Travel

Travel inspiration: relax in an eco-friendly paradise on the island of Zanzibar

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Lucy Partington
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Stylist’s beauty editor Lucy Partington lives the sustainable tropical dream at Zuri Zanzibar.

Tropical islands are my thing. It’s my goal in life to visit as many as financially possible. I love how far removed they are from my hectic London life and how zen they make me feel. I crave blue skies, palm trees, sunshine, the works – and now I’m off to Zanzibar, a destination I’ve been keen to visit since I discovered that it was an actual place, not just a grimy nightclub in Leicester.

The thing with tropical islands, though, is they’re never easy to get to. Zanzibar is approximately 50km off the coast of mainland Tanzania, and by the time I arrive at what must be the world’s smallest – and most chaotic – airport, it’s around 18 hours since I left Heathrow. After another two hours driving north through small villages, we turn left down an unpaved mud track. It feels like I’m arriving at Hogwarts for the first time: I have no idea what awaits me, but as we drive through the ornate wooden gates of Zuri Zanzibar, I realise all that travelling has been worth it.

The resort is situated on the far north-western shores of Kendwa, a village on the island of Unguja, which, to save confusion, is usually referred to as Zanzibar because it’s the largest and most populated island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. Made up of 55 eco-friendly bungalows, villas and suites, each one is perfectly placed along a sunset-facing cliff. At the bottom lies 300 metres of private beach, the silky white sand and Indian Ocean perfectly juxtaposed against the hotel’s impressive flora. If the sea isn’t your thing, there’s also a 32-metre infinity pool that overlooks the ocean and makes for the perfect #paradise Instagram shot.

Definitely not in London anymore, Toto

There’s a veritable jungle of plants across the hotel site (even a horticulturalist would struggle with all the names), palm trees (is it even a tropical island without them?) and exotic hedges all dappled in the mid-afternoon sunlight. As soon as I take my first sip of freshly made lemonade, I let out an audible sigh of relief. I’m definitely not in London anymore, Toto.

Stepping through the door of my bungalow, it is immediately obvious that sustainability is at the heart of Zuri. The striking dark wood feels luxe, but everything – including the carved wooden door, thatched roof and the hammock on the balcony – has been made from natural or locally sourced materials from all over the island. There’s automatic lighting to minimise energy usage, while regular air conditioning units have been shunned in favour of an ‘Evening Breeze’ system that works to create a microclimate around your bed. Not only does it use 75% less energy because it doesn’t cool the entire room, it also incorporates oxygen from the outside to help promote healthy sleep.

 Sustainability is at the heart of Zuri

The resort is also committed to cutting down on single-use plastic – drinks come with natural straws and reusable glass water bottles are on offer. There’s even a desalination plant that the hotel uses to make its own ‘homemade water’ sourced from the ocean and purified so that it’s safe to drink. There is no waste – everything is reused, recycled or returned to the gardens.

But there’s much more to Zuri than its eco-friendly design and sustainability credentials. Not long after a sunrise meditation class on the beach, I climb into a traditional dhow boat and we set sail, gently bouncing along the waves for an hour before we arrive at the perfect snorkelling spot. There’s nobody else around so it’s just us, the boat and an ocean swarming with fish and coral. Truly, there is no better feeling than the freedom of floating around in crystal clear water, admiring the life that thrives below the surface.

After finding Nemo and pals, we head back to dry land in time to have a – slightly ironic – seafood feast in a private beach cabana. I eat prawns bigger than my head, barbecued lobster, local white fish and the freshest, most delicious-looking salads I’ve ever laid my eyes on (I’ve never said that about a salad before) while listening to the waves crash against the shore. If it sounds indulgent, that’s because it is. Throughout my stay, I sample a contemporary fusion of African, Indian, Arabian and European cuisines at the three bistros – Upendo, Bahari Grill & Bar and my favourite, the poolside Maisha, where you can dine on Middle Eastern cuisine under a grand wooden pergola.

Beach or pool? Pool or beach?

It’s tough going, switching between the beach and the pool during the day, enjoying a sunset cruise, sipping ‘dawa’ cocktails – which translates as ‘medicine’ in Swahili – at any opportunity. I’m not usually one for sweet drinks, but these are made using konyagi, a native Tanzanian spirit that tastes similar to rum with lime and honey, and they had me at first sip. 

Eventually, I drag myself away from the resort to visit Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City, the island’s capital. A maze of narrow alleys, bazaars and mosques, Stone Town is both the birthplace of Freddie Mercury and a UNESCO World Heritage Site steeped in history. While it’s worlds away from the luxurious life I’d been lapping up at Zuri, a visit to the former slave market site makes me realise that this island is more than just a picturesque paradise.

As I’m boarding the plane back to reality, I decide I much prefer Zanzibar-the-island to Zanzibar-the-former-nightclub. I’m pretty sure you would too.

Stay seven nights at Zuri Zanzibar from £1,859 per person, including accommodation in a Garden Bungalow on a half board basis, including flights and transfers. Visit turquoiseholidays.co.uk to book

Images: Zuri Zanzibar