I am unwell. In fact, I am gravely ill. It would seem I suffer from dreaded Stendhal syndrome – oh, the horror – so I do not know how much time I have before I shuffle off this mortal coil…
Stendhal syndrome (as everybody knows of course) causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to particularly beautiful art or a large amount of art in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world, according to my trusted expert, Wikipedia.
In my case, it is the knee-weakening vision of Zawadi Beach Villas in Zanzibar which has induced this condition.
An hour or so before this sudden onset of the Dreaded Lurgi, the lovely voice of Captain van der Westhuizen welcomes us to Zanzibar and thanks us for flying Mango Airlines from South Africa, a very comfortable three and a half hour flight.
Our driver PK from Tradewinds transfers promptly awaits us outside the tiny third-world airport and for the next hour I am immersed in the sights and sounds of Zanzibar as we pass cows, scooters carrying up to three passengers, women clothed in burkas and laughing children on their way home from school, all beneath giant swaying palm trees in the tropical heat. Brightly coloured clothes on lines billow in the breeze and flaming orange frangipani break up the impossible green of the palm trees and the metal grey sky.
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa with a population of about 1.4million people. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site. It is widely known as a haven for honeymooners and holiday makers because of its friendly people, tropical climate and world-class powdery white beaches with water the colour of blue crystal.
Upon arrival at Zawadi Hotel in the south-eastern part of the island, the meaning of the name becomes immediately evident. Zawadi means “gift” in Swahili and the beautifully simple and modern architecture of the buildings and its sophisticated white décor superimposed on the translucent sea beyond is certainly a gift of the most special order. Zawadi is the newest member of The Zanzibar Collection, a unique and global award winning group of hotels here on the island and this latest asset is an absolute gem.
It is one of the most exclusive properties on the island with just nine large villas set in a secluded spot atop a cliff.
The main guest area contains a large swimming pool, again with spectacular views; as well as the restaurant and bar area serving the renowned Zanzibar Collection food. Towards the centre of the property the cliffs recede and you can snorkel in a pristine cove directly from the beach.
The colour scheme throughout comprises only of nuanced creams and whites which beautifully off-sets the amazing natural array of pallets – the turquoise ocean, the blue skies and the mixes of red and fuchsia bougainvillea. We are greeted with fresh coconut water – straight from the coconut – after which our gracious and warm host Evelyn takes us to our villa.
The hypnotising view of the Indian Ocean in all its glimmering glory is the main focus of all of the villas, with the raised location giving some of the best views on the island. Each spacious villa, 100 square metres apiece, boasts a large en-suite bathroom and an open, breezy terrace directly overlooking the Indian Ocean. The decor is simple and modern, in keeping with the elegant and under stated atmosphere.
All the usual 5-star amenities are on offer of course like mini-bar, air conditioner, humungous bath with robes and slippers as well as the loveliest bath oils, soaps and bubbles.
We go for a spot of lunch at the restaurant with the sea stretching below us and the tide is already coming in. George and Raza serve us and a friendlier and funnier duo you will ne’er find. We feast on yellow fin tuna, grilled dorado and a lovely trio of sorbet for dessert. We laze around the pool for the rest of the afternoon, cocktail in hand, savouring the peace and tranquillity.
George brings the menu for dinner to the pool so we can choose what we would like to dine on – what a superb touch.
I lie on my lounger on my terrace at our villa later, dreamily in reverie at the deeper shade of blue of the ocean as darkness fall when I’m startled by a voice. “Hallo hallo!” says smiling waiter Ali behind me, sporting a tray of canapés and sun downer sparkling wine, brought to all the guests this time of day every day. Its little touches like these together with the heavenly seclusion, the enchanted location, intimacy and privacy that elevate Zawadi way above its competitors. That, plus the fact that the well-being and happiness of the guest seem to occupy every thought and deed of the staff.
Dinner is simply sublime. Mud crab cannelloni, Thai style green papaya salad and chilled cucumber soup are the heavenly morsels proffered for entrées and for the main course we blissfully abandon ourselves to flame-grilled slipper lobster and roast pork tenderloin with a “passionate” mouse with coconut crumble and olive oil sherbet as dessert.
The following day passes in a blur of easy-going delight. Breakfast is followed by revelling in and lazing by the pool. Lunch is followed by a spot of snorkelling in the ocean, the temperature of bath water. Another fantastic dinner is followed by after-dinner drinks on the patio, staring at the millions of twinkling stars and wondering aloud to ourselves what other people are doing now at home…
And then for something completely different. Our third day sees us waving fond farewells to our new friends at Zawadi and undertaking the enormously long trek – about two kilometres down the road – to The Palms hotel.
Also a Zanzibar Collection hotel, this place is straight out of our dreams.
The Palms is one of the world’s most romantic all-inclusive resorts, says Travel + Leisure and who am I to disagree with such a vaunted opinion?
