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Bwejuu Beach, South East Coast, Zanzibar

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Arabian Nights in Baraza

Songs, stories and the spirit of the past at the Zanzibar Collection

Words by Carolyn Burdet

Three tall Maasai tribesmen, dressed in cotton robes of orange the colour of flaming sunsets, stand perfectly poised on the shoreline, a silhouette against the white sand. We are in Africa, this is the Indian Ocean. The sea is clear as aquamarine crystal, the wide horizon curved as a watermelon.

If you aimed your telescope from atop a ship’s mast to steer the galleon out into the Indian Ocean, you’d have the Maldives in sight, dots of sandy beach. Little sailing boats lilting in the sand give no hint of a turbulent past, of shipwrecked sultans and slave ships heaving with the misery of human cargo.

From the moment the pilot on Kenya Airways greeted us with ‘Jambo’ we are in the heart of Africa. We breakfast in the creative hub of Nairobi, and by sunrise the plane is circling the crater at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, rising high above the clouds, before we land in Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands off the east coast of Tanzania in Africa, a paradise on the silk trading and spice route in the Indian Ocean. Now we are staring out at the Indian Ocean, as Maasai tribesmen disappear from view.

Many tourists arrive in Zanzibar footsore from trekking Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, for a restoration week by the beach… or dusty from a game drive safari on mainland Tanzania, Kenya or Zimbabwe.

There is no big game on Zanzibar; the big five here are zebra fish, parrot fish, butterfly fish, striped Moorish fish, and trumpet fish, darting in and out of the coral reef. This is an ocean playground of diving and snorkeling. Dolphins dance off the southern coast of Zanzibar, and whales migrate in the ocean’s depths off the east coast.

A path of wooden slats stretches towards the sea as we step across shallow rockpools to a boat waiting to take us to Mswakini lagoon. The only people in sight are oyster-catchers on the sandbanks at low tide. Wading thigh deep, hoiking our shirts above the waves, we climb aboard the creaky wooden boat, and the skipper hauls a rusting anchor onto the deck. We head out to the sparkling turquoise lagoon.

Swimming from the boat across the currents to the coral reef, our diving instructor Hassan sings through his snorkel. Bubbles rise from oxygen tanks as divers surface, gasping in wonder at hearing whale song under the sea.

Back at Paje, a five-mile stretch of fine sand, Breezes is a lighthearted, barefoot resort, one of the hotels in the Zanzibar Collection. Kayaks and kite surfboards are propped up against palm trees on the beach outside the watersports centre, and a blackboard boasts tropical fish seen on today’s snorkelling trip on the reef.


Baraza reception

A lunch for castaways is set up on the deserted beach at The Palms, under a makeshift gazebo of bamboo sticks with billowing white drapes. Silver service on the sand, white linen tablecloth, ice buckets, menus on banana leaves, napkin rings in the shape of giraffe and zebra carved by Maasai in striped zebrawood nodding to the safari connection on mainland Tanzania. This is the closest it comes to paradise.

Next day the Indian Ocean beckons with brightness. We take an early morning reef walk at low tide, collecting shells on the sandy beach at Bwejuu Paje, a stretch of powder fine white sand listed as one of the most glorious beaches in the world. A few fishermen are tending their dhows, traditional sailing boats, sea-beaten and flaking as they lilt on the sand.

An elderly woman from Bwejuu village is burying coconut husks in the sand at the water’s edge, her head wrapped in a scarf under the blazing equatorial sunshine. Coconut fibres are seasoned in the sand, then used for ropes and building materials for village houses, made with mud brick walls, palm leaf roofs and picket fences around the outdoor kitchen where families cook bean stew and rice with coconut milk over an open fire. In Bwejuu, village life has been untouched since the 11th century, a simple subsistence lifestyle based on coconuts, spices, fishing and a well for clean drinking water.

Giggling children follow us from the village, shyly sharing currency of seashells as a token of friendship, hugging the books we gift in exchange. Everywhere we go, children peep round from trees and ask, hopefully, “Book?”. Vanilla and cocoa are grown in this luscious island, the theobroma trees laden with heavy pods. The spice forest yields glamorous secrets: nutmeg and glossy red mace grow within cases like jewellery boxes, ylang ylang is prized by parfumiers, and lipstick fruit is named after the juicy scarlet pips worn as make up.


Fisherman with dhow

We visit the community spice farm on Unguja island, where cinnamon trees are stripped of their spicy bark for medicinal use for fevers, headache and stomach cramps. The villagers in Kizimbani village grow cardamom, vanilla, fruits and cloves in the spice forest. Boys shin up coconut trees for fresh coconuts, and children run around playing like the tiny quail chicks scuttling to and fro in the pineapple patch. Music is playing, families are singing, women in colourful printed robes are stirring spices into the communal cooking pots over a smoky open-air fire, as a boy weaves baskets of palm plaited with jasmine flowers.

Jozani forest of eucalyptus, redwood and mahogany trees at the heart of the island is home to indigenous Red Colobus monkeys, blue monkeys with their characteristic Mohican, and brightly colourful birds, like the golden tinkerbird. The northern tip of Zanzibar has saltwater mangrove swamps where lobster-red crabs poke a claw among the gnarled tangle of tree roots.


Child behind tree, spice forest

Back at the Baraza hotel a campfire is blazing in a fire pit on the beach. Three luxury boutique hotels in the Zanzibar Collection sit along this stretch of beach, set in lush tropical gardens of soft pink bougainvillea fluttering like butterfly wings, poppy red hibiscus flowers furling like parasols in the midday sun, and umbrella shade from tall trees that drop wooden seed pods shaped like canapé dishes.

Breezes and Palms are built in the style of safari lodges with traditional thatched roofs. The Safari bar is in a vast open-sided yurt under a thatched roof. Breezes bar is a safari tent built around a vast Mvinje tree trunk, a giant conifer from the island’s forest. It is drenched in references to Zanzibar’s place on the spice and silk routes, purple and gold silk cushions and glass topped spice racks as tables.

