Matemwe Retreat, Zanzibar

Zanzibar. The name alone conjures up a mystical, far-off land with exotic charm. This island off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean has such a rich history of sultans and slave traders and spices markets. It’s all a bit surreal.

I am sweaty and a bit weary after the flight over from the mainland, then a one-hour drive to the northeast coast of Zanzibar, to Matemwe Beach where I will relax and unwind for two days after doing a safari in the Serengeti. Happy as always to be handed a fresh fruit drink and a refreshing cool towel upon arrival, I leave the regular world behind and enter Matemwe Retreat. Once escorted to my secluded “villa” my jaw drops. What I thought was a public outdoor lounge area is actually mine, all mine.

My secluded home, “Safina,” is one of four on the property, as well as a lodge of 12 stand-alone rooms, and one private beach house. The open-air villa has shuttered doors all around leading out to a gorgeous, wooden veranda complete with thatched roof, hammock, several couches and seating areas, and an outdoor bar made from what looks like the dhow (traditional Swahili wooden boat) that ply the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean below, which I can see from my deck. Local craftsman built all the villas and most of the furniture was made from locally produced coconut wood.

It’s not a tent by any means, but the open air and exposure to all the humidity, heat, (and yes bugs—wasps and bees as big as hummingbirds) can make it feel like camping, if camping was living in a massive wooden and terra cotta-washed concrete domain.

The bedroom and bathrooms are huge and the entire villa is adorned with local touches including gorgeous Arabian-style glass and metal lanterns. Just up a spiral wooden staircase reveals another jaw-dropping surprise—an amazing rooftop terrace with plunge pool, lounge chairs, a large sectional couch and room for a party with 30 of my closest Tanzanian friends, if I had any.

“Anything you need, you just call me,” says Zuberi my dedicated butler during my stay. He’s from Pemba (another island nearby) and has worked for Asilia, the company that owns Matemwe Retreat for several years. He says he loves his job and has the ability to transfer to other properties they have on mainland Tanzania or Kenya for a change of pace.

At dinnertime, Zuberi arrives to escort me to the central, open-air dining room restaurant for a special twice-weekly BBQ night. There’s an outdoor bar with comfy sofa seating areas and lanterns all around. It’s a luxurious place, but with a quiet, laid-back vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For all my other meals, I just stay at “home.” I’m thrilled with the idea of just doing nothing…and mostly enjoying my “villa” life for my short visit here.

For my in-house dining, Zuberi brings my meals right to me to eat on my veranda. I’m spoiled with wonderful French-press coffee, fresh, local fruit, eggs-my way, and anything I want for breakfast. Just watch out for the local crows! These big birds are crafty and the one time I step away from my table to grab my camera, they swoop down and nab my rolls. Zuberi says they’ll eat anything and, he’s right as I later see one dipping his beak into my coffee. Lunch varies, but I enjoy a delicious quiche served on top of some of the tastiest roasted vegetables I’ve ever had. At dinner, I opt for soup, seafood and cous cous and vegetables. And of course, there’s a mini-bar stocked with all the beer and wine I could ever want.

I have trouble leaving my oasis for the two days, but if I wanted to there are also snorkeling trips, a reef walk, sailing, kayaking, fishing trips, and kite surfing. Beach access is just a short stroll down two different paths on the property. Locals are out every day fishing and looking for octopus and other seafood in the shallow waters.

I spend much of my time upstairs lounging by the pool. It’s bliss and an amazing romantic getaway, as honeymooners often come here. Next time I’ll just have to not come alone!

Lisa Lubin is an established travel/food writer, three-time Emmy®-award winning TV producer, and travel industry expert. After a decade in broadcast television she took a sabbatical, which turned into three years traveling around the world. She documents her (mis)adventures on her blog, You can follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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