Zanzibar. The word has always had an aura of exoticism for me, conjuring an island at the edge of the world, a land of balmy tropical breezes, of swaying palms and hammocks on white-sand beaches, of spicy fragrances and dhows’ sails billowing against golden sunsets. My imagination would run wild, too, with exotic human elements—foreign cultures, customs, cuisines, garb, history and architecture.
This soft-focus fantasy came into sharp relief recently after a Tanzanian wildlife safari when I landed at Zuri Zanzibar, the archipelago’s newest five-star resort, keen for some R&R. The seemingly mythical land of my imagination turned out to be everything I had dreamed, and Zuri Zanzibar was the luxurious embodiment, right down to the pristine beach and hammocks strung between palm trees.
Set in the Indian Ocean 50 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania, the beautiful archipelago of spice islands has been an important crossroads of trading routes between Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia for centuries, resulting in a fascinating fusion of cultures.
Zuri Zanzibar occupies a gently sloping hillside and 300 metres of sugary white sand at Kendwa Beach, on the northwestern tip of Zanzibar’s main island, Unguja, about an hour’s drive from the international airport. The realisation of a 10-year passion project by Czech entrepreneur Václav Dejčmar, it opened in the latter half of 2018 and is a member of Design Hotels.
Its 55 bungalows, suites and villas, most with sea views, are set in lush tropical gardens, and the premium villas have their own private beach frontage. The resort is self-contained for a luxurious break from ordinary daily life, but Zanzibar offers oodles of interest for those who also desire external stimulation. There are forests, wildlife, traditional villages, atmospheric ruins and historic Stone Town to visit, along with islands, atolls and reefs to explore. If it’s surf beaches you’d rather than the gentle lapping of the ocean on Zuri’s shore, it’s just a short hop across to the waves of the east coast.
Designed by the London- and Prague-based firm Jestico + Whiles with sustainability and 21st-century hospitality in mind, the eco-friendly architecture captures the unique atmosphere of the islands, with local materials, traditional nyasi (grass) and shingle roofs, airy private verandas, intricately carved wood and open-air pavilions. Interior design details add further interest, such as unique furniture crafted from the weathered timber of old dhows, curtains of colourful beads made by local artisans, and massed lighting fixtures that blow in the breeze like paper lanterns.
Zuri’s accommodation comes in three styles—bungalows, deluxe suites, and two or three-bedroom seafront villas—outfitted with stylish contemporary furniture, local artisanal features and artwork. They all embody that wonderful tropical experience of indoor/outdoor living, with rooms flowing seamlessly out to generous terraces surrounded by gardens.
The bungalows provide a generous 66 square metres of living space, while the deluxe suites extend to 132 square metres, enjoying an even more expansive terrace, and a separate living room and bedroom. For families or friends holidaying together, the two- and three-bedroom oceanfront villas are the go. At 260 and 500 square metres respectively, they enjoy their own private stretch of beach, and the latter includes a living room, kitchen, dining area, entertainment room, 12-metre outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and Zen pond.
All rooms have unlimited wi-fi internet, a laptop-size safe, a 48-inch flat-screen TV with satellite channels, minibar, and complimentary tea and coffee-making facilities. The bathrooms feature premium organic amenities made by Seaweed Centre, a social enterprise that benefits local women who farm seaweed.
Zuri’s three restaurants and four bars delight with a fusion of European, African, Arabic and Indian flavours. The main restaurant, set just below the dramatic open-air reception pavilion, is Upendo. With a laidback Zanzibari style, it features live cooking areas and a view across the resort to the ocean, a vista it shares with Peponi, the stylish bar just a few metres away.
Closer to the beach, beside a 32-metre infinity pool, is Maisha. The chic African style of the restaurant and bar flows through to a poolside pergola with cushions and shisha. Maisha’s daytime fusion of southern European and Indian Ocean flavours morphs into typical Middle Eastern and Omani cuisine in the evening.
