Emerson on Hurumzi, Zanzibar Stone Town

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…

View from our room,  Emerson on Hurumzi

View from our room, Emerson on Hurumzi

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.

Welcome! Emerson on Hurumzi

Welcome! Emerson on Hurumzi

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.

Quirky staircases,  Emerson on Hurumzi

Quirky staircases, Emerson on Hurumzi

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.

Affordable luxury accommodation in the heart of Stellenbosch

I recently spent a night at De Hoek Manor in Stellenbosch. From the moment I stepped into the Manor, I felt right at home. Each detail – from the fresh flowers, the sherry and chocolate before bedtime to the electric blanket – made my stay one that I won’t easily forget.

The luxury and comfort that my king-size bed offered me made it difficult to emerge from my room the next morning! However, the church bells that chimed from the historic Moederkerk, situated directly across the road, were too beautiful to ignore!

My day began with a scrumptious breakfast in De Hoek Manor’s dining room, and I was served by a very friendly waiter named Elton. I highly recommend this bed and breakfast whether you are a tourist, business person or a local.

De Hoek Manor is in a prime location for exploring Stellenbosch, with restaurants, stores, cafés and historic monuments only steps away. Thank you De Hoek Manor for a true Stellenbosch experience!

– Independent review by Kiara Havenga

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Arniston Spa Hotel: Bliss on the beachfront

Arniston is a place where one can drop your defences for a day or two; where the cutting edges of city slickers slip away on the outgoing tide with the local fishing boats and sharp tongues start to hum along with the seductive sirens’ song. It is a place where everything is soft – from the incredibly photogenic aquamarine and cream colours of the bay to the lukewarm sea temperature (at least in comparison to Clifton…) It is one of the few really enchanting South African coves. Located only 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town, it definitely belongs on the itinerary of every visitor to the Western Cape.

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The Arniston Spa Hotel was renovated a few years ago and now offers the most luxurious catered accommodation in this 120 year old fishing village. The hotel lies within walking distance of the well-known Waenhuiskrans caves. And it is only a short drive to the nearby De Hoop Nature Reserve, a large protected coastal area where you are almost guaranteed to spot schools of dolphins playing in the surf. Or you may want to simply make a bee-line from the hotel foyer to the powder white beach across the road for a swim during low tide.

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From your own private balcony at the Arniston Spa Hotel you can watch how the local fishing boats return with what will become the ‘Catch of the day’ at the hotel’s own sea-facing restaurant. I had lovely Yellowtail during my stay and was as impressed with the polished service as with the exciting wine list which included many of my personal favourites such as Springfield’s Life from Stone and many other excellent selections from the Cape Winelands.

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If you feel like a bit of pampering, the hotel hosts a relatively large Gingko Spa with a Rasul (a Turkish steam chamber), two saunas, four treatment rooms and a tranquillity lounge.

There is plenty of light flowing into the hallways and every possible piece of wall has been utilised as gallery space, with colourful and poignant works from local artists to keep the mind stimulated as the body starts to relax.

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I recommend the deluxe sea-facing rooms which gave me the impression of sailing on a large passenger boat – and they all have private balconies. This would be particularly useful during the whale watching season (from May to November) when the marine giants visit the bay to mate and calve. And if the winter air is a little bit too fresh to your liking, you can always request one of the deluxe sea-facing rooms with their own fireplaces and stay indoors with your binoculars and a bottle of wine.

Speaking of wine, my only criticism would be the large, ingrained red wine stain on the deep blue carpet of my particular room. I also think that the ‘Do not remove’ stickers on the Charlotte Rhys toiletries are unnecessary and do not suit a hotel of this calibre. But, then again, within an hour after checking into this friendly hotel, I hardly noticed it any more.

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The Arniston Spa Hotel is a happy space – it instantly lifts the spirits.

Review by: Lizelle Steyn, independent traveller

Schoone Oordt, Swellendam: Attentive, relaxed luxury

I am not someone who grew up with luxury hotel holidays. No, we trailed the old caravan over the mountains from Oudtshoorn to Mossel Bay, took hours to level it and then struggled to zip in its heavy tent in the blustering on-shore wind, often with tempers flying as the tent pens resisted the tough terrain. But once the hard work was done, we could spend the rest of the summer vacation running wild between the plots, making new friends and getting as much sand between our toes and sun on our bodies as possible. It was the feeling of freedom.

It was therefore with some apprehension that I arrived at Schoone Oordt Country House in Swellendam for what would become my first overnight experience of a five star establishment. Would I be able to kick off my shoes here and have a really good time?

I don’t know what I was worried about. The warm and attentive hosts, George Irwin and Renee Buffet, go out of their way to show you that your needs and comfort really are their top priority. As I checked in quite late in the day and did not know the restaurants in Swellendam very well, I was grateful that George took the liberty of making a dinner reservation at nearby Sabine’s on my behalf. “And at what time did you think would I be hungry, George?” “Well, at about 7:30, I thought.” “That sounds just perfect.”

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It was only the next morning over the fresh fruit and white wine and vanilla poached peach breakfast in the sunny conservatory, however, that I got an opportunity to witness George’s organisational skills in all its glory. During a time span of about 20 minutes, he convinced an upmarket restaurant in a neighbouring town to bend their no-children policy for a couple travelling with their (exceptionally well behaved) 3-year old daughter, booked a game drive at a nearby game park for the same family, helped them decide which restaurants to try out once they arrive in Cape Town, served me breakfast, helped another table to settle their bill, attended to a plumbing hiccup and organised for someone to wash my trusted, but very dusty Clio while I was enjoying another cup of good plunger coffee. (Apparently a car wash is complimentary for all guests staying at Schoone Oordt.) Management certainly is the essence of the client experience at this country house.

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Not that the manor house is not entirely charming in itself. Diligent but discreet housekeeping keep the beautiful rooms in a pristine state during your stay (my tea cup got washed as if by the garden fairies), there is a very generous collection of Rain products in the bathroom, and oil burners keep the indoors smelling absolutely heavenly. Outdoors is even better with a 5000m2 perfectly kept garden, fruit-bearing lemon and olive trees and a secluded swimming pool. I felt completely comfortable exploring the terraces barefoot – Schoone Oordt is this relaxed.

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Schoone Oordt has just become my new stop-over oasis, perfectly located half-way between Cape Town and the Garden Route towns further along the N2: Mossel Bay, George and Knysna. This place is proof that tip-top attention and luxury need not be stuffy.

Reviewed by: Lizelle Steyn, independent traveller

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