Had we accidentally walked into a sultan’s palace? A gleaming white lobby embellished with marble floors, golden silk divans and hammered brass lanterns sure made us think so. Staff scurried about wearing flowing white gowns and through a row of key-hole shaped doorways, we could see the turquoise Indian Ocean. But no, we had arrived at Baraza Resort & Spa, the sexy new addition to the Zanzibar Collection, three luxury boutique resorts on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania.
We passed a long dreamy pool on the way to our villa (yes, villa) where guests lounged in curtained cabanas sipping cocktails. An army of gardeners tackling the rampant frangipani and bougainvillea stepped out of our path; one with a machete who had shimmied barefoot up a tall coconut tree and was whacking them down stopped and smiled. When we entered our one bedroom villa it almost took our breath away – a full 1,600 square feet with plunge pool and alfresco lounging area – huge enough to have a party.
Owned by a couple with a strong connection to the interior design trade, Baraza has 30 one and two bedroom villas (all solar powered) drenched in white and framed with dramatic Arabic style arches. Our villa was full of nice surprises – a cozy alcove with a large daybed for reading or napping, a large fully stocked mini-bar and gold silk slippers and dressing gowns in the spacious walk-in closet. The bedroom’s king-size bed was strewn with plumeria blossoms, swathed in decorative mosquito netting and tied with gold silk ribbons. But it was the bath that struck the highest note. The egg-shaped stone tub was topped with a canopy of golden silk (immediate thought: bath time here). Lathering up with clove-scented soap could make a girl or guy (or combination for that matter) feel very sexy.
And don’t even get us started on Bwejuu Beach, spread out on Zanzibar’s southeastern coast and rated by Conde Nast Traveler as “one of the top 30 island beaches in the world.” After all, sun and sand following an African safari is the main reason many visit Zanzibar. But it’s far from your typical soft sand Caribbean or Hawaiian beach. The blinding white coral sand is hard, so you can take out bikes from the resort and pedal for miles along the wide, relatively undeveloped beachfront. And when the tide goes out, you can go “reef walking.” With reef shoes and walking sticks, you wade out knee-deep in water on the reef to the far-off surf line, spying interesting shells and little fish (just beware of the spiny sea urchins). When the tide is in, you can swim or try stand-up paddle boarding. Wind and kite surfing are popular too when the breeze picks up.
Meals here are excellent (though not quite as gourmet as next door at The Palms, Baraza’s sister resort, where the kitchen caters to just six villas). Baraza is all-inclusive but doesn’t feel like it as it’s pure class with food focused on quality, not quantity. One night, we enjoyed an African dinner. Guests were greeted by the restaurant manager who offered drinks served in fresh coconuts. Then a variety of small plates were passed – sweet potato soup with cardamom, fish and red beans with coconut raita, beef stew in cassava, chicken in coconut sauce, and more. Another night, a more formal dinner was served in the elegant Sultan’s Dining Room. Good South African wines are poured, complimentary. And while Baraza has a desalination plant for purifying its own water, bottled water is freely available.
It also felt good to know that Baraza gives back to the local community. It has financed and built a maternity clinic in the local village of Bwejuu, among other social initiatives. And most of the staff, who speak English, is hired from the local hotel school. They were all genuinely warm, friendly and welcoming.
Yes, Baraza is indeed a resort fit for a sultan.