Spa Guide: The Residence, Zanzibar | Country & Town House
Country & Town House magazine | August 2012
Spa Guide: The Residence, Zanzibar
Fancy a dollop of culture, some city living or natural beauty with your spa? Look no further, says Laura Ivill.
Zanzibar — the name alone evokes an island rich in spice growing, a tropical paradise of dugout boats that fishermen launch knee-deep into the warm waves of the Indian Ocean, returning with a catch of fresh fish to sell at market. All this is here in abundance what a perfect sidekick to a dusty action-packed safari in East Africa. One minute you are tracking game in the Serengeti, the next a short flight brings you here for some idyllic down time.
Arriving for a pampering break, our driver whisked my girlfriends and me south from the small bustling capital, Stone Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Be sure to spend an afternoon here, taking in the noisy (and smelly) fish and meat markets and walking with a guide around the old slave market. There is a church on the site where the slaves captured by the Arabs from East Africa were whipped to see who was strong and valuable, and stepping down into the prison cells in which they were kept is a haunting experience.
These excursions bring the island’s rich history to life. A trip into the Jozani forest to see the tame red colobus monkeys stare into your eyes while feeding on leaves followed by a sunset cruise from Stone Town beach aboard a dhow make this much more than a fly-and-flop destination.
However, we were here to stay at the island¹s newest luxury beach resort, The Residence. The resort of 66 spacious, detached villas is now a year old which means the planting has matured into a vast garden of flowers and African grasses. Inside, the look is ‘simple colonial' — lots of wood and rattan furniture in a neutral palatte of creams and browns, with a huge four-poster bed draped with mosquito nets (I didn’t see any bugs, thankfully). An enormous old photograph of a fisherman’s boat off the coast of Stone Town gives a sense of place to the rooms, but overall I thought they are a little lacking in local colour, crafts and fabrics for a sense of the real Zanzibar to come through.
Each villa, facing directly onto the beach or with garden views, has its own swimming pool heated by the sun, with outdoor terrace and shower, and I was delighted to find we all had our own bikes to carry us to the two restaurants, spa, boutique and library (or you can call up a buggy, should your evening shoes not be up to the walk).
A bit of exercise is welcome, too, as the food is beautifully cooked sizzling tuna skewers, spicey king prawns, even an elegantly presented Lebanese tasting menu (although drinks are pricey a bottle of sparkling water is $10). It is deliciously quiet and peaceful, well away from the beach bars of the north. We were here to relax, eat and drink like kings, and put our city-stressed bodies into the expert hands of the spa therapists. Over at the spa, the six detached treatment villas have their own changing room, floor-to-ceiling windows and high roofs. When I arrived one morning a carpet of pink flowers had opened its petals for me.
The outdoor Jacuzzi bubbles away within a larger pool and stays open till 8pm, so I took a solitary evening's dip under the stars. Bliss. The sauna and steam room are quite small and nothing more remarkable than those of an upmarket gym.
The treatment menu has been kept deliberately small, just three types of facials, for example, with Carita products. The exfoliator involved a lot of rubbing and flicking off so the experience wasn’t as relaxing as others I’ve had. The speciality of the house is the Oshashiatsu massage, during which you wear a loose linen ‘judo set’ lying on a mattress, and the male therapist stretches and manipulates your limbs. I’ve a variation on this ‘yoga massage’ before, so I knew what to expect, but the consensus among the girls was that it was a bit too intimate first time around.
Best of all, we loved the full-body massage. My therapist was from Dar es Salaam, just across the water on the mainland, and had been expertly trained as have all the staff. Her small yet strong hands soothed and revived, taking time to work on every spot even my ears. From my back, arms, legs and tummy, to my head, face, feet and hands. It was an hour of blissful calm, a treat, a rest, a moment of indulgence.
If the Zanzibar of old evokes spices, the new Zanzibar is all about five-star spa. Bring it on.
Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1250 / firstname.lastname@example.org) offers nine nights at The Residence on a half board basis from £2,420 per person, including flights