Breezes was the first hotel in the Zanzibar Collection, opened 20 years ago with the first spa on the island. Families are welcome here; the swimming pool is a lozenge close to The Breakers beach barbecue grill, where you can throw on a sarong and eat fresh seafood, red snapper or surf and turf with your feet on the white sand. A beachfront dining pavilion is booked for weddings and lantern-lit private dinner parties, where guests can enjoy the view without being seen.


Beachfront dining

The villas at Zawadi, meaning ‘gift’ in Swahili, on the headland along this pristine coastline, attracts honeymoon couples. Villas dotted around the garden are built like a modern kitchen extension, an open plan living room with sliding glass window walls to a terrace, each with a plunge pool and ocean views. The contemporary palette of bleached driftwood, chalky white and dolphin grey, and walk-through power showers, gives no hint of the history of time or place.

The Palms from the Zanzibar Collection could be on a desert island. Less flip flops, more Gucci loafers, it’s so exclusive it has only six palm-thatched suites, each with a private cabana on the beach and a tub on the shaded deck, and guests meet for sundowners in the vast bar with colonial style teak floors.


The Palms bath

On the other side of the huge arched wooden doorway in the gardens is Baraza hotel, built on the dreams of an Arabian palace.

The Raguž family, who own The Zanzibar Collection, had run safari holidays in Kenya. When they came to Zanzibar, they fell under the spell of the Indian Ocean and its long stretch of white sand. There was nothing but coast, forest and the village. They built the infrastructure of roads from Stone Town, brought electricity and piped water supply to the village of Bwejuu, and to their hotels, bringing the neo-colonialisation of the tourist trade.

Mrs Raguž’s daughter Nathalie, an interior designer based in Nairobi, designed the architecture and interiors of Baraza with her husband Adriano Fusillo. The décor is a fusion of Arabian opulence with Swahili arches, Indian wood-carved furniture, decorated brass lanterns, antiques and bespoke handmade furniture evocative of languishing on the Sultana’s curtained chaises.

Baraza is a calm, cool palace, colonnaded corridors of twinkling mosaic and white minaret cut-out windows in the dazzling white walls. “Arabic interiors are usually very opulent with a lot of colours and patterns and decorative items,” says Nathalie. “We used just one colour in the fabrics, in different textures, and brass lanterns against the cream backdrop, so the beautiful views wouldn’t be overshadowed.”

Wandering radial mosaic paths, to get the full maze of the palace into view, it’s hard to shrink the sheer scale into perspective. Estimating the number of minaret archway windows along the corridors is like counting the holes in a Tetley tea bag.

Cultural influences carried on the trade winds are celebrated at Baraza, with feasts of African and Zanzibari dishes of cinnamon and coconut scented rice, spicy Persian, Indian and Asian curries and warm, fluffy local Swahili bread.


Breezes, The Tides

Nathalie and her sister design the Palacina range of clothing, wisps of painted chiffon kaftans, silk dresses, and crisp linen menswear shirts, made by their own team of tailors, who sew the fine bed linen and soft furnishings for these boutique hotels.

Nathalie wanted to create a magical place that was never over the top. “Zanzibar always had a magical connotation about it. It was important to us that it felt relaxed and understated.” Decorative stucco carving around the doorframes was created by local craftsmen etching patterns into the cement with small knives.


Baraza pool

At Baraza, the concept of indulgently unwinding in luxury stretches before you as wide as the Indian Ocean. Laughter peals around the grounds as gardeners collect coconuts. A lizard basking in the sun darts at the movement of a shadow, a gecko dances on the path. Gharib, an all-knowing courtier in this palace, whispers a few words in Swahili, and a glass of chilled hibiscus juice made from the pressed flowers, arrives carried aloft on a brass tray.

Be a recluse in the library, a leather-bound hideaway of bookshelves. Lie by the oceanfront pool as an ice bucket is brought with chilled wine or bottled water to quench the afternoon ardour. Salute the sun at a Hatha yoga class with ever-smiling Sree, a yogi from India. Retire from the heat to the luxuriant spa and recline on the gold curtained throne beds of a Sultan’s harem, sipping ginger tea in a heap of pummelled unfurled tension after a Balinese massage.

Baraza spa pool is set within a formal quadrangle courtyard of white quartz gravel. Swimming alone at dusk with the underwater music, a murmuration of swallows swoops over the rooftops as the constellations twinkle in the sky.


Baraza bathroom

Winding along mosaic-tiled cloisters, twinkling in the candlelight cast by rows of brass lanterns, we pause by a fountain in the inner courtyard. “What can we expect of Stone Town tomorrow?” The general manager Jaume’s turn of phrase is as allegorical as Gabriel García Marquez. “So many emotions. She’s like an elderly lady. No longer as beautiful, perhaps, but so many memories in her eyes.”


Baraza living

Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, has seen every era of history. The House of Wonders, Beit el-Ajaib, was the first building on Zanzibar to have the miraculous inventions of electricity, tap water, a lift and a telephone. The building stands immense, an imposing Brutalist while hulk carved with inscriptions. Cannons from Portugese gunships line the dock. Portraits of Sultans and Princesses deck the walls of the wood-panelled city museum, an abandoned Sultan’s residence with echoes of the Arabian royalty who lauded over this tiny realm. The Sultan’s bed creaks with exhaustion at the tales of the 99 concubines who bore his sons. An ornate Venetian glass chandelier presiding over the ballroom is incongruous in this deserted palace on the brink of the Indian Ocean.

In 1896, the British Navy defended the Sultan when his brother tried to seize the throne, deciding the brother was “somewhat weak in the head”. The shortest war in history lasted 45 minutes and ended the matter. Poetic love letters framed in the museum tell the true story of the whirlwind romance of a princess in exile in Victorian times. The Sultan’s daughter, Princess Salme, scandalously eloped with a German officer, then after being tragically widowed implored her brothers, the Sultans of Zanzibar and Oman, to let her come home.

