Never thought I’d say this but now I miss the days when people stopped me in the knickers department in Dunne’s and asked me ”Of all the places you’ve ever been, where is your favourite?” Only because that question has more recently been replaced with “Will you be heading up the aisle anytime soon?” This leads to an awkward moment, where inevitably I answer something like “No, I’m actually thinking of heading back to the Killing Fields of Cambodia….just for a break.” Queue confused expression, more awkward silence and an eventual turn of the heel.
I’m certainly not qualified to talk about flowers, dresses, churches or wedding bands, But if there is one wedding item on the check list that I’m qualified to talk about it is honeymoons. If you will be saying “I Do” in the near future, then you will surely be asking “Do you know somewhere new and exciting, romantic and affordable that you have been to and can personally recommend. Here’s my chance folks…..“I DOOOOOOOO”
My first time to the spice island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania was eight years ago after an amazing safari in Kenya. Tired backpackers since the sixties have been coming here to chill out after climbing Mt Kilimanjaro or an overloading adventure across Africa.
Long before the backpackers though, it was Arab traders who came and went from the island. 93% of the islands population toady is Islamic and the Eastern influence is still very noticeable around the ancient city of Stone town, where women in burkas weave through the narrow streets, past intricately carved wooden doors and where speakers on top of mosque minarets blare out the call to prayer.
Stone town is a functioning working capital albeit 200 years old. Six years after my last visit, I found it to be busier, dirtier and more run down than I’d remembered. People are going about their daily lives and you get an insight into that which can be rare in a lot of tourist island hot spots. It’s a reminder that this is an inhabited island where the African way of life fuses with the Middle East. The meat and fish market are both worth a visit, even just to compare with the health and safety practices we have at home!Locals barter loudly over produce which is laid out on the ground in front of them or hanging on bloody hooks. Massive yellow fin tuna are flung from the roofs of jeeps to be filleted and sold along with the freshest moray eel!. Outside, spice stalls line the streets, children and chickens run in all directions and it’s buzzing in the unique way that an African market does. If it all gets a little much, on the tourist trail and much less smelly are The House of Wonders and the Arab fort which are definitely worth a visit.
But really the reason people come here is for the beaches. The palm thatched, rustic shacks of the sixties have been replaced with luxury hotels, most situated on the busy north coast.
But in the south east, 45minutes from Stone town, the island has recently opened the doors of unrivaled luxury at the five star Residence hotel. As you drive through the gates,the open air white marble reception frames a picture perfect collage of blues with the infinity pool in the distance and the Indian ocean beyond.
As we made our way to the villa, every member of staff that floated past on their bicycles, greeted us with their hand on their heart, “Nam as Day”. After a few days this simple gesture becomes recognizable as part of the hotels customer service. 98% of the staff who work here are from Zanzibar or neighbouring Tanzania and you can tell they are genuinely proud and excited that finally this venture is open for business.
The property has 66 villas, 29 of which are ocean front. Maku, the guest relations manager, explains the philosophy of the hotel. “With most honeymooners, we might not see them for two days! They have either come off a weeks safari or straight from their busy wedding and they want to be left alone. The villas are designed in such a way to be a home away from home. Depending on whether our guests are on full or half board they can have their lunch and dinner delivered to their room by their private butler at no extra cost. “
Yes, I did say private butler, every villa has one as well as a private deck with your own infinity pool.
If you can, splash out on the ocean front villa because the luxury of being able to use your villa without feeling the pressure of added room service costs, the privacy of your deck, the beauty of the beach beyond where even the palm trees seem to be greeting you with their perfect curvature against the backdrop of the glistening Indian Ocean make it truly worth it
Every villa comes with two bicycles and they will be your mode of transport. Cycle the length of the beach, past the floodlit tennis court, up to the Spa, stuffed with the fanciest French Carita goodies, round by the massive infinity swimming pool and finally stop at the bar for a well earned Mojito before dinner in the Arabian styled Pavillion restaurant. Mezze to die for, slow baked lamb, spicy fish stew. And when you have dined like a sultan, you can collapse on low wide sofas, loosen the drawstring on your linen trousers and smoke a hookah pipe to your hearts content before jumping on your bike home.
Swimming with dolphins in the wild is something that regularly makes peoples Bucket List and in Zanzibar, as well as diving and snorkelling, it’s one of the most popular things to do. Kizimkazi village is a short drive from Residence and where you catch the boat out into the Indian Ocean. Before long,we see a school of dolphins to our right, swimming towards us. ALL OVERBOARD! I was actually quite nervous seeing them coming towards us; a force of nature in the clear blue water. We never got close enough to touch them but what an exhilarating experience.
For those who want to disappear a little deeper into the Indian Ocean, there is a fully licenced PADI dive school in the hotel. They also organize deep sea fishing trips and sunset cruises.
The hotel is remote so the Residence Hotel is for those couples who are truly looking to get away from it all and switch off. It’s also worth mentioning for those with a limited timeframe, you can jump on an overnight flight from Heathrow and be at the beach in time for breakfast, with no Jet lag.
If you feel like more of a lively atmosphere for one or two nights, have a look at the five star Baraza hotel on the other side of the island, 45 minutes drive away. This beautiful all inclusive family run property sits on Bwejuu beach, voted one of the top 30 beaches in the world by Conde Naste. It has two sister properties next door, the small but intimate Palms with only six villas and Breezes hotel and Spa with it’s lively bar and late night jamming sessions.
June 25, 2018