankara and have been refurbished the most recently. These feature lovely dark wood wall panelling, huge beds and gorgeous cream marble bathrooms.

However all rooms have been refreshed within the last few years, and have a muted but warm colour scheme, local artwork and floor-to-ceiling windows.

All rooms also have TVs, coffee-making facilities and desks, though with the Superior room you get an armchair rather than a full sofa.

The furnishings in my Executive Room were all high-quality, and I found it a welcoming and relaxing space. Soft, warm lighting was spread around the room and there was a plush rug.

A turndown service saw me get given slippers and a couple of chocolates. There was also a long pillow menu, which I always appreciate though rarely bother to use – options included an “anti-ageing” pillow treated with vitamin E, a lavender-infused pillow for relaxation, and a pillow stuffed with cherry stones, which apparently combats aches and pains.

Sankara Nairobi desk

A highlight was the bathroom, which had a bath (the glass panel you can see below had an electric blind), plus two separate rooms coming off it with a toilet and shower. The marble with dark black detailing on the rails looked very stylish.

One downside was that my shower didn’t get very hot, maybe because I used it late morning.

Food and drink

As mentioned there is a pretty extensive range of options on the first-floor mezzanine. The most recent addition is a Parisian-style patisserie called Opera, which I didn’t try but looked like it had some delicious options.

Then there’s the popular Graze steakhouse, which serves lunch and dinner, and the more relaxed bar and restaurant Artisan. The latter is also where the breakfast buffet is served.

This was extensive, with fruits, hot food, breads, pastries, eggs cooked to order, plus local extras such as a ‘Mandazi station’ – Mandazi is a doughnut-esque fried bread, which was served alongside a dripping honeycomb.

I braved the chilly weather to eat out on the terrace, surrounded by greenery.

The hotel has two bars, one on the mezzanine (the Gallery) and one on the rooftop (Sarabi). Also on the rooftop is the Champagne Bar, serving (unsurprisingly) various champagnes and champagne cocktails as well as a selection of whiskies.

Business

The hotel has 250 sqm of event space, including three ballrooms with a combined capacity of 220 (walls can be opened up or closed off), and several meeting rooms with modern AV equipment. There is also 600 sqm of outdoor space that can be used for events.

Sankara Nairobi meeting room

Restaurants Artisan and Graze have private dining rooms that would be good for groups on business.

Up on the seventh floor, the Sankara Lounge is open to those in Executive rooms or higher, or for an additional fee, and provides seating, computers and food/drink.

Sankara Executive lounge

Leisure

The rooftop pool is currently under renovation and should reopen at the end of September. There is also a gym and a steam room/sauna.

Sankara Nairobi rooftop pool

Verdict

A beautifully-decorated hotel with professional, friendly staff. The newly-renovated Sankara Executive rooms are especially nice.

There are extensive dining and drinking options for day and night, so it’s easy to stay in, but it’s also a good area of the city for going out.

The whole property feels individual, but guests can now also use Marriott’s booking services and loyalty scheme. An excellent option for business or leisure in the Kenyan capital.

Fact box

Best for A luxurious yet relaxed vibe, with good business and leisure facilities

Don’t miss Chatting to staff at the rooftop bar

Price A midweek stay in October starts from $170/£138

Contact +254 20 420 8000, marriott.com/hotels/sankara-nairobi-autograph-collection/

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