Passing a shady shop doorway in Stone Town, a glimpse of a curved obelisk, a tusk, is testament to the loss of elephant life by poachers for the illegal ivory trade. The island’s elephants were slaughtered by Portugese colonialists, and the last leopard was killed in the belief that they were associated with the magical tradition that was driven out by Arab rule.

These are not the only cruel trades of the island’s history. We are guided through centuries of the dark years of harsh rule by Portugese traders, who dealt in ships laden with human cargo, an evil trade in 20,000 slaves a year from Africa and Asia.


Stone Town

A museum to commemorate the slave trade is in a square near Christ church. We emerge blinking into bright daylight from the despair of the dungeons. A man outside is singing the hymn Lord of All Hopefulness in Swahili. Another Zanzibari man with a stall of freshly picked bananas outside the church across the square joins the hymn in deep baritone. It’s a song of redemption, unspeakably moving, balm for the sadness.

The slave trade eventually ended 100 years after Livingstone’s treaties were signed, upheld by the British Navy patrolling the seas to prevent the Sultan from transporting slaves. The island expelled the Omani colonial rulers in 1964 and became part of Tanzania, a democracy where Swahili is a unifying language for many tribes and cultures.

Palaces and embassies lie abandoned. In the crumbling colonial grandeur of Stone Town, a handsomely restored building owned by the Aga Khan stands crisp among the flaking plasterwork of the fading grandeur of surrounding buildings.


Baraza bar

Baraza is a dream of how this World Heritage site could be after restoration. We are on the roof terrace of one of the minarets of the hotel. Isaak moves silently in his long gown, pouring a decanter of the island’s local medicinal nectar, cane spirit infused with honey and ginger poured over crushed ice, his voice as mellifluous as the honey in the cocktail.

The House of Wonders in Stone Town now stands empty, stripped of its fixtures and fittings when the government offices closed, the artefacts of an era sold off at auction. The writing desk and Bakelite telephone on the wall behind the reception in Breezes are from the House of Wonders. Arabic lanterns and brass kettles, Swahili tradition for welcoming guests, line the shelves; ebony wardrobes decorated with ornamental carving techniques learned from Indian craftsmen are inset with bone.


Baraza bedroom

At Baraza, the ebony chaises, canopied daybeds and an elongated armchair for adorning the Sultana’s arms with henna, are familiar from the museum. An ancient snaggle-toothed piano looks shipwrecked. It can no longer hold the tune, but it holds the island’s history. Hand-carved wooden chests speak of treasure, buried in the sand centuries ago. It’s rumoured the treasure is still undiscovered.

Mr Bindu the village storyteller holds us spellbound. “The African Queen Manu Mwana held sway on the island, until Persia decided to settle as rulers. The Sultan of Oman sent his sons. The brothers set out from Persia, sailing on the Indian Ocean for a long time, when their dhow ran into a storm.” Mr Bindu pauses for us to take in the scene. “One brother was carried north by the ocean currents to the island of Pemba. One brother was swept ashore on the island of Unjuja and started walking, carrying on until he reached Stone Town. One of the Sultan’s sons was captured by pirates off the coast of Africa.

“The fourth brother was eaten by a shark. Only his hand remained. It was washed ashore at Stone Town and found by fishermen.” There is a slight gasp, candles flickering at the change of air. It is a warm evening, with a gentlest of breezes from the Indian Ocean. We had been lulled by Mr Bindu’s deep sonorous voice delivering centuries of the island’s history, through African Queens, Persian palaces, local island tribes, and dates of shifts in power from the Ottoman Empire. The story of the pirates is listed in history books, but the shark leaving only a hand could be a tall tale.

Later, the moon rises like a smile, gracing the beach bonfire party. Then home to the lap of luxury in the villa with its own plunge pool, its deep copper bath tub the size of a ship, to dream the dreams of Arabian Nights, with muslin drapes swept around the bed.


Flights from Heathrow to Zanzibar via Nairobi and Kilimanjaro
www.kenya-airways.com
www.thezanzibarcollection.com

How to help
Baraza for Bwejuu is the Zanzibar Collection’s charity in support of the local village. The village kindergarten depends on donations for food. If visiting, donations of books, clinic supplies and simple (non-battery, non-mains) solar lights are greatly appreciated, and the local school is in need of a working laptop. For more information see https://baraza-zanzibar.com/baraza-giving-back/


BAREFOOT LUXURY ON ZANZIBAR’S EAST COAST

A beachside stay on Freddie Mercury’s home turf makes for a chilled out holiday

The neighbourhood

The white-sand Paje beach on Zanzibar’s east coast, where the Indian ocean is calmed by an offshore reef, is an hour’s drive from the airport and the capital Stone Town. It’s home to a string of hotels and lodges and within striking distance of the small towns of Paje itself and Bwejuu, and the wildlife reserve of the Jozani Forest with its red colobus monkeys.

The look

Restrained modern beachside chic: a guarded driveway leads down to a simple reception area framing the swimming pool and beyond it the stunning ice-blue sea, with the hotel’s vintage fishing dhow – now used for snorkelling trips to the reef – moored dead centre. The nine private villas, to the left, are basically big, white, glass-fronted boxes looking out over private terraces and plunge pools to the sea. The mirror-lined bar has an Ibiza-ish vibe – the decor throughout is white and light blue – while the restaurant is more African, with a steepled roof and rattan furniture. The hotel sits on two cliffs, with a central staircase leading down to a sandy terrace created by the owners, and then to the beach, which gets cut off at high tide; a breakwater creates a lagoon for all-day swimming. It feels very private.


The design has a clean, Ibizan feel

The vibe

Service is relaxed and friendly and the mood is grownup. Zawadi is better suited to adult couples than families, though its owners, the Raguz family, also own the more family-friendly and Arabian-influenced Baraza further along the beach, as well as the Breezes and Palms hotels: a benefit is that you can visit their other properties for dinner or a spa treatment.

