By Rose Henry
How one woman’s love of nature, art and people resulted in the creation of a dream sanctuary in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is one of those rare countries that have something to offer to almost everyone. But few know about its hidden gems such as Kelly’s Retreat. This picturesque private sanctuary is located in the town of Nazret (Adama) 99km southeast of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Developed and run by Kelly Seifu Yohannes, who is passionate about the environment, it is a unique garden paradise that showcases not only the best of nature but brings together a fabulous collection of antiques and artifacts.
I had a very strong vision from the beginning and wanted to integrate heritage with nature. The décor is an ever evolving combination of art, heritage and exotic Africa, characterized by deep colours and ingenious theatrical effects
Kelly was just 18 when she went to New York for higher studies. Some years later she got married to a diplomat and embarked on a journey that took her to some of the world’s most fascinating places such as Switzerland, France, Vienna, Italy, Spain, Britain, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan, besides the beautiful African countries.
Kelly approaches the environment with a sense of reverence. “We travelled a lot. It was a wonderful period of my life that helped me to learn and discover different cultures. Most importantly, I fell in love with nature. With my husband, who passed away recently, I decided to create a place that we could share with those in search of peace and nature. And so was born Kelly’s Retreat”.
Indeed, it is the perfect place to revive, rejuvenate and be inspired. Kelly stresses, “Kelly’s Retreat reunites your soul with nature. Here you feel at ease, away from the pollution of modern life.
“Solitude and silence make you forget the demands and din of modern life. It is the kind of place that helps you to discover yourself. It cleanses your mind while reviving your soul.”
No wonder Kelly’s Retreat has been the favourite haunt of some of the world’s most famous writers, poets, artists, diplomats, CEOs, politicians, heads of states, businessmen and nature lovers.
It was not nature alone that inspired Kelly to create this dream oasis. She says, “Besides the fact that I am an environmentalist, I am also a lover of arts and people. Over the years I had collected an amazing selection of paintings, sculpture, artifacts, antiques, furniture, rugs, fabrics, jewellery and books that I wanted to share with people who could enjoy and appreciate them.”
Spread in 11,400 sq. meter area, Kelly’s Retreat houses 22 luxurious and exclusive suites each with its own private courtyard. The eco-friendly brick and bamboo architecture blends the thatched roofs into its environment. The meandering pathways through the garden lead you to rich interiors layered with hand-crafted furnishings and antiques turning Kelly’s Retreat in to an aesthetic tour de force.
Therefore Kelly created large windows throughout the property including the reception, the rooms and the restaurant bringing in enough light and idyllic views of the surrounding gardens. Guests can almost imagine themselves on a mossy bank in a forest. Every surface brims with surprises.
The luscious gardens play host to more than 3000 species of plants and birds. Part of the facilities is a library cum museum that contains Kelly’s most precious private collections and is open to only her most exclusive guests.
Though it may come as a surprise, the retreat is well equipped with state-of-the-art conference facilities and business center. Whispers Kelly, “Our property is often exclusively booked by corporate big-wigs who use it as a business hideaway to develop their strategies, organize special workshops, seminars or plenary sessions.”
For those in search of relaxation, there is plenty to indulge in including a superb outdoor swimming pool surrounded by nature with only the chirping of birds and humming of insects to disturb you. “The water is special here and is coming from the local springs”.
Another highlight is the massage room that is an outdoor pavilion situated amidst the privacy of dense greenery. “It is absolutely heavenly when it rains. All you hear is a symphony of twittering birds, the sound of rain, the wizzle of the wind and the swaying of trees , as our therapists work magic on your tired muscles with natural oils, scrubs and salts infused with the fragrance of local flowers all rich in medicinal herbs and minerals”.
Tempting your taste buds is excellent international and local cuisine served in the all-day-dining restaurant. There is no shortage of choice on the menu. All meals are prepared using the freshest produce from the local market. You may even request the chefs to cook your favourite dish provided the ingredients are available in the kitchen.
Kelly is a familiar sight at the restaurant often entertaining her loyal guests, dignitaries, friends, staff… her very presence lights up the beautiful ambience. Kelly’s collection of music is as special as her taste of art and nature. It is definitely music for the soul. She says, “I have got the very best from different cultures and countries. My choice of music is not limited to one particular style. It all depends on the mood, the moment, the people.” For those wanting to pick up a souvenir, on site is Kelly’s Boutique offering a beautiful selection of artifacts and textiles each handpicked and sourced from the local artisans.
Kelly’s Retreat has been the favourite haunt of some of the world’s most famous writers, poets, artists, diplomats, CEOs, politicians, heads of states, businessmen and nature lovers Special mention must be made of her staff who are just terrific. Courteous and friendly, they attend to every guest with the greatest care and attention. All guests are welcomed to the daily coffee ceremony, where the hotel’s coffee woman prepares the finest Ethiopian coffee in traditional style. As the aroma of the freshly roasted coffee beans fills up the dining room, coffee lovers sit around the lady cracking jokes, catching up on each other’s lives, sharing the latest news.
A stay at Kelly’s Retreat was perhaps one of the most wonderful experiences I have had. A week passed like a day as I left the retreat with memories that will last a lifetime.