Steeped in history, the island of Zanzibar is a jewel in the Indian Ocean that is encircled by some of the most luxurious beaches in the world. Here, you can swim, snorkel, eat at restaurants magically positioned in the middle of the sea, and sink your toes into silky smooth sands. With its intricate coral fortresses, shimmering rainbows and pods of dolphins playing in the waves, it is little wonder that Dr Livingston described Zanzibar as ‘paradise’.
It is also a place where a bohemian aesthetic reigns supreme – make sure you pack straw hats, colourful shorts and wavy dresses – and the island lives by the mantra, hakuna matata, meaning, “no worries”. It’s this laidback attitude that informs some of Zanzibar’s best hotels, including the Zanzibar Collection, a group of four luxury residences – Baraza, Zawadi, Palms and Breezes – that sit on the quiet private beaches of Bwejuu, located on the southern stretch of the island.
My stay was at the Baraza Resort and Spa, the largest of the four properties and arguably the most opulent, modelled on the palaces of the Omani sultans who ruled Zanzibar from the mid-1600s until the British colonised the island back in 1890. The atmosphere is one of total relaxation, with beautiful interiors complete with soaring arches and spacious white verandas. To give it that feeling of exclusivity, the hotel is partially hidden from view by towering palm-trees, indigenous plants and fragrant jasmine blooms.
The owners, Mr and Mrs Raguz and their family, are also the creative team behind Palacina Interiors, which is based in their hometown Nairobi. Throughout the hotel, all the wooden furniture, Omani trunks and brass furnishings you see were specially commissioned and made by them. If anything takes your fancy, you can find the items in their shop.
There are 30 one and two-bedroom villas available, each with highly Instagrammable plunge pools, with honeymooners occupying one side of the resort and families the other. A white and gold palette dominates in the bedrooms and you’ll also find huge bathrooms with egg-shaped freestanding tubs, plus, if you’re lucky, a view of Bwejju beach. Elsewhere, there’s a giant swimming pool surrounded by comfortable day beds that you can lounge on all day. But wherever you choose to perch, you’re in good company – both Bill Gates and Brian May have stayed here.
But now really is the time to visit, so that you can experience Baraza’s new wellness offering. Created to ‘rejuvenate your soul’, the yoga programme is tailored to give beginner and expert yogis the opportunity to test their skills and immerse themselves in the ancient teachings of Hatha. It is led by Shree, who brings 12 years of experience from his homeland India, and guests partake in two one-hour sessions over six days at dawn and at dusk, either on the beach or in the spa. If you’re a novice, don’t worry: the basics are covered and you’ll be schooled in all things pranayama (controlling your breathing), yoga nidra (deep relaxation) and yoga shala (meditation).
There are many health benefits of Hatha yoga: postures such as Tree, Warrior and Triangle help increase bone density (ideal if you suffer from joint pain), and the Chair asana helps to build core body strength, especially around the lower back and paraspinal muscles. Towels, mats and sunrise views are all part of the deal, and once you get the hang of it you’ll start to feel the benefits within days.
Though treatments aren’t included as part of the yoga deal, the health kick continues at the Frangipani spa and wellness centre – the largest spa in East Africa. Bespoke menus offer basic to indulgent treatments rooted in Balinese and Thai traditions. Chic interiors are styled like an Arabian harem with silk-canopied daybeds and shimmering gold mosaic floors.
When it comes to the treatments, your best bet for long-lasting results is to combine a facial with a body scrub and massage. My spa session began with a ritual cleanse covering my face in essential oils sourced direct from local forests; seaweed-concentrated collagen is used to detoxify and rejuvenate, while aloe vera restored the skin’s natural elasticity. Next, my tired body was massaged with a cinnamon scrub packed with restorative coconut oils and raw sugars. My skin was left glowing and ultra-soft to the touch in less than 30 minutes. Problem areas (tight neck, upper and lower back) are tackled with traditional Balinese techniques, which also help boost immunity and balance the body’s qi energy.
Between self-care rituals, make the effort to go out and explore. The beach is the best place to start, with golden sands that stretch for miles past fishing villages, neighbouring resorts and the famous Rock Restaurant (a 55-minute walk along the coast). Snorkelling with several hundred clownfish and a two-hour sunset cruise on the water also offered plenty of photo opportunities.
Further afield, don’t miss Jozani Forest for wildlife treks and for a chance to see the Red Colobus monkeys (the only place you can see them in the wild in the world); and a trip to Stone Town, the island’s capital, to tour the age-old fortresses and to get a peek at the house where none other than Freddie Mercury was born.
Luke Abrahams stayed at the Baraza Resort & Spa, Zanzibar, part of the family-owned and managed Zanzibar Collection. Rates on all-inclusive basis starting from £564 a villa a night, based on two guests sharing. Please book direct by emailing [email protected] or through any good travel operator.
This article and all linked/embedded content appeared on the Town and Country website and is available online here.