On the beach, the Bahari grill and bar serves great cocktails and sustenance for guests taking a break from sunbathing or watersports—along with finger food and small bites to go with the amazing beach sunsets and starry night skies. Further along the beach, the Dhow bar provides exclusive service for the private beachfront villas. For unique personal experiences, Dining by Design enables guests to plan their own romantic lunch, candlelit dinner, Middle Eastern experience, or bonfire and barbecue in various locations, such as on the beach, by the pool or in the spice garden, with Zuri’s chefs helping to devise the menu.
A feature unique to Zuri is its Spice Garden, a peaceful swathe of greenery and pathways dotted with baobab trees and hidden nooks, or “pods” in Zuri parlance, where one can hide from the world with a book or your thoughts in splendid isolation, cocooned in a hammock or reclining on cushions. Also set in the garden is the Spice House, where Swahili cooking lessons introduce the main culinary dishes of Zanzibar and demonstrate the use of the surrounding spices, followed by lunch at a table in the garden.
When the mood demands more action than a beach lounge can provide, the Wimbi Water Sports Centre boasts a large range of equipment, including sailing boats, windsurfing boards, snorkelling sets, pedal boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Its well-trained staff provide lessons and organise experiences such as paddle safaris, Zuri coral farm viewing, fishing with the locals and more.
And then there’s the PADI-certified diving centre, with a paradise of islands, reefs and atolls to explore. Everyone from beginner level to advanced is catered for. At the other end of the resort, the reception pavilion offers a library stocked with art books, a DVD collection specialising in rare art house films, and a pool table and lounge with a world-beating view.
Managed by the South African all-natural spa brand Healing Earth, the Maua Wellness Centre provides a combination of soothing and vigorous paths to finding and maintaining mind-body wellness.
Facilities include an open-air yoga deck with inspiring ocean views, an outdoor “wild fitness” gym, a salon for all manner of hair and beauty rituals, and outdoor curtained treatment rooms with skilled attendants administering a range of unguents and techniques.
The extensive menu of massage and facial therapy includes signature treatments such as Masai Celebration, Zanzi Spice Journey, Spirit of the Earth, and Journey to Realignment that employ the powerful natural herbs, spices and oils of the island. Guided programmes include Holistic Wellbeing, yoga, Pilates, meditation, life coaching and nutritional coaching.
Zuri Zanzibar has gone to great lengths to ensure its environmental footprint is as small as possible, and to support and give back to the local community. These measures include a desalination plant and sophisticated waste-treatment system, an energy-efficient space cooling system, sourcing of furniture from local brand Dhow Furniture, which uses recycled wood, and sourcing of produce from local farmers, fishermen and the Seaweed Centre.
It has also entered partnerships with local fair-trade organisations, schools and vocational education institutions to benefit the community, and provides a wide range of quality employment and training.
It would be hard to find a friendlier bunch of staff. Their professional but relaxed attitude channels the holiday mood for guests, who will quickly pick up the Swahili words they hear every day—jambo (hello), karibu (welcome), asante sana (thank you very much), and hakuna matata (no worries). The team is able to organise a range of “local experience” tours, both half day and full day, that open up the fascinating island of Zanzibar for guests.
Consultants are also on hand to help plan romantic nuptials and honeymoons to take advantage of Zuri venues perfect for weddings and receptions. And for any special event, the team is able to book professional soloists, bands and DJs from across East Africa specialising in a range of music genres, from bongo flava (Tanzanian hip hop) and Afro pop or jazz to international DJs with worldwide experience.
“I seek truly unique experiences,” says Václav Dejčmar in describing his motivation for creating Zuri Zanzibar. “I have a passion for all things Zen, for the aesthetic of nature, for the beauty of simplicity and freedom from the daily routine.” He should be happy—Zuri definitely delivers.
Tatler Tip: You’ll be offered a key card or wristband to access your suite. If you’re planning to frequent the beach, choose the wristband or you’ll be pestered by staff on the lookout for outside invaders.
Find out more at zurizanzibar.com.