Bed and bath

Like everything at Zawadi, the huge beds are focused on the breathtaking view, and sit dead-centre in the rooms (each given a Swahili name for a sea creature) with a bank of wardrobes running behind, facing the bathroom. There’s a well-stocked minibar: beer, soft drinks and water are free, but wine is charged at $25 (£20). (Certain wines, high end spirits and champagne are also charged for in the bar and restaurant). There was a TV that we didn’t switch on – why would you, with that view? – and dependable wifi, plus a medical kit with sting relief cream (we’d been badly bitten on safari before arriving). The bathroom has a free-standing oval bath and a hand-built curved shower cubicle that looks like it was modelled on a conch shell. The furniture and fabrics are all locally made.


Beds are positioned to take in the view

Food and drink

Great use is made of local seafood, from snapper to giant prawns, and the food is superlatively cooked, though Zawadi’s restaurant caters perhaps too obviously to European and North American tastes. Each meal has five courses, including soup and palate cleansers and slightly poncey puddings. Again, it’s worth checking the option of visiting Zawadi’s sister hotels: we had the best lobster I’ve ever tasted served to us on a private beach table at Baraza.

Pools, spas and public areas

The gym and spa are small (again, you can use the more sumptuous hammam-like spa at Baraza) but – nice touch – there is a landscaped running track through the hotel’s gardens where food is grown for the kitchen, and chickens kept for eggs. The pool, illuminated at night with blue light, beautifully offsets the sea, and here or on the lower sand terrace you never feel too close to fellow guests. Staff arranged a wonderful snorkelling trip to the reef for us, and a trip to Stone Town embracing its bustling market, the house Freddie Mercury was born in, the architecture from its Omani rulers and British governors, and a sobering museum commemorating its role as the hub of the east African slave trade.


The hotel is as beachside as it gets

Nuts and bolts

Room count: Nine

Freebies: All food and most drinks, though premium spirits and some wine and minibar items are charged.

In the bathroom: Frangipani Spa products.

Wifi: Free, and good.

Extra charges: Laundry charges (eg $14 for a pair of trousers or dress); late checkout (until 6pm) available for a fee.

Minibar prices: Beer, soft drinks and water free, wine $25.

Disability access: No, but sister property Baraza is wheelchair accessible.

Pet policy: No pets allowed.

Bottom line

Best thing: The sense of relaxation, privacy, and the stunning view.

Worst thing: There’s live entertainment during dinner (common on Zanzibar, but irksome). Beware of sea urchins in the ocean.

Perfect for: A laid-back decompression after a safari, or a romantic break.

Not right for: Families.

Instagram from: Poolside, with the sea beyond.

Room rate: Zawadi villas start from €640 (£570) a day, Baraza one bedroom villas from €750, and one bedroom ocean front villa from €800.

In a nutshell: A jewel of a barefoot-luxury hotel nestled between cliffs on Africa’s spice island.

This article (and all embedded/linked content) by Nick Curtis appeared in the Independent magazine and is available online here.


The Ultimate Guide to Tanzania: A Safari and Beach Vacation in One

Proud to be featured in People Magazine!! … Please see the full feature here.

If you’ve been dreaming of going on a wildlife safari, Tanzania should be high on your travel bucket list. The East African country is home to some of the best national parks for spotting the Big Five (elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo)—as well as gorgeous white sand beaches, so you can peel off your dusty safari clothes and end your vacation with a coconut in hand.

On a recent trip with my girlfriends, I got to do just that, but not before learning a whole lot about navigating Tanzania first. Arguably the most important thing you need to know before you go is how to pronounce the country’s name. After telling everyone I knew that I was going on a 10-day trip to Tan-zuh-nEE-uh, I quickly learned on arrival that I was actually in Tan-ZAN-ee-uh. Yeah, I know.

Because we wanted the best of both worlds on our trip—a little adventure and a little R&R—we split it into two parts: the Serengeti and Zanzibar.
An elephant at the Four Seasons Serengeti watering hole.
An elephant at the Four Seasons Serengeti watering hole.

Part 1: The Serengeti

Deciding on which national park to visit can be daunting. Arusha offers stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, while the Maasai Mara hosts a huge amount of wildlife and doesn’t attract as many tourists as the Serengeti. Really, there is no wrong choice. But we decided on the Serengeti because it’s one of the largest and most famous parks in Africa. Plus, it’s where the late Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of Parts Unknown.

The Four Seasons also runs an incredible lodge in the Central Serengeti. Have you ever wanted to sip a dawa (Swahili for medicine, and a popular cocktail in the area made of vodka, sugar, lime and honey) poolside, while an elephant comes to take his own drink (though clearly not as tasty) from a watering hole just 100 feet away? You should, because it’s life changing.

 The Four Seasons Serengeti
The Four Seasons Serengeti

Most, if not all, of the lodges and camps in the Serengeti are all-inclusive because the nearest town is an eight-hour drive away, so the food is a serious consideration when choosing an accommodation. The Four Seasons Serengeti has three amazing restaurants where the food is just as good as the sweeping grassland views. Make sure to stop by the Boma Grill where members of the Maasai tribe will teach you their traditional jumping dance mid-dinner.

The game drives throughout the park, which the hotel can arrange for you, are offered as full and half-days, but it’s recommended to opt for the full-day drive because the animals can be quite spread out in such a large park. On the drive we booked through Mario Tours and Travels, we saw all of the Big Five except for rhinos, but were told that’s typical because the heavy poaching in the area has nearly wiped them out. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to see one of the animals on the hunt. We witnessed a leopard track down a warthog for lunch (poor Pumbaa) and it was one of the coolest moments of the entire trip.

You’ll be away from the hotel for most of the day, so remember to pack lunch or ask your hotel to put something together for you. There aren’t many food options to buy from throughout the park.

