Located on the island's southern point in the area with the least tourists, this Lodge belongs to a Dutch couple, Ralph and Elies, and boasts the Swahili name of the island: Unguja. Isolated in the middle of nature (a deliberate choice), this 'lodge' is an ideal stop-off point for those looking for some peace and quiet and wanting to take advantage of the island's nonchalant serenity.
This hotel is on the southwest point of the island, not far from Kizimkazi beach. It will take at least an hour to get to Stone Town by car and a little less to get to the international airport.
A family of black-tail monkeys have made a home for themselves in the trees that provide shade for the garden at the Lodge. It's not rare then to see these little acrobats come out to run around on the makuti thatching. They are absolutely adorable and not at all aggressive. Nevertheless, it is not a good idea to feed them, as they are not supposed to eat human food.
The Unguja Lodge works together with the Moivaro Lodges and Tented Camps, who own other establishments on the island: the Fumba Beach Lodge in Fumba and the Swahili House in Stone Town.
Entering the garden of the lodge, you are welcomed by a tall Makuti which actually fits in perfectly with the atmosphere of the surroundings; although it may not be entirely 'organic', the hotel is relatively 'natural'. The creation of Croatian architect Ivan Sutila, who lived in Tanzania for 30 or so years, the Unguja Lodge makes abundant use of the island's natural resources: coral stone for the traditionally built walls, a makuti roof with its dried out palm tree leaves, and doors and other accessories made out of coconut wood.
The know-how of local Zanzibar craftspeople was called upon in order to recreate the specific technique used to sculpt the wood; the same technique which served to create the typical doors found in Stone Town. The results are very eye-catching: warm, traditional, and relaxing surroundings with small but important aesthetic touches.
The main makuti-covered building is a series of curves and inflections which create spaces that are isolated yet open to the outside. This is where all the main facilities are located: the restaurant, the bar, and a library. Nearby is a lagoon-style pool which bathes in soft lighting come nightfall.
Colourful cushions resting in the shade of some baobabs make up the relaxation space in the lodge. Here you will find a laidback and relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy a cocktail in the evening.
There are 10 bungalows in total which account for 10 rooms each the size of an apartment in the main European cities (around 60m², no lie). We needn't both saying, then, that space is not an issue. These bungalows were built using traditional makuti thatching and coral rock walls (as is the case throughout the hotel). An open space in the shape of a semi-circle was chosen in order to really take advantage of the surrounding nature without worrying about your neighbour's wandering stare.
There are 7 rooms with a view of the sea which look as though they have been perched on the lower coral reef separating the lodge from the beach. Completely facing the ocean, these little cocoons offer spectacular views of the horizon. Very early in the morning (around 5:00am), a breakfast platter is set in front of your door, with hot tea and coffee as well as a few biscuits. As you enjoy this little refreshment, you can admire the soft daylight from your private terrace facing the sea, listening to the birds singing and the family of monkeys running around the makuti roof.
The inside of the bungalows is practically a perfect circle, of which half is entirely open out to the ocean and the baobabs. Each bungalow consists of a mezzanine with a Zanzibar-style bed (whose beams, just above, are the favourite passageway of the Black-Tail family), a corner with a sofa inside a coral rock ellipse in the lower part of the bungalow, an enclosed bedroom surrounded by coconut wood shutters, with a large bed enveloped by a mosquito net and soft pillows, and a bathroom which is entirely open and gives you the false impression of 'roughing it'... The rooms at the Unguja have taken on a challenge that isn't exactly easy to achieve: creating the feeling of being in harmony with nature, all the while avoiding the inconveniences of camping. Not to mention, all of this is teamed with a corresponding aesthetic, all of which is very trendy at the moment.
We were won over by the 3 'baobab' bungalows: presented as rooms without a sea view, you might feel like you're being punished, given the incredible colour of the water in Zanzibar. No worries though, this feeling won't last long: once inside, you'll find that the central space is sheltered by a huge, splendid baobab. Plus, someone had the good idea of adding a tiny little private pool.
Whether it's a view of the sea or a baobab, the Lodge manages to make both types of rooms very attractive, which is not always an easy thing to do. In any case, the accommodation units are a real success!
A little sidenote: completely won over by the bathroom in the sea-view rooms, we found the ones in the baobab villas a little more rough.
The restaurant here serves all three meals of the day. The à la carte dishes are served at your table and the menu of the day is carefully written out on a board next to the library. The dining room is set up with a few tables (relative to the amount of guest rooms) which seem to have been nestled in among the coral stone alcoves and create a cocoon-like feeling. Lanterns and candles provide the subdued lighting for the evening meal, which is taken in the most serene of surroundings.
The cuisine is international in style but strongly influenced by the food culture of the island and notably its very rich natural resources; it can is easily be enjoyed in full simplicity. Coconut fish curry, pilau rice, salad, and shrimp: although it may not be very original, the cuisine is definitely very authentic. Moreover, the dishes are nicely presented, the produce is fresh and organic, and the service is attentive. These are qualities that cannot be overlooked, especially given the location of the lodge, which offers no other possibilities in terms of eating out in the vicinity.
As if erected on the slopes of a coral reef, the Lodge takes over the beach at low tide. This means that, in reality, there are no panoramic views of the endless sand like on the east coast. Nevertheless, a garden area has been set up with chairs and straw parasols as well as a wooden stairway leading down to the sea.
At high tide, the bottom step is submerged in water (watch out for the little crabs!). It is a truly pleasant sensation taking a dip in the green water of the ocean, green precisely because it reflects the dense vegetation around it. Moreover, the water level is high enough that you can enjoy a relaxing swim.
Access to the beach is dictated by the low tide, you can no longer swim but you can walk to the neighbouring village (which isn't actually accessible during high tide).
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