After arriving at Zanzibar airport and being promptly ushered through a side entrance into the Paradise Lounge, we find our transfer and settle in for the hour-long drive to the resort. As we pull up, we're greeted with a loud "Jambo" – Swahili for hello – and are offered welcome refreshments and cold towels. We're taken by the open-air reception that provides views of the expansive lawn, infinity pool, and the ocean, allowing us to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings.
Located on the south-west edge of the island, away from the tourist-friendly realms of the north, the five-star resort is a destination in its own right and ideal for those who want to get away – and stay away. Hemmed in by the Muyuni Forest behind and Kizimkazi village to the south, it's an enviable location. However, with historic Stone Town an hour's drive away it would pay to pick any day-trip destinations wisely.
I am visiting during rainy season, so the hotel is fairly quiet in terms of occupancy. A laid-back vibe in all areas seems to state: "Yes, you're staying in a five-star hotel, but please don't wear anything more than flip-flops and beachwear at all times".
The sprawling property is set on 32 hectares of grassland, with 66 stand-alone villas dotted throughout. Each has its own private swimming pool and deck, indoor and outdoor showers, and those closest to the beach enjoy sweeping views out over the sea. The room we're in is very spacious and decorated with wooden and wicker furniture, a nod to the island's African and Omani heritage. I am impressed by the soaking tub, which is the focal point of the bathroom, and the position of the four-poster bed. There's nothing like waking up in the morning and having the ocean staring you in the face. There's not much to complain about, although some of the furnishings do appear a little tired, and there are large ants around.
I'm on the receiving end of "Hakuna Matata" ("no worries") from the jovial staff several times a day during our stay, which never fails to put a smile on my face. Workers are extremely personable without being obnoxious, and I am pleased to say I come away from each restaurant visit with a good chat under my belt or a braid in my hair thanks to the female staff who take a fancy to my blonde tresses.
There are two restaurants to choose from – the Dining Room, which is the all-day eatery with an African twist, and The Pavilion, specialising in Arabic, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine. With full board, you can visit both, while half-board will get you complimentary access to just the all-day dining. During one of our few visits to the Dining Room, we are served some of the best steak you will eat anywhere in the world.
If you're paying your own way, the Zanzibar curry or chicken burger will set you back about US$12 (Dh44). It is worth noting that you can find a similar dish in Stone Town for a quarter of the price, but what you get here is well-portioned and of a five-star quality. The Pavilion offers a buffet or set menu, depending on the night. Disappointingly, though, if you're used to five-star spreads, the breakfast buffet is rather limited. You will find all the usual suspects – an egg station, breads and condiments – but it could do with a few more healthy options.
The warmth and genuine kindness resort-wide and the villa privacy.
That the resort is an hour out of Stone Town (a tour into the capital costs $120 [Dh441]).
Perfect for those looking for genuine African hospitality in secluded surrounds.
The bottom line
Villas at The Residence Zanzibar (www.cenizaro.com/theresidence/zanzibar) cost from $515 (Dh1,892) per night, including taxes.