If you don’t think you have room in your suitcase for DSLR camera, take out that extra pair of shoes you probably won’t wear. Trust me. While on the game drives, it’s best not to rely on your phone for pictures because the wildlife can sometimes be far away from the roads and there’s no off-roading allowed in the Serengeti. You might also want to bring a pair of binoculars, though our tour guide had them in the truck for us to share.

 Hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti.
Hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti.

The other thing you can’t miss is a hot air balloon ride, even if, like me, you’re afraid of heights. The balloons glide so slow and often low to the ground so you can see the animals that I never felt scared. Serengeti Balloon Safaris is one of two companies running rides in the park and will arrange with your hotel to pick you up and drop you off. The cost is around $600, which includes an outdoor champagne brunch at the end, but it’s worth the splurge.

In addition to the animals you’ll see while in the air, the car ride to the balloon take off spot is before sunrise (it’s early, yes, but our jetlag made it easier to get up) so you’ll see animals you might not otherwise see in the day. A hippo crossed directly in front of our car on the way, and it’s extremely rare to see them out of water. If we weren’t fully awake before that, we certainly were after.

Zanzibar
Zanzibar

Part 2: Zanzibar

Four days was the perfect amount of time in the Serengeti. By then we were ready to trade the bush for the beach. Zanzibar, an island off the coast of East Africa just a two hour flight from the Serengeti, has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, luxury hotels, water activities, and the historic city of Stone Town.

The Zanzibar Collection runs four resorts on a strip of the Bwejuu beach at the east end of the island and about one hour drive from the airport. Each of the hotels is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but cater to different types of travelers.

The Zawadi is the newest of the bunch with a modern, Hamptons-esque décor style. It sits on top of a cliff, so the views alone make it a wise choice. It’s made up of only nine private suites, making it right for honeymooners or those after a quiet, relaxing stay. The Palms (my favorite hotel by far) is similarly small but with a more island tiki-bar vibe and has some of the friendliest staff on the island. The lunch on the beach by Chef William under a palm leaf pergola will make you question every other vacation you’ve taken.


The Palms Hotel in Zanzibar

The Breezes and the Baraza are the larger and more family-friendly resorts. Baraza has a more luxe feel with gilded décor and intricately carved wood furniture, all handmade specially for the hotel. Unlike the Breezes, which has more traditional style hotel rooms, Baraza has all private villas (for both families and couples) that are tucked behind lush greenery.

Stone Town, Zanizbar
Stone Town, Zanzibar

Though its tempting to lounge by the crystal clear water all day—the hotels have private lounge chairs and huts for every villa so it’s especially tempting—make sure to take a trip to Stone Town to visit the spice markets and walk through the cobblestone streets. Because the island is predominantly Muslim, it’s respectful to cover your shoulders and legs when visiting the markets, so make sure to bring along a sarong. After you’ve worked up an appetite in Stone Town, the Beach House oceanfront restaurant is a must for a quick bite and a gin cocktail.

This article (and all embedded/linked content) by Ana Calderone appeared in the People magazine and is available online here.


Spice of life

The Zanzibar Collection is proud to be featured in Harrods Aviation’s Halcion Magazine; please find the original feature here.

Over the centuries merchants, traders and pirates have all succumbed to the attractions of Zanzibar. Today, the island’s tourism offering is hitting new heights of luxury.

There’s an authenticity to some places. Despite time’s inexorable march and the creeping pervasiveness of the ‘modern’, some things just ring true. So it is with Zanzibar, a tiny tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. An eclectic mixture of heritages provides Zanzibar with a unique identity. Archeological remains suggest there has been human habitation here for at least 20,000 years with classical texts from the 1st century AD mentioning the main island.

Down the centuries Persian, Indian, European, Arab and Chinese traders have made use of the islands’ location and their capital’s sheltered harbour. This has given the underlying Swahili culture a more global, exotic feel. The archipelago is also known as the African spice islands due the production of cloves, nutmeg and black pepper.

From Vasco da Gama in 1498, through the Sultanate of Oman 200 years later and on into a British protectorate in the late 19th century, Zanzibar was governed by outside powers. Britain’s main interest in the island was due to the political impetus to abolish the slave trade.

Baraza Resort and Spa - Reception

For my visit to this exotic corner of Africa I am staying at the luxurious Baraza Resort and Spa. The word baraza means ‘bench’ in the local dialect and refers to focal points in community life. The resort is part of the family-owned Zanzibar Collection that comprises four
hideaways, all with different identities.

This particular property is an hour’s drive from Zanzibar International, an airport whose name is far grander than the sight that greets you on landing. Having said that, a new terminal is under construction.

Baraza has just 30 one- and two-bedroom Arabicstyle villas, all with private plunge pools. Eight of the accommodations, including the Presidential villa that has seen various celebrity guests in residence, look directly onto the tranquil Bwejuu-Paje beach from their secluded verandas. These villas feature exquisite fittings and a powerful air-conditioning system that fights the heat valiantly. The emperor-sized bed provided the most comfortable night’s sleep I can remember.

There are three dining options to choose from, all with excellent standards of cuisine. The local fusion of cultures has given birth to a wide range of dishes that incorporate local spices and flavours. Being an island means many seafood specialities but other options are abundant also.

While Zanzibar is a Muslim country, plenty of alcoholic cocktail choices are available, usually tailored to the locale. I would personally recommend a ‘Zanzipolitan’, the watermelon juice providing much-needed refreshment in the Dhahabu Lounge before an evening repast of mouthtingling delight. However, if I could find but one negative in all this comfort and first-class service it would be that there appears to be a dearth of plug sockets in the villas – the accoutrements of the 21st-century traveller dictate ready-at-hand power sources. Personally, I would have liked a screened-window option for natural air occasionally rather than the ubiquitous air conditioning. But it’s a only small grumble.