We are welcomed with a hibiscus drink by the incredibly charming hotel manager Siriak who shows us around breath-taking property and its lush Garden of Eden environment.
The fusion of Arab, African and European design and colourful tapestry of architecture, heritage, myth and magic is exemplified in this exclusive, intimate resort.
The Palms has six villas, each over 140 square meters with a bedroom, living room, full en suite bathroom, dressing room, extra room with its own en suite bathroom & large furnished terrace with views of the Indian Ocean, today a palate of blue Picasso would be jealous of.
Each villa features a sophisticated interior composition in all colours of coffee and cream where filmy caramel coloured curtains billow, dark grained polished floors extend and the decor is a unique marriage of colonial grandeur and traditional design. On the veranda, a silk-draped four-poster Zanzibar Bed accents a sunken, midnight blue plunge pool with long views of the Indian Ocean – the absolute best feature of this villa.
It’s a secluded cocoon, one you might never want to leave were it not for the hedonistic pleasures to be found outside.
You can cycle, kayak and snorkel here, all free of charge though activities like scuba diving and windsurfing are charged for. We have no such lofty ambitions and instead enjoy the more sedate pleasures of a wonderful lunch consisting of a stupendous lamb burger as well as freshly caught line fish where after we embark on the strenuous activity of lazing by the pool.
As a guest here you have access to Baraza and Breezes, two other properties of the Zanzibar Collection but it’s “one way traffic” as Siriak says grinning, indicating just how special guests are here.
You can cycle, kayak and snorkel here, all free of charge though activities like scuba diving and windsurfing are charged for. We have no such lofty ambitions and instead enjoy the more sedate pleasures of a wonderful lunch consisting of a stupendous lamb burger as well as freshly caught line fish where after we embark on the strenuous activity of lazing by the pool. The relaxing strains of soft island music with the swaying palms providing the chorus complete this picture of bliss.
At night this romantic hideaway transforms into an impossibly beautiful magical fairy land with tiki lamps and candles everywhere.
Dinner is superb yet again. The delicate seafood soup as entre and beef fillet as main course blow our minds and the service again faultless –I’m beginning to think they have a factory somewhere where they create these magical serving staff. A heavenly sachertorte with homemade mango ice cream provides a glorious end to proceedings. A local historian, Mister Banda, is introduced to the guests after dinner. He speaks only Swahili and Siriak translates as he tells the many myriad of Zanzibar tales. His ancient eyes are filled with generations of wisdom and sit, listening transfixed….
Long after everyone has gone to bed I still philosophise with Kibalala, our waiter, about his adventures in hospitality.
“Happiness is expensive,” he says, metaphorically. Wise people, these…
Baraza Resort and Spa next door is our home for our last night on this amazing Spice Island. It was voted among the Top 20 Luxury Hotels in the world by Tripadvisor recently.
After breakfast, the manager of Baraza, Daniel, personally escorts us next door and gives us the grand tour.
It’s a different kettle of fish altogether – in fact, it’s quite a spectacular resort.
It’s a 5 star all-inclusive hotel (just like the previous properties) and was selected as one of the 60 best new hotels in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, a prestigious worldwide travel magazine. With just 30 villas, this stunning resort evokes the heritage of Zanzibar dating back to the era of the Sultans. A fusion of Arabic, Swahili and Indian design, with Swahili arches, intricate hand carved cement décor, beautiful antiques, handmade furniture and intricate brass lanterns; Baraza offers unparalleled standards of luxury.
Our villa is less villa and more palace. You can spend a week sleeping on a different day bed/night bed/lounger/couch in here.
We make full use of our splash pool before venturing out for a snorkel in the warm Indian Ocean.
The lunch buffet is a treat. We gorge ourselves on chicken, pasta made-to-order, loads of different salads and home-made ice cream – yum!
Later Daniel takes us to the Spa, a veritable sanctuary where you can indulge in all sorts of mind and body cleansing treatments and therapies.
In fact, the entire hotel is like a dance of the Seven Veils, each nook and alcove revealing something new and fantastic in the forms of symmetrical giant copper pots, other divine artefacts or the beautiful garden filled with bougainvillea of all colours.
For dinner that evening the restaurant glimmers like a movie set from Lawrence of Arabia. Enchantment and wonder emanate from the soft lights, sparkling gold motifs and soft jazz.
The food is delicious and plentiful consisting of a Chinese cornucopia of delicacies like sushi, pork ribs, sweet and sour chicken and beef and stir fry dishes. The pastry chef conjured up morsels such as honey spiced cake, pecan nut pie, mango mouse, tapioca and the most delicious crème Brule we have ever tasted.
The thought of leaving the next day make my heart sink but at least I now know what God did on the 7th day before he rested…. He made The Zanzibar Collection.