Discover the blue skies of Essque Zalu Zanzibar
The Tanzanian archipelago offers kaleidoscopic ocean views you’ll never forget
Nestled into a natural cove on the North-east coast of the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar, the Essque Zalu hotel has the most wonderful spectrum of colours. It doesn’t stop surprising you from the moment you arrive to the moment they reluctantly drag you away from the place. You know that blue? That special turquoise, blending into a royal blue, offering the kind of filter to life that no Instagram filter will ever match.
Now imagine there was an island where that colour wouldn’t even get to the judges’ houses stage of ‘Colour Factor’. The hotel is built around a 40-metre high and 50-metre long thatched canopy that’s been hand-crafted from local wood. Visible from five miles away, it rises majestically above the resort, draping a cool shade over the terracotta tiles that lie below.
It takes something to knock that stunning entrance down the billing, and what emerges when we walk through the canopy is our first exposure to the explosion of primary colour by Mother Nature herself. The blue starts with an inviting pool that opens narrowly and works its way out to sea like an outstretched arm saying, “go on, take a look at that”. Quite an arrogant swimming pool, but it’s got a point. It’s breath-taking.
The ocean opens up with an other-worldly kind of luminescent midnight, and everything in between. When it hits the horizon, it chemically contorts itself to an almost mirror image of itself, as it merges its delicate colour palette into the heavens above. Frankly, Farrow and Ball needs to up their game. The only thing that breaks up the stunning view is the private 100-metre wooden jetty that juts out through the rocky sand and into the distance. Like an ancient mariner, the ocean drags you forward towards the pier, where you’ll find a super cool lounge bar at the end, with the relaxed vibe of a Roger Moore Bond movie. Funnily enough, we try out a cocktail making class on our trip and end up making vodka martinis in honour of the dearly departed (and, in this writer’s opinion, definitive) 007.
There are only a couple of dozen villas dotted around the resort, with smart use of garden landscaping providing complete privacy for every single one. The spacious villas offer respite from the tropical heat, although there’s no getting away from ‘The Blue’, which shines through and throws up cool colours against the whitewashed walls.
Food is served in three restaurants – a poolside bar for snacks, a fine dining experience, which does very well with the sometimes limited local produce and the obscenely good seafood, and a more relaxed BBQ-style dining outlet at the end of the jetty. The Swedish culinary director Jussi Hussa brings European sensibilities to an African menu, and creates genuinely unique and interesting flavours. He also personally runs a cookery class, which is recommended.
And then just when you think you’ve got the whole blue thing down, the resort then shows its creative core. One of the great joys of life is surprise, and it is here that general manager Duarte Correia shows his own flair in taking this astonishing setting and turning it into something truly remarkable. One highly recommended experience is the alfresco movie screening. Set in a private glade, overlooking the ocean and nothing else, candle lights guide you to a table for two, where a tasting menu, cooked to your personal choices, is brought out course after course. When you’re nearly ready to tap out, you’re invited to move to the day beds for coffee, where your favourite movie plays on a projector and giant screen. It’s hard to look forward to a regular cinema ever again.
Another must-try activity is the Maasai Ritual, which takes place in an authentic small village situated inside the hotel. Here, you are guided through a spa experience unlike anything you’ll have seen before, soundtracked not by a panpipes CD, but by the rhythmic chanting of four Maasai warriors. As you move from treatment to treatment and tent to tent, their intensity rises and falls with the ambience. It’s quite something. There is something about any African trip that delights, even when it is imperfect. This lacks those kind of imperfections, and is instead a perfect oasis of relaxation against the most beautiful backdrop you will ever see.