In the heart of Stone Town, the ‘capital’ of Zanzibar, lies a gem of a hotel with a unique history. Jonathan and Sophie step into Aladdin’s cave and find themselves (almost!) lost for words…
Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby
Finding your way around Stone Town can be a challenge – as we arrive, straight off the ferry from Dar es Salaam, we realize that Google Maps isn’t quite up to the challenge that comes with the maze-like streets. Luckily, there are lots of friendly locals to help us navigate our way and we quickly find ourselves in front of a beautiful building with a giant wooden antique door and a very humble façade…
Stepping inside is like stepping into a hotel that almost defines ‘bohemian chic’. An Aladdin’s cave of beautiful antique furniture, quirky portraits (of Queen Elizabeth II among others), ornamental trays, four-poster beds, romantic stone baths, stained glass and different colour schemes in every room. This is not your average hotel. There is no easy way to describe all the magical rooms that are on offer – they are each absolutely stunning. Some of the rooms are named after the points on the compass – the East Room is naturally set in yellow tones, with a beautiful wooden lattice wall enabling the perfect balance of sunlight and catching a breeze.
We check into the Tour Suite – decorated in delicate blue nuances, with probably the best views in the house. From our very own Tea House (a covered roof-top terrace), we enjoy our complimentary bottle of champagne while relishing the magnificent views, the sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle in the maze below us. Absolutely breathtaking!
For the perfect sunset cocktail, we head to the rooftop restaurant – one of the best in town. With magical views over the harbour (with its many dhow boats), delicious cuisine and very friendly staff, this is a top-notch airy spot to enjoy the vistas and have a relaxed meal, seated on beautiful Persian rugs, cross-legged, in true Arab style.
It’s not every night you get an opportunity to sleep in a World Heritage Site building, but that’s exactly the experience you get at Emerson on Hurumzi. In 1883, when slaves were declared free on Zanzibar, the mostly Arabian slave owners came to this very building to claim their reimbursement offered by the British authorities. Seeped in rich history, it is a genuine privilege staying at Emerson on Hurumzi, waking up to the sounds of both the neighboring Hindu temple and Muslim mosque. It’s obvious that the renovation of this building was a passion of love for its owners.
On our second day in Stone Town, after touring the city and taking in the sights, such as the old Slave Market and the Palace Museum, we head to Emerson Spice for a tour of this landmark hotel. Emerson Spice is the sister hotel to Emerson on Hurumzi – both hotels now under the same management. The atmosphere at Emerson Spice is very similar to Emerson on Hurumzi, the rooms have the same bohemian feel, but the finishes are a tad more modern.
At both hotels though you’ll get top-notch hospitality and a memorable experience – we certainly did.
Zanzibar’s Stone Town is a fantastic destination in its own right, or combined with some beach relaxing, with or without a safari thrown in. See the safari section of our blog for our top recommendations on East Africa safaris.
Good for: Those who appreciate art, antiques and bohemia!
Not so good for: Those with disabilities – there are a lot of (steep) staircases to negotiate here, and it’s all the quirkier for it.
Our verdict: An outstanding hotel with an authentic Zanzibari feel, excellent location and fabulous restaurant.