Baraza is a five-star resort (and was chosen as one of the World’s 60 Best New Hotels on the Condé Nast Hotlist of 2012), but just down the coast lies an engaging opportunity for extravagance. Zawadi Hotel is a collection of nine villas (soon to be 12 – all with plunge pools) that presents itself perfectly as a private, intimate getaway retreat perched atop a cliff with its own small, private beach.

Zawadi Hotel - Private terrace

Where Baraza is all about history and heritage, Zawadi has been conceived with an entirely different mindset: soft greys and blues underline its place in the modern world. It’s easy to imagine the exclusive whole-retreat rental option being taken up by a group of close friends and relations. From €5,760 (£5,100) per night a private, luxurious, all-inclusive break might work a treat.

A further step up on the privacy-and-luxury scale, the Palms (the third of the four resorts) is again distinctive within the Zanzibar Collection.

Six spacious private villas, designed in colonial style with dark woods and palm frond roofs, all have over 130m sq of living space with two en-suite bedrooms and walk-in dressing rooms. Laid out around a central pool and a large bar/restaurant, the tranquillity to be found here is only disturbed by the breaking waves as the tide approaches only 50m away.

The Palms - Private beachfront banda

If your Learjet only has limited capacity, then an all-inclusive stay, encompassing the six villas at the Palms, can be all yours from €4,050 (£3,570) per night.

It’s not just sun-soaked lounging by the pool, though. Baraza has the Frangipani Spa with its cornucopia of options to soothe and sate the ravages of age and the stresses of ‘real’ life.

I opted for a deep tissue massage from a pocket rocket from Bali named Rusti who had cast-iron fingers so strong she could have squeezed milk from coconuts with her bare hands.

After her effective ministrations I floated back to my villa a good three inches taller. Access to the Frangipani Spa is included within the rates for both Palms and Zawadi and the ginger tea served up after your treatment is simply divine.

The authenticity oozes from Zanzibar, even during the monsoon season in which I visited. From teeming downpours springs verdant lusciousness that serves to prove the integrity of the natural world. It all just leaves you with a soul-sating relaxation that will live with you long after you fly away.

Zanzibar is accessible to private jets but, having raised this with Jaume Vilardell, the group general manager of the Zanzibar Collection, he confirmed that travel arrangements would have to be negotiated directly with the Zanzibar Airports Authority. The transfer from the airport to the resort, meanwhile, can be organised directly with the hotel.

This article by Tim Griffiths was published in Halcyon Magazine, issue 2018-1 and is available online here.


Zanzibar, the island that adds spice to a special holiday

My husband had disappeared beneath the waves for such a long time I feared he would not come up again.

Finally he emerged, whipped off his snorkel and mask and spluttered. “I have never seen such fabulous fish,” and dived below again.

A morning snorkelling in the warm waters off the coast of Zanzibar is a pretty special experience. Even on a cloudy day.

But you don’t even have to swim to see the colourful sealife zig zag through the water. Just looking down while walking out to the boat was mesmerising enough.

I imagined how wonderful it would be to have the whole family here enjoying this magical experience together.

There is even a coral reef running along its eastern coast, so shallow in parts you can go on reef walks. Zanzibar is well known for its diving but just a few inches below the surface you can watch zebra fish, angel fish, clown fish and pipe fish dance among the coral.

There are few words that instantly evoke exotic spice and romantic paradise as Zanzibar does.

The island, six degrees south of the equator, off the coast of Tanzania, is probably not on your bucket list of must-visit destinations, but it should be.

Balmy, beautiful and fascinating, with a rich history and faded charm, Zanzibar is ideal for older travellers looking for a haven peppered with white sandy beaches and lots to do.

Just 60 miles long, 25 miles wide and 25 miles from mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar has a population of just over one million so it‘s not exactly crowded. But avoid visiting during the rainy season. Best times are: December to February or June to October.

The place to stay is one of the family-owned Zanzibar Collection’s four boutique hotels on the south eastern coast.

Baraza Beach Resort is the ‘all inclusive’ jewel in the crown.

More evocative of a Moroccan palace with hanging lanterns, and capacious villa suites decorated in gold furnishings, you can’t hope for a greater contrast with a chilly weekend in Blighty.

Carved wood furniture and huge comfy beds with generous terraces and outside plunge pools simply add to the luxury; it’s worth splashing out a bit extra for an ocean view and beach access.
Prices from €642 for a garden villa for two people, per night, all-inclusive excluding flights.

A long stretch of white sand fringes the lush tropical gardens where lofty coconut palms gently wave you toward the turquoise sea and shocking pink bougainvillea welcome you back.

After your swim – apart from the sea there is a lovely outdoor pool – you can choose between three restaurants (one for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Expect lots of locally- caught fish and seafood including sea urchins, tiger prawns and baby lobster as well as beef filet served in coconut milk, with Cajun spices vegetables, salads and vegetarian dishes.

You can even make your own breakfast smoothie from freshly picked fruit, or tuck into a selection of international and cooked cuisine, juices, yoghurt and porridge.

There’s a good selection of wine and cocktails too – I loved the zing of the Zanzipolitan – vodka and watermelon juice.

Relaxation and wellness are bywords at Baraza. There are two daily yoga classes given by a fabulous young teacher from Kerala who has been practising hatha yoga for 15 years and will tailor the class to you and your family’s ability.

Breezes is more of a family resort built in an older style of dark woods – with large open communal areas, outdoor pool, and pockets of intimacy – such as a tiny dining space offering honeymooners – or couples celebrating a milestone anniversary – a romantic dinner for two.
Prices from €95pp per day half board for a standard room.

Palms is a 1920s colonial-style adults-only resort of just six villas. Ideal for a special family holiday, celebration or chance to escape to somewhere different.

You can hire the whole place from €4,050 for exclusive use including all meals and drinks for 12 people – minimum five night stay. Ordinary prices from €675 (all inclusive meals and drinks) per villa per day, based on two people sharing, excludes flights.

