Having opened its doors just a couple of months ago, the new Zuri in Kendwa, Zanzibar, highlights the importance of sustainability and ethical architecture without compromising on design aesthetic and luxury living. Features Editor Sophie Harper finds out how.
As far as archipelagos go, Zanzibar is quite the jewel in the ocean, bathed in glorious sunshine for the majority of the year and with typical tropical flora and fauna adding to the ambience, this African paradise does a good job of bringing in the tourists without cramming or spoiling the view. So where better to build a secluded hideaway, perfect for weary travellers to retreat, relax, and rejuvenate themselves?
Tucked away on the pristine shoreline of Unguja’s northwest, a vision of style and beauty in the form of the Zuri hotel overlooks the idyllic white sands and azure waters of the Indian Ocean. Kendwa, the village that plays host to the 13-acre resort, provides the perfect backdrop to the hotel’s sense of tranquillity while offering inspiration from the traditions and craftsmanship of its local community, which is what makes the Zuri such an integral part of its location’s makeup.
The new hotel opened its doors in July and boasts a whole range of luxury offerings, from its world-class gastronomy, exquisite guest accommodation, and wellness itineraries. But through all the bells and whistles, what’s most interesting about this new resort is its seamless blend of contemporary design and authenticity with its sustainable architecture and African personality.
The design team, well-known architects and interior designers Jestico + Whiles, was tasked with coming up with a concept that was both chic and contemporary but with profound respect for traditional African design. A core inspiration heralds from the clustering of homes in a typical village style. Private and protected, the stilted villas peek out between blankets of lush vegetation, yet are placed so that most have ocean views with winding paths connecting to the many social spaces and environments within Zuri’s grounds.
The hotel interiors and guest spaces incorporate natural, regional materials and traditional craftsmanship, including thatched roofs, locally- curated furniture and traditional East African artwork, which all adds to creating an authentic living experience. Featuring 55 gorgeous bungalows, villas and suites, all of which include large private terraces and outdoor showers, the resort is spacious with a laidback manner whilst also offering luxury, particularly so in its six spacious 130sqm suites with semi-private access to the beach. There’s also a larger 260sqm Ocean Front Villa for families and a huge 500sqm three-bedroom Ocean Front Villa (a real showstopper), that offers its occupants complete privacy with its own stretch of beach and 12m pool.
Unifying the design concept throughout the villas and bungalows are open and airy spaces dominated by natural wood, wicker, and a neutral colour scheme. Indoor and outdoor areas are blurred, with each villa featuring its own expansive terrace and outdoor shower. Custom-crafted regional artworks have been produced by local artisans, including handmade wall murals, spice motif carved doors, beaded curtains, and lotus flower decorations. The resort includes seven sunset-facing restaurants and bars, a full yoga and wellness centre, a 32m infinity pool, a water sports centre, and an impressive 1.6-hectare spice garden.
The design brief given to the design team was shrouded in an air of mystery. Project architect Sean Clifton says, “The design brief was incredibly intriguing. To create ‘Zuri’, which means ‘beautiful’ in Swahili.” Zuri was to be a unique boutique hotel, with barefoot luxury and an authentic Zanzibar feel to incorporate an off-the-beaten-track experience. “The main challenge was to create a resort worthy of such a beautiful place on our unique planet,” adds Clifton, “Zanzibar is special in so many ways, and Zuri was to be the pure essence of that. We worked with local people from the very start, understood how they live, what they value, and how their unique history has developed.”
The resort’s star attraction on face value is likely the 300m private white sand beach, but unlike other destinations that boast beach-front settings, Zuri also has a vast tropical garden that encompasses the entire resort. Brimming with fragrant Ylang Ylang trees, ancient baobabs, colourful flora, rock gardens and a variety of fruit trees, the dedicated spice garden area features five relaxation pods, which makes an ideal setting for meditation and yoga and traditional Swahili cooking classes available on site. The resort was conceived as an enormous tropical spice garden, and so having created the concept, which was to use inspiration from local historic village planning, the team at Jestico + Whiles then sought to ‘tweak’ the position of every building to enable them to keep almost all of the young and mature plants and trees that already occupied the site, including the hundreds of years-old baobab trees that are located across the resort.
A huge consideration during the initial planning of the project was to ensure the involvement of the local community. This meant in both the ecology and sustainability of the site and build, but also in employing the help of the local people, whether that was in the labour of traditional roofing methods, or the commissioning of local artists to create unique wares to adorn the hotel with. Sean Cliftton says, “We engaged with the local people and visited almost every craftsman and antique collector on the island of Unguja. We created a concept that was inherently ecological and socially responsive, created from Zanzibar’s culture, climate and geography using many local materials, Zanzibar themed paintings by a local artist, and strong references to the island’s heritage and craftsmanship.”
Even the coral stone found onsite was used in the build, and sewerage is fully recycled and purified for the use in maintaining the gardens. In addition, the hotel boasts its own desalination plant which produces Zuri’s homemade water and a unique ‘Evening Breeze’ system to create a microclimate around guest sleeping areas to promote healthy sleep, which astoundingly uses 75 per cent less energy than conventional air-conditioning systems.
The work began onsite in the spring of 2015, having had designs completed and agreed from the previous year. Three whole years were then dedicated to the construction, crafting and arrangement of the whole Zuri resort. It all started with collecting waste plastic bottles scattered around local villages, which were then used as plant pots for a new nursery of delicate tropical plants that was established onsite to grow tens of thousands of indigenous plant species taken from cuttings and seeds from its immediate surroundings.
DRINKING AND DINING
The dining experiences at Zuri Zanzibar are a reflection of the destination. Guests can choose from seven vibrant drinking and dining outlets offering a fusion of inspiring international flavours and culinary traditions. Upendo is the resort’s main restaurant featuring an atmospheric open show kitchen and a tantalising selection of European, African, Arabian and Indian dishes. Maisha is the perfect spot for relaxed poolside dining, offering breathtaking ocean views and an authentic Middle Eastern menu. The legendary East African sunsets can be enjoyed with a refreshing sundowner in hand and Bahari and Peponi bars both offer sublime sea views and creative menus of fresh cocktails and tempting small plates. The beachside Dhow Bar is an intimate space for guests staying in Zuri’s deluxe suites and villas offering a selection of delicious drinks and small bites. Dining by Design offers incredible bespoke dining experiences in some of the resort’s dramatic backdrops including candlelit dinner’s à deux on the beach, authentic Middle Eastern feasts by the pool and African beach barbecues.
The bio-diverse Spice Garden includes ginger, turmeric, peppers, and cumin, among many more varieties, which guests can use during their own cooking classes with one of the hotel’s chefs at the central Spice House – an interactive and authentic way to discover more about Swahili cooking.
The delicate balance of life on the island means that with a project of this nature comes a responsibility to foster deep ties to the local community. This has been done through partnerships with organisations that are ensuring preservation, education, and quality employment remains at the forefront. As well as providing guests with handpicked amenities and services from local, sustainable, and fair-trade organisations, the resort’s aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible and to be certified as ecologically responsible. It’s a key factor in today’s tourism industry and one that appears to be taken on board by not just hoteliers and development companies, but in demand from travellers, which is why architects and designers are having to think up new and clever ways of providing ever more sustainable spaces. And in this light, the Zuri Zanzibar is a resort for the future, but so wonderfully plays homage to its African roots.