Xanadu Villas & Retreat, Dongwe
Zanzibar’s eastern coastline is the land that time forgot: wild, gigantic palm trees rise up from verdant grassland and frame gloriously starburst-hued sunrises and sunsets (it’s like something straight out of a storybook). Here, crystal-clear water gently laps across marshmallow-soft sand, and life on the east coast moves at the tender pace of a caterpillar. Xanadu is one such place – an exquisite Arabian-inspired retreat featuring seven uncompromising villas that overlook the glistening Indian Ocean. Conceived by its owners out of a “desire to breathe”, we found Xanadu a perfect response to just that. Unique, spacious villas feature high ceilings, private pools and the most enchanting eye for art (think juxtapositions between paintings of Tanzania’s wildlife and eclectic contemporary artworks). Bursts of vivacious colour are found at every turn, from the perfectly preened flora to the impressive interiors which feature a patchwork of Seventies-style prints. A medley of African, Arabian and Spanish music gently hums in the background and is punctuated only by the sounds of socialising.
Considering that this is a remote island off the coast of an even more remote Africa, the cuisine is, quite simply, splendid. Breakfast features fresh smoothie bowls, sweet potato pancakes, homemade muffins, and more; lunch is usually straight from the sea and accented with colourful vegetable purées; while dinner might present anything from a six-course pairing menu to seafood platters. The rhythms of the day are punctuated by long, lazy walks along the beach, paddle boarding, and yoga on request. When in the mood for relaxing, opt for either an oversized sofa by the sea or an afternoon treatment in Kiota Spa, using locally sourced products. A relaxed, convivial revelry lingers on, particularly by nightfall, when the retreat is littered with warm lighting and laughter. Uniformed butlers, who are unobtrusive and friendly, are happy to serve you wherever and whenever (try a candlelit dinner on your private rooftop). Pack a Missoni print, statement sunnies and a plethora of oversized jewellery and you’ll fit right into Xanadu’s infectious haute bohemian vibe.
Matemwe Retreat, Matemwe
In the exotic town of Matemwe, a 90-minute and jaggedy drive north east of Stone Town (Zanzibar’s bustling main city), an almost secret passageway connects this remote retreat to its neighbouring town. Built on top of Matemwe’s coastline and hidden inside its thick, tropical forest, sits four enthralling private villas. Rickety wooden doors open to reveal a sprawling terrace which juts out across the deep, green flora. A lounge area plays host to an oversized sofa and swing chair – perfect for lazy afternoons with a book.
Inside the almost open-aired villa is a generously sized bedroom and an even bigger bathroom (open the terrace doors and the view of Zanzibar’s terrain from the impressive bathtub is breathtaking). But the real high note comes after the short journey up a winding staircase, where the villa’s rooftop is revealed. Mediterranean blue, sky blue and stonewash décor fills the Portuguese-style space, while pink and orange flowers cascade across the high walls, and a plunge pool looks delicious in the 28-degree sticky heat. What’s most awe-inspiring, however, is the view: crystalline sea flows out as far as the eye can see. Hours can easily ebb away while watching local fisherman take to the waters in tiny dhow boats.
To bask in the fresh sea air, attempt an early morning fishing trip or, for the more adventurous, snorkelling off Zanzibar’s coastline – either is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dive in headfirst as the retreat’s expert seamen guide visitors around the protected coral reefs where an array of tropical fish relish in the welcoming waters. Punctuate the afternoon with a picnic of freshly picked succulent island fruit while savouring sights of the endless open water. Conclude the trip with a starlit beach dinner where a three-course menu led by freshly caught fish and local vegetables is served by Matemwe’s charismatic waiters. Authenticity flows out across the retreat, from its purposefully tousled design to its unassuming and homely team of local staff.
The dress code in the North is luxuriously laid back. Wander from breakfast to the beach in a neoprene one-piece swimsuit (look towards Zimmermann, Melissa Odabash or Heidi Klein, who never disappoint), and nonchalantly throw on an oversized dress or shirt for comfort. Bright, sunshine hues perfectly suit the island’s uplifting ambiance. Footwear optional.