Meet Alba, the Meru beauty

A week ago, I found myself on unfamiliar territory.

A friend who has chosen to ditch the bachelor’s club picked me as one of his official spokesmen during his ruracio ceremony.

I normally have subtle ways of avoiding the many rituals that come with such bride price negotiations. But he insisted, not because I am an expert negotiator but due to the fact that I knew a thing or two about her future bride who hails from Meru County. And so for the second time in less than a fortnight, I found myself on the slopes of Mount Kenya. It had been over 10 years since my last visit to Meru.

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Back then I had used the Embu-Chogoria route with its notorious twists and turns that were associated with deadly road smashes. A number in our party had no qualms about such old tales and opted for the route. On the other hand, my group chose the longer Nanyuki-Timau route in order to enjoy a closer view of the mountain. This route too, has its hair-raising bends more so as you approach the Meru-Isiolo junction. What mesmerises me about this junction is the clear divide between the ‘green’ Mount Kenya region and the “brown’ Isiolo land. But that is nature for you.

Changing town

A lot, as you can imagine, has changed in Meru especially with Devolution. New apartments are coming up in every corner. New malls are changing the landscape of the town and people’s lifestyle preferences too. On the hospitality side however, Meru has always been in the shadows of neighbouring Isiolo and Laikipia counties. Despite Meru National Park being close by, getting adequate accommodation was always a nightmare. That is until Alba Meru happened on the scene.

Alba is arguably Meru’s finest. For starters, the 51-room hotel located in the quiet Milimani suburb that opened in 2013 is said to be the first building in Meru to install an elevator. Apart from the usual deluxe or superior rooms, Alba has a junior suite, one and two bedroom suites for busy guests who may want to host guests or conduct business in the living quarters. Then there is the Presidential suite with splendid views of Mount Kenya. The suite was a regular haunt for President Uhuru Kenyatta especially during the 2017 campaign period. From the ornate décor in public areas to room serenity, it certainly sets the standards for the local hospitality industry.

Meru is an agricultural community, a fact that is also evident from the hotel balconies. It is not unusual to wake up in a four-star hotel room to be greeted by mooing cows and bleating goats from the neighbours. On a hot afternoon, the scorching heat is broken by a soft breeze from banana leaves on the opposite side of the fence, close to the hotel’s swimming pool.  

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I had no intention of spending a night in Meru. My culture dictates that once you visit new in-laws for the solemn occasion, you are to leave the home and its precincts as soon as the deal is done lest other demands should follow. However, that resolve changed with a call from John Njiru, Alba’s general manager, who invited me for a chat and an update on his life since he left Nairobi’s hotel scene. Njiru is a veteran of the hospitality industry with close to 37 years experience. He started in Safari Park’s front office soon after his studies at Utalii College in Nairobi. He left Safari Park in 2005 for Silver Springs before taking on Alba’s managerial duties in 2014.

People like Njiru have seen a metamorphosis in the industry. It is no easy task balancing the famed African hospitality with modern technology. He tells me that he has the unenviable task of convincing locals whose homes could be adjacent to the hotel that the food and beverage section of the hotel is worth visiting. What a tough job to earn his keep!

With a full day on the outskirts of Meru town, the night at Alba was brief. I was too tired to try their gym equipment – my favourite pastime in any overnight hotel stay. My breakfast too was a hasty affair as I contemplated my journey back to the city. Yet, unless someone comes up with another serious upcountry joint here, Alba will continue to hold the tag as Meru’s finest.

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MeruEmbu-Chogoria routeMeru-IsioloMilimaniMount Kenya