A Visit to Segera Retreat

David Crookes / DCSyndication

The lodge in Kenya is Africa’s coolest new find.

Laikipia, in northern Kenya, has long been where the wealthy have bought up large tracts of land, built smart bush homes and farmed cattle to the expense of wildlife. It might’ve been the same at Segera, a ranch three times the size of Manhattan belonging to German businessman Jochen Zeitz. But ever since he bought the 50,000-acre property seven years ago, Zeitz, the former CEO of Puma and a shareholder in the African conservation and tourism giant Wilderness Safaris, has dedicated his efforts and a lot of his money to rehabilitating the land. Like many areas in Kenya, Segera had become critically overgrazed. Zeitz had 300 miles of fence removed and encouraged the free movement of game through the land, which is one of East Africa’s most important migration corridors. Now the wildlife show is getting back on track, and Zeitz has opened a lodge that’s quite possibly the most exciting safari camp to appear on the continent since Luke Bailes launched his game-changing Singita brand in 1993.

Africa does luxury lodge living well, but the draw at Segera is something besides its eight elegant timber-and-thatch guesthouses. The cottages sit within a ten-acre botanical garden carved out of the arid bush and dotted with contemporary sculptures by African artists. One cottage faces a piece of land art installation constructed of standing stones by South African Strijdom van der Merwe; the view from another is dominated by Walter Oltmann’s Suit—an aluminum-wire giant fashioned, says the artist, “after a 16th-century Benin ivory saltcellar carving of a European explorer wearing an elaborate suit.” In the property’s converted stable, a gallery showcases video installations by Zimbabwean Kudzanai Chiurai. Staying at Segera is like stepping into the Africa pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Zeitz is now one of the largest collectors of 21st-century contemporary art from Africa and the diaspora), except Mount Kenya, not the Campanile, provides the backdrop. Exhibits change regularly, each show curated by Mark Coetzee, former director of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

Other modern notes include a wine tower that holds 2,400 bottles and has a tank underneath to harvest rainwater, and a menu of exceptional raw-food dishes. Zeitz has an overt, even proselytizing approach to conservation, and Segera puts on exhibits that expose guests to what’s going on in Africa right now, from land-management issues with Kenya’s pastoralist tribes to regional education initiatives. (The Zeitz Foundation builds Waterbank schools, classroom buildings designed to harvest rainwater for students to drink during the day and bring home at night.)

Game drives, such as walking through herds of giraffe, form the core of the safari experience. But it’s all very relaxing—probably best suited to a family group on a second or third visit to Africa. There’s a turquoise saltwater pool in the garden where one can happily lose an afternoon, and the light-drenched spa has massage tables that feel like clouds, plus a Rasul tower and a rock-stone bath. Inside the main lodge is a library with classic African books and artifacts, while the Explorer Lounge has unpublished letters from Hemingway and the explorer David Livingstone. Afternoon teas—strawberry jam and scones, frothy cakes and crust-less sandwiches—are equal to a Chatsworth garden party.

But Segera is far more than the sum of its luxury parts, elephants, art and the well-oiled attention of its staff. Like the best private homes (the retreat is where Zeitz lives for up to four months a year), it’s a place of real conversation. Talk revolves not around derring-do tales from a macho safari guide but discussions with Zeitz (if he’s present) and the staff—Zeitz Foundation director Dr. Liz Rihoy is particularly impressive, along with guides like Jackson Omanda—about everything from conservation to technology, education, energy, China, poaching, “hybrid” democracies and the continent’s tastemakers, business leaders and filmmakers. It is this stimulating window into Africa’s new realities that makes Segera much more than just another rich man’s playground.

Wilderness Collection’s Segera Retreat starts at $880 a person per night. We’re particularly fond of the romantic Villa 6, which has a fireplace, rock bath and garden views, or the two-bedroom Family Villa, featuring a spacious outdoor deck; 27-11/807-1700; segera.com.