Zawadi is the here and now adults-only resort, comprising nine fresh, airy, light villas – evoking modern Zanzibar. You stay in vaulted thatch one-bedroom suites and with a private pool and views of the ocean. There are 55 staff waiting to cater to your every whim.

While the countryside is rich, lush and fertile, Zanzibar is short on architectural wonders. But there are some handsome colonial-style hotels evoking a more opulent heritage such as The Emerson Spice Hotel, and watch out for old homes with carved chains in the wooden surrounds of the ornate front doors; they denote the homes of former wealthy slave traders.

A fascinating site to explore is the East African Slave Trade Exhibit – Zanzibar was a slave trading post (1800-1909) when it was ruled by the Sultans of Oman.

The exhibit traces the moving and harrowing history of the slave trade including photographs and a moving art installation of chained sculptures in the grounds. Slaves from Africa were shipped in to be sold to the Arabian market. And continued even after the British had abolished the trade.

Nearby is the cathedral Church of Christ which stands on the site of the former slave market.

You will hear a lot about the Anglo-Zanzibar War – a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The Brits instigated the war because the Sultan refused to end the slave trade. It’s significance is that it lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest war in history. A new Sultan was installed who abolished slavery in 1897.

Other attractions include the Jozani Forest – the island’s only national park. While Zanzibar boasts no big game, unlike its neighbour Tanzania, people come to see the red colobus monkey (native to Zanzibar).

As Zanzibar is synonymous with spice a visit to a spice farm comes highly recommended; although it is surprising to learn that all the spices were brought from India, Asia, Europe and South America.

Nutmeg came from Madagascar, cardamom, tamarind, lemon grass and turmeric from India; green oranges, red bananas, green and red cocoa trees from South America and avocado trees from Malaysia.

The spice farm, an hour’s drive from Baraza resort, has examples of spices and fruit grown on the island including pepper vines, vanilla, pineapple, Arabica and robusta coffee.

And if ladies forget their make up an alternative lip gloss is available – the bright red tandoori (lipstick) fruit.

See the source article here.


Enviable vacation in Zanzibar top hotels – businessdailyafrica.com

In the morning, I was watching elephants contentedly bathing in the red Samburu dust and by late afternoon, I was in a sarong and flip-flops chatting to the bartender who was whipping up a Caipirinha for me with utmost flair.

All this while revelling in the most scenic of views in Zanzibar.

It is no secret that Zanzibar has some of the best beaches in the world and given the influx of visitors seeking luxury on this archipelago, several resorts offering five-star trappings have sprung up.

When it comes to luxury accommodation, my tastes veer towards boutique spots, the more remote the better.

On this particular visit, I was attracted to the South-East Coast, about an hour’s drive from the international airport on smooth tarmac roads and where the beaches are still largely unspoilt with the reef containing the only National Geographic affiliated dive site in East Africa.

You will notice that most hotels employ locally and support local producers but you will also find a few Kenyans working in management positions.

While the Swahili is so fluent it will make you feel a tad inadequate, the island will always feel a bit like home.

Zawadi

As the name suggests, this intimate collection of nine upscale seafront villas really is a gift.

It is a honeymoon haven, the kind of place that calls for a dip in the infinity pool with a lover, blue lagoon cocktails on deck, taking in the view from your clifftop advantage.

A view in which the blue sea, white sand and greenery offset by brightly coloured bougainvillea flowers all seem to paint the most seductive of scenes.

Highlights included being serenaded by a talented taarab trio band while tucking into a delectable dinner. I requested that they play ‘‘Embe Dodo’’, a song that brought back nostalgic memories of a childhood in Mombasa. When they also played a soothing rendition of ‘‘Malaika’’, I knew I would be generous with my tip.

The villas are named after fish. Mine, Nyangumi (whale) felt like a modern beach pad; this place will make you want to own a beach condo!

Baraza Resort & Spa

One of the top internationally acclaimed spots for luxury in Zanzibar, this resort oozes elegance and exotic opulence, perfect for travellers (particularly families) looking to vacation like royalty.

Frangipani spa is a masterpiece that reminded me of a Moorish harem, if Hollywood movies are anything to go by. It is decked in gold and white with antique decor, brass lamps and polished wall hangings, gold baths, daybeds with silk canopies, ottomans and more.

It even has a yoga room with an Indian instructor as well as a pool in a private courtyard, and treatments range from facials to massages by Thai therapists.

The resort itself is an architectural marvel reminiscent of the palaces of Omani Sultans who ruled Zanzibar in the 1600s. A little similar to Swahili architecture along our Kenyan coast, the low white flat roofed buildings feature intricately carved doors, distinct arches and numerous open barazas offset by towering palm trees.

The Palms

As is the case with Zawadi and Baraza, the price here is all-inclusive which is great given how many cocktails you will be tempted to down at the pool bar.

The bartender here is the best and from rum punch to Martini or Cocolada, he sure knows how to whip them up.

I asked for a chef’s salad and turkey burger for lunch and this was served in the comfort of the private beach banda in front of my villa. Each villa has a banda which is great because you never have to jostle for space.

Sundowners were served in the plunge pool of my villa as the waiter took my order for supper. I got to watch the sunset from the comfortably upholstered plush sofa-bed right by the door.

The colour scheme is largely blue with hints of gold and with only six villas, it is intimate which allows for personalised service and since there will never be too many guests milling around, it is perfect for a couple’s getaway.

The full article by Wendy Watta is available online here.


