Here you have 3 words with strong ties: luxury and Aga Khan. This is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most prestigious hotels in Stone Town and the island of Zanzibar. With its airs of a flamboyant past, this Stone Town destination is absolutely magical.
It is just 3 minutes on foot from the Forodhani Gardens, in the centre of Stone Town, but it will take at least 30 minutes to get to the international airport. The city's famous buses, the dalla dalla, will take you to the various parts of the island. However, you'll have to be patient because some of the journeys can start to feel never-ending.
The Serena Inn Zanzibar belongs to the Aga Khan chain, meaning luxury runs in the family!
The building housing the Serena Inn is a true history book. It actually consists of two buildings: the first was the former home of British Telecommunications in the 19th Century, and the second, more private one, was once the home of a Chinese doctor and has kept its characteristic roof. The Middle East thus meets Asia on this island, where merchants cross paths.
High ceilings, plated wood, and very helpful staff await your arrival. You may feel as though you're taking a stroll in another era: looking at the objects on display, you'll wonder whether they belong to a royal family... The lines aren't always straight but they do come together beautifully in the imperfection of these historic buildings which whisper ancient stories in the wind come nightfall.
Definitely a luxurious address in Stone Town, the hotel's ground floor opens onto a large terrace with a swimming pool and a view of the ocean. In the shade of some palm trees and lightly scented colourful flowers, this is a delightful place to be both day and night.
Stone Town's biggest hotel has standard rooms, prime rooms as well as suites to offer its guests. They are all done out in the same, typical Zanzibar style, in which the wooden beds and Eastern-style mirrors display a certain level of finesse, but the categories do differ when it comes to the minor details.
The size of the standard rooms and especially their bathroom is not that great. Fortunately, they all have a balcony where you can enjoy the sea breeze.
The prime rooms, which are identical in size and decor to the standards, are gathered in a building that once belonged to a Chinese doctor. Benefitting from an especially good location, the lodgings here have direct views of the sea, which are only made better by the terrace that surrounds the rooms on both sides. Plus, it's hard to resist the temptation of the strategically placed hammock facing the sea in the evening.
There is a noticeable difference in terms of the size of the suites, and without being excessive (remaining in line with the other hotels in the city), they are definitely better. They display the same Omanian-Zanzibar taste, with rugs and wooden furniture that are decidedly classic in style and not very modern, but on the whole, they are keeping with the style of the hotel.
This being said, the bathrooms are rather deceiving: not only do they boast a style which is too classic (with marble and tile flooring), they are above all too small, even in the 'honeymoon' suites. To benefit from a somewhat decent sized one (with a double wash basin, bathtub, and shower), you'll have to move up to the superior category. Nevertheless, the range of hospitality products provided is quite pleasing, with, of course, the standard little soaps, plus cotton make-up remover pads and products from the renowned classic Penhaligon's perfumery in London (established in 1870 and very well-known).
Located in the same building as the former Chinese doctor's house, the Serena restaurant is flooded with natural light emanating from the beach. In the pure Zanzibar style and alluding to the glorious past of the Oman sultanate, this relaxing spot is the ideal setting to enjoy the various meals of the day. Looking out onto the beach, this dining area benefits from a pleasant natural breeze coming in through the long windows.
The very international cuisine, accompanied by some local specialties, is of course served directly at your table (snacks include club sandwiches and hamburgers). Fresh fish and shellfish are among the main ingredients on the menu, but the hotel is also careful to cater to other tastes, also serving numerous vegetarian choices with an Indian influence. The newly added Swahili buffet put on for breakfast has proved a huge success, according to management. It includes both fish and bananas to introduce you to the local traditions. Those less daring will find pancakes, crepes, various cereals, fresh fruit, and European cakes.
In the evening, the fish and seafood restaurant moves outside to the rooftop terrace, where you can gaze at the ocean during a romantic dinner.
Nearby, the bar, which looks like a colonial smoking-room, is open until the early morning: indeed, the bartender is obliged to be present until the last customer leaves. Moreover, musicians put on concerts every evening here. More often than not, the music is traditional and melancholic, basically constituting the perfect music to accompany the sun setting over the sea. The bar also offers light snacks throughout the day.
Finally, once you're out on the terrace facing the sea, follow your nose and the scent of coffee: your senses won't deceive you, as you should find yourself at the Mdele Coffee Shop, just next door. Part of the hotel, it boasts being "the best coffee shop in Stone Town". The coffee beans are freshly ground and the smell is delicious, we can tell you that much.
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