Think of Zanzibar and you see sugar-white sand, contrasting with a milky-blue surf; the phantom scent of spices are conjured, and a sense of far-flung exoticism is evoked. It’s the ultimate when it comes to faraway escapes, and Zuri Zanzibar – slated to open at the beginning of July – embraces this other-worldliness.Set on the sunset-side of Unguja, one of the so-called ‘Spice Islands’ in the Zanzibar Archipelago, Zuri Zanzibar has natural wonders by the bucket load: there are 300 metres of private beach; unspoiled coral reefs; tropical garden oases, and the kind of African sunsets that would land in the glossy pages of NatGeo.
But it’s not all breeze-rocked hammocks and thatched roofs (though these elements do make an appearance on the property). Zuri Zanzibar is a member of the Design Hotels portfolio, and its style factor – think ice-green infinity pools, a plush wellness centre, and an assortment of boho-chic restaurants and bars – cannot be overlooked.
“Zuri is probably the first true lifestyle resort to be developed in this part of the Indian Ocean”, says Jean-Francois Laporte, the property’s development manager. “Zuri means beautiful in Swahili; it is precisely the feeling we want our guests to experience in our micro-universe”, he explains.
Much has gone into this micro-universe: yes, there’s high design (courtesy of the sleek team at design firm, Jestico + Whiles) and some breathtaking facilities (just take a look at that dreamy yoga deck overlooking the resort’s 1.6 hectors of spice gardens), but Zuri’s singular atmosphere is more than cosmetic – it’s considered.
Zuri’s natural and manmade beauty is a driving factor; but it’s one that has been designed to dovetail, along with Zuri’s other key philosophies: “The hotel is both ecologically and socially responsive”, stresses Laporte.
“Zuri offers high-quality accommodation that sits comfortably within Zanzibar’s culture, climate and geography.” The result of this is environmental friendliness with a distinctly Zanzibari vibe.
“In order to support sustainability and authenticity, natural materials from all over the island have been used in abundance throughout the hotel, [helping to] immerse guests in local traditions”, says Laporte. “Zanzibari wooden artisans are well known as some of the best in Africa. Their skills are present in Zuri Zanzibar’s wooden floors (sourced from the local registered forest), carved doors, thatched-roof structures and general carpentry. Some of the furniture is made from recycling old sailboats. All interior walls have been decorated with unique paintings by local artists.”
Zuri Zanzibar collaborates with CHAKO Zanzibar, a local, women-led social enterprise that upcycles decorative items from paper and glass. “The bead curtains in the bungalows and the lamps in the Peponi Bar are beautiful examples”, adds Laporte.
Beyond the interiors, another example of this environmental and cultural consideration is seen in the layout of the resort’s 55 bungalows, suites and villas: “The bungalows are organised in clusters, mirroring a typical African village. Bungalows are elevated, giving an impression of floating in the greenery”, says Laporte. Yet paying homage to heritage wasn’t solely an aesthetic decision: “Bungalows are suspended on pillars to avoid damaging the topography of the site, thereby causing a reduction in erosion.”
Respecting the local environment has always been key to Zuri. “The vast majority of the plants has origins in Zanzibar and the east coastline of Tanzania, with over 90 per cent being endemic.” Exhibiting local flora is only the beginning: the landscape architects have avoided grass since it demands a large amount of water; there’s a compost area where hotel waste turns into fertiliser; and on-site nurseries and gardens supply the resort with spices and raw ingredients.
One of the things that Laporte is most proud of is Zuri’s ability to produce its own drinking water via its desalination system. “Zuri Zanzibar has its own water wells and avoids using the water resources from the local Kendwa village”, says Laporte. “The latest ozone technology (we’re one of the first hotels in East Africa introducing this mechanism) ensures that the whole system is free of bacteria proliferation.” They also bottle their purified water on-site with reusable glass bottles, thus avoiding the use of plastic.
Becoming an asset – instead of a burden – to the local Kendwa community is another important goal. And it’s why they hire locally: 90 per cent of employees are from Tanzania – 65 per cent of whom are from Zanzibar. In total, 40 per cent come from within 10-kilometre radius. Zuri has also implemented an apprenticeship programme, where 10 students from the local Kendwa community embark on a two-year educational programme to gain a certificate in tourism and hospitality.
With all this natural beauty and a heart of gold, what more could you want from a new hotel? Welcome to the community, Zuri Zanzibar.
[Images are courtesy of Zuri Zanzibar.]
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Nicole Trilivas is an American writer based in London covering high-end travel and food and drink. She’s a luxury lifestyle contributor for Forbes.com and a restaurant reviewer for Time Out London. Her work has appeared in NYTimes.com, Condé Nast Brides, Men’s Journal, Fodor’s, Yahoo, HuffPost, Wanderlust, Afar, Suitcase, and Country Life (upcoming). She’s the author of the travel-theme novel, Girls Who Travel (Penguin Random House, 2015).