Zanzibar: An affordable destination for a holiday in the Indian Ocean – inews.co.uk

Zanzibar: An affordable destination for a holiday in the Indian Ocean

In the gloom of winter, it’s easy to find yourself daydreaming about Indian Ocean islands. However, it’s a craving that might just as easily be cut short by anxieties about taking out a second mortgage. Yet such sun-drenched idylls as Mauritius and the Seychelles, which fleck this aquamarine ocean, aren’t all prohibitively expensive. Off the Tanzanian coastline, the archipelago of Zanzibar is eminently affordable. At Breezes Beach Club & Spa on the as-yet undeveloped south-eastern coast of Unguja (the main island, more commonly referred to as Zanzibar), a night’s half-board starts at £75 per person, which should leave enough money for several of its speciality “Zanzi-politano” cocktails. One of four appealing neighbouring five-star properties in the Zanzibar Collection (the others are The Palms, Baraza and Zawadi), Breezes overlooks Bwejuu–Paje Beach, a five-mile strip of largely deserted white sand. The gardens are a riot of colour, with bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani jostling for space.

Tour guide quote

“I recommend the Zanzibar Spice Tour at the Spice Farm near Stone Town. You can see how cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and the highly prized vanilla are all grown. You can also smell the ylang ylang flowers that are used in the production of Chanel No 5. And at the end of the tour, you are presented with your very own crown of flowers.”

When to go

Because of its proximity to the Equator, Zanzibar is warm all year round. The dry months of July to September are the most popular period to visit.

How to get there

Kenya Airways (tel:020 8283 1818, kenya-airways.com) operates daily flights from Heathrow to Nairobi, with daily connections to Zanzibar. Return fares from £421 per person. Oman Air, Etihad, Ethiopian and Turkish Airlines also offer connecting flights from the UK.

Where to stay

The Zanzibar Collection (thezanzibarcollection.com) has four hotels on Bwejuu Beach. Breezes Beach Club & Spa has doubles from £75 per person per night. Baraza Resort & Spa has two-bedroom villas from £526 per night. Zawadi Hotel has one-bedroom villas from £482 per night. The Palms has one-bedroom villas from £615 per night.

Where to eat

The Africa House Hotel (africahousehotel.com) in Stone Town, 400m from the Old Fort of Zanzibar, has a restaurant with a huge terrace overlooking the ocean. A great spot to have a cocktail while watching the sun set. House of Spices (houseofspiceszanzibar.com) in Stone Town serves an excellent melange of Italian and Swahili cuisines in a buzzing atmosphere.

What to see

Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, the only national park in Zanzibar, is a wonderful place to see the extremely lively red colobus monkey, native to the island, leaping from tree to tree. The Slave Market Museum in Stone Town is a profoundly moving exhibition about the Zanzibar slave trade. More information For more local attractions: tanzaniatouristboard.go.tz.

The complete article by James Rampton is available here.


The Drive of Your Life – Escapism drops by.

…Our destination is Zawadi, a secluded hotel on Mswakini Beach, on the island’s south-east coast. With just nine villas, it’s overwhelmingly bespoke and has luxury in spades, including sleek inside-outsude dining areas, face-numbingly strong cocktails and a lavish bathtub-with-a-view.
In between Insta-worthy snaps of it’s infinity pool and walks on its butter coloured sands, we kayak above shoals of tropical fish and rays, GoPro dipped in the water. My water-loving other half heads down the beach – flippers in hand – to explore an nearby lagoon and I don’t see him for half a day. We make a mental note to go one bit better next time and dive the Mnemba Atoll. But for now, this is one of those places where you exert around ten steps a day and spend hours taking multiple pictures of the view. Another cocktail? Oh, go on then.

Download the full article here.


THE FANTASTICAL FOUR – Spear’s pays us a visit!

Much like the Indian Ocean island that they inhabit, The Zanzibar Collection’s quartet of idyllic hotels have an ethereal quality that makes you believe that they can’t quite be real — but they most certainly are



LIKE TIMBUKTU OR CASABLANCA, Zanzibar is a place the very sound of which causes people, and not only the nostalgically disposed, to swoon, as though it were literally mythical, another Arcadia or elysium, perhaps. But it really does exist. ‘everyone loves Zanzibar, not just the Aga Khan,’ says Amer Amer Bindu, smiling proudly to expose his three teeth (one on top, two on the bottom). Beekeeper by day (which may explain the teeth), Bindu moonlights as the resident ‘storyteller’ at the four luxury hotels which make up the Zanzibar Collection. Anyone from anywhere can acclimatise to life on Zanzibar, says Bindu, because the sun is always shining, the air is fresh and the water clean and tasty.

Download The Spear’s Travel Guide here.


Zone out in Zanzibar. OK! pays us a visit.

For those dreaming of a trip to the Maldives and Mauritius, we’ve found another idyllic Indian Ocean paradise to add to your bucket list. The unspoiled island of Zanzibar offers all the same ingredients – turquoise waters,swaying palm trees and sandy beaches, as well as year-round warm temperatures. Located just 25 miles off Tanzania’s coastline, the coral reef-ringed island offers a rich mix of Arab, Omani and British colonial heritage and a fascinating history as a spice and trading centre. OK!’s Kirsty Hatcher headed off to explore…

Where can i stay?
The family-owned Zanzibar Collection comprises four hotels. Breezes, The Palms and Baraza are all
dotted along Bwejuu Paje beach, while the group’s newest property, the all-inclusive Zawadi Hotel, sits atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, with steps down to Mswaki beach. All nine villas at this adults-only bolthole are named after an aquatic creature, and ours – called Jodari, a local fish – featured beach chic interiors, a sun terrace and a lush garden.Just along this beautiful stretch of coastline
is the Baraza Resort & Spa. The hotel decor is Arabic in style – think white arches, ceiling fans, brass lanterns and rich fabrics– inspired by the palaces of the Omani sultans, who once ruled Zanzibar. This all-inclusive luxury resort features 30 one and twobedroom villas and is set
in 70 hectares of beautiful gardens overflowing with bougainvillea, jasmine and frangipani. OK!’s oceanside villa boasted a dreamy hand-carved four-poster bed, plunge pool and a freestanding bathtub

Read the rest of the feature here. OK! Magazine DPS 19th Spetember 2017