Zanzibar conjures images of exotic spices, romance and paradise and a trip there is an experience that many will cherish forever. Jane Slade explains just why the ‘Spice Island’ stays in the hearts of visitors long after they’ve left its golden sands.
A morning snorkelling in the warm waters off the eastern coast of Zanzibar is a pretty special experience.
The coral reef is so shallow and rich in sealife that in parts you can stand and watch zebra fish, angel fish, clown fish and pipe fish dart around your ankles.
The far-away island, six degrees south of the equator off the coast of Tanzania, is balmy and beautiful but with a dark, troubled history.
Just 60 miles long and 25 miles wide the coast is laced with white sandy beaches and a lush tropical hinterland, an ideal setting for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night where a shipwrecked Viola is swept onto the shores of Illyria.
The place to stay is at one of the four boutique hotels in the award-winning family-owned Zanzibar Collection.
Resembling a Moroccan palace, the five-star Baraza Beach Resort is the group’s ‘all-inclusive’ jewel in the crown with 30 capacious villa suites decorated with beautiful brass lanterns, billowing muslin curtains, carved wood furniture and private plunge pools. Book a villa with an ocean view and you stroll from your bedroom to the beach.
A long stretch of talcum-soft white sand fringes the gardens where you can stroll among the lofty coconut palms and shocking pink bougainvillea.
There is a large outdoor pool and three gourmet-style restaurants (one for breakfast, lunch and dinner).
Expect plenty of delicious fresh fish and seafood dishes including tiger prawns and baby lobster as well as beef filet served in coconut milk, with Cajun spices and vegetarian dishes.
There’s a fine wine and cocktails list too.
Relaxation and wellness are bywords at Baraza. There are two daily yoga classes given by a fabulous young teacher from Kerala and a huge spa with endless treatment rooms and a menu of invigorating massages, facials, manicures and pedicures.
The other hotels in the group include Breezes which is built in an older traditional style using dark woods and with open communal areas making it ideal for a family holiday and Palms, an adults-only resort, evoking a1920s colonial era, comprising just six villas.
Ideal for a special celebration you can hire all the Palms villas and enjoy exclusive use of the resort from €4,050 per night including all meals and drinks for 12 people – minimum five-night stay.
Zawadi is also an adults-only resort. There are nine vaulted thatch one-bedroom suites/villas, each with a private pool and views of the ocean. Designed in the style of a contemporary island paradise there are also 55 staff waiting to cater to your every whim.
Zanzibar’s capital Stone Town will disappoint architectural and shopping enthusiasts but linger a while and you will unlock a rich history and a faded charm.
The House of Wonders, built by Sultan Barghash in 1883, used to be the island’s main attraction commanding a prime site on the seafront. It was the first building on the island to have electricity and a working lift but is now closed for renovation after years of neglect.
The Sultan’s Palace, another sad relic, is also under renovation.
There are however some handsome colonial-style hotels worth visiting such as The Emerson Spice Hotel where you can enjoy a cocktail, and old homes whose front doors have chains carved into the wooden surrounds denoting they used to belong to wealthy slave traders.
Zanzibar was a slave trading post from 1800 to 1909 when it was ruled by the Sultans of Oman.
A visit to the East African Slave Trade Exhibit unveils the moving and harrowing history of this period told through photographs and an art installation of chained sculptures in the grounds.
Slaves from Africa were shipped to Zanzibar to be sold on to the Arabian market.
A poignant reminder is the nearby Church of Christ cathedral which stands on the site of the former slave market.
A half hour drive from the city is the Jozani Forest – the island’s only national park and home to the red colobus monkey which is native to Zanzibar.
There is also a spice farm, although it is surprising to learn that spices were brought in from foreign lands; nutmeg 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.
Exotic spices and fruit grown on the island include pepper vines, vanilla, pineapple, Arabica and robusta coffee.
And if any ladies have forgotten their make up a natural lip gloss is available – the bright red tandoori (lipstick) fruit.
For more information visit www.thezanzibarcollection.com
Kenya Airways operates daily flights from London-Heathrow to Nairobi with daily onward connections to Zanzibar.