It’s a series of dots on the map, just to the east of Tanzania, this extraordinary archipelago of Zanzibar. Its history is a mixture of murky and magnificent – a great trading post, the spice centre of the known world, a former capital of the Sultanate of Oman and a serious slave exporter. Today it is holiday heaven.
When you read or see pictures of white sand, don’t believe them until your bare feet have walked along a beach in Zanzibar and felt the silkiest sand literally run between your toes. To enjoy, indulge or simply experience this, head to the south-east of Unguya, the largest island in the archipelago, and deposit yourself in the sands that edge Baraza Resort and Spa.
This is a simple example of luxury, designed along the lines of a Swahili village except a thousand times more opulent.The lines are the same, a cluster of houses (villas in this case) around a wide open space. These in turn morph into meeting places, eating and drinking areas, not to mention a huge pool which runs parallel to the beach. Add to that gardens and pathways dripping with bougainvillea, frangipane and spider lilies and overhung with palms. It is paradise personified especially as the only noise is that of birdsong and a gentle murmur from the waves. But that is before the rain.
Panic ye not if the rain arrives, for though it might be fierce and heavy to begin with…it eventually slow down to a gentle shower. It’s warm too and there is something unbelievably sensuous about swimming in warm gentle rain. And when it’s gone the sand is magically dry, soft and silky almost immediately. Of course when the sun is out we do what we all do best…worship it…either from the pool, the sea, the shade or from even under the sea. Baraza is a gift for divers having the only National Geographic accredited dive centre in East Africa, as well as a five star PADI version. The reefs, and they are numerous, are some of the finest along the coast, but should you wish to remain on top of the water there is sailing, snorkelling and for the adventurous, kite surfing.In betweeners can snorkel to their hearts content, while the idle and the sybarites, when lazing becomes too much, can head to the Frangipani Spa for more lying down, this time laced with pampering.
The Spa has its own building another vast and spacious Swahili inspired mini-palace built around a courtyard with its own swimming pool, complete with underwater music. The relaxation area is like no other you have experienced – a vast spread of day beds, huge cushions exotic rugs and silken hangings, so it only seems right and proper that this where you rest before and after the rigours of a Sultan’s Bath, the spa’s signature treatment.This combo of body scrub, bath, massage and near anointment with local spice essential oils, will ease every ache, pain or stiffness that may be left over from a long plane journey or the simple exigencies of daily life.
Seductive though life at Baraza may be, it would be almost criminal not to leave it, even for a few hours to see a little more of this island, and any number of outings are offered to tempt – from dhow cruises along the coast, a trip to the local village, Bwejuu, to visit the school and library (both supported by the Resort), an outing to a spice plantation where cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are grown or best of all spend a day in Stone Town, the island’s capital.
Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, Stone Town is a living history lesson. A maze of tiny alleyways, broken arches, winding streets, grand mansions, mosques and falling down palaces, it is a busy port, a tourist centre and a place of pilgrimage for devotees of David Livingstone (who set out to explore the rest of Africa from here)and fans of Freddie Mercury (who set out to seduce half the world from here). You’ll definitely need a guide, although it is easy to find the latter’s house, simply from the crowds heading in that direction, but it is better to have someone who knows the winding streets and the shortcuts between markets and mosques, restaurants and cafes to lead you. And before you leave, visit the cathedral which is built over the old slave market and houses the original whipping post. Spend time in the Slavery Museum which documents the trade and finally visit the slave chambers, two tiny rooms where they were kept before being sold. Take time to reflect and even weep.
After such an outing the white sands and the blue seas not to mention the luxuriant gardens of Baraza offer solace, sweetness and joy.
What you seriously need to know:
There is no direct flight to Zanzibar so whichever way you choose means breaking your journey which can, of course, play havoc with your body clock.
We flew Kenya Airways (www.kenya-airways.com) to Nairobi which takes approx. eight and a half hours and then another flight onto Zanzibar which is just under two hours – but there is at least another two hours on the ground in between flights, which makes the journey not only tiresome but tiring…however NOT if you equip yourself with some Jet Candy, one of travel’s best kept secrets for some time.
Jet Candy, an all-natural, homeopathic jet lag remedy, has been around for a while but known only to the lucky few; however, now it is available to all online to help cope with the exigencies some of us encounter with long-haul travel.It can help make jet lag a thing of the past. The ingredients quietly ensure your body adjusts without you worrying about a thing. It keeps circulation in check, helps you monitor hydration, while any anxiety is dispelled pre-flight and in-flight, and most importantly, your circadian rhythms don’t play havoc on your mind and body. Buy from www.jet-candy.com.
Words by Jo Foley