by JANE SLADE
My husband had disappeared beneath the waves for such a long time I feared he would not come up again.
Finally he emerged, whipped off his snorkel and mask and spluttered. “I have never seen such fabulous fish,” and dived below again.
A morning snorkelling in the warm waters off the coast of Zanzibar is a pretty special experience. Even on a cloudy day.
But you don’t even have to swim to see the colourful sealife zig zag through the water. Just looking down while walking out to the boat was mesmerising enough.
I imagined how wonderful it would be to have the whole family here enjoying this magical experience together.
There is even a coral reef running along its eastern coast, so shallow in parts you can go on reef walks. Zanzibar is well known for its diving but just a few inches below the surface you can watch zebra fish, angel fish, clown fish and pipe fish dance among the coral.
There are few words that instantly evoke exotic spice and romantic paradise as Zanzibar does.
The island, six degrees south of the equator, off the coast of Tanzania, is probably not on your bucket list of must-visit destinations, but it should be.
Balmy, beautiful and fascinating, with a rich history and faded charm, Zanzibar is ideal for older travellers looking for a haven peppered with white sandy beaches and lots to do.
Just 60 miles long, 25 miles wide and 25 miles from mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar has a population of just over one million so it‘s not exactly crowded. But avoid visiting during the rainy season. Best times are: December to February or June to October.
The place to stay is one of the family-owned Zanzibar Collection’s four boutique hotels on the south eastern coast
Baraza Beach Resort is the ‘all inclusive’ jewel in the crown.
More evocative of a Moroccan palace with hanging lanterns, and capacious villa suites decorated in gold furnishings, you can’t hope for a greater contrast with a chilly weekend in Blighty.
Carved wood furniture and huge comfy beds with generous terraces and outside plunge pools simply add to the luxury; it’s worth splashing out a bit extra for an ocean view and beach access.
Prices from €642 for a garden villa for two people, per night, all-inclusive excluding flights.
A long stretch of white sand fringes the lush tropical gardens where lofty coconut palms gently wave you toward the turquoise sea and shocking pink bougainvillea welcome you back.
After your swim – apart from the sea there is a lovely outdoor pool – you can choose between three restaurants (one for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Expect lots of locally- caught fish and seafood including sea urchins, tiger prawns and baby lobster as well as beef filet served in coconut milk, with Cajun spices vegetables, salads and vegetarian dishes.
You can even make your own breakfast smoothie from freshly picked fruit, or tuck into a selection of international and cooked cuisine, juices, yoghurt and porridge.
There’s a good selection of wine and cocktails too – I loved the zing of the Zanzipolitan – vodka and watermelon juice.
Relaxation and wellness are bywords at Baraza. There are two daily yoga classes given by a fabulous young teacher from Kerala who has been practising hatha yoga for 15 years and will tailor the class to you and your family’s ability.
He got my creaky bones and tight muscles moving in flowing movements which didn’t strain.
The lovely airy studio in the separate spa building is ideal for group classes but you can also have private lessons no matter your level.
Six nights yoga package includes 10 one-hour yoga classes, transfer to airport, all meals and drinks, €2,170 per person sharing.
The spa is huge with endless treatment rooms, an outdoor pool, and plenty of space to relax.
The treatment staff are mainly Balanese and Indian and offer a wide range of treatments from invigorating massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. Prices are inexpensive too.
For cooking enthusiasts you can even learn about Swahili cuisine; my husband loved creating a chicken pilau dish packed with spices!
Breezes is more of a family resort built in an older style of dark woods – with large open communal areas, outdoor pool, and pockets of intimacy – such as a tiny dining space offering honeymooners – or couples celebrating a milestone anniversary – a romantic dinner for two.
Prices from €95pp per day half board for a standard room.
Palms is a 1920s colonial-style adults-only resort of just six villas. Ideal for a special family holiday, celebration or chance to escape to somewhere different.
You can hire the whole place from €4,050 for exclusive use including all meals and drinks for 12 people – minimum five night stay. Ordinary prices from €675 (all inclusive meals and drinks) per villa per day, based on two people sharing, excludes flights.
Zawadi is the here and now adults-only resort, comprising nine fresh, airy, light villas – evoking modern Zanzibar. You stay in vaulted thatch one-bedroom suites and with a private pool and views of the ocean. There are 55 staff waiting to cater to your every whim.
Price for exclusive private rental is from €5,760 per night for minimum five nights for up to 18 people including all meals and drinks. Ordinary Prices from €640 per villa, based on two people sharing, all inclusive, excluding flights.
While the countryside is rich, lush and fertile, Zanzibar is short on architectural wonders.
The capital Stone Town, one hour’s drive away, is a dilapidated collection of poorly maintained buildings with no shops to speak of, but linger long enough and you will discover its faded charm.
The grand façade of the House of Wonders, built by Sultan Barghash in 1883, used to be Zanzibar’s main tourist attraction commanding a prime site on the seafront. Once boasting marble floors and panelled floors, it was built for ceremonial occasions and was the first building on the island to have electricity and a working lift.
Now it is closed for renovation after years of neglect. But there is little sign of any work being done.
There is evidence of private individuals renovating houses but widespread corruption is more obvious. The Sultan’s Palace, another sad relic of a former fabulous building, is also under renovation.
But there are some handsome colonial-style hotels evoking a more opulent heritage such as The Emerson Spice Hotel, and watch out for old homes with carved chains in the wooden surrounds of the ornate front doors; they denote the homes of former wealthy slave traders.
A fascinating site to explore is the East African Slave Trade Exhibit – Zanzibar was a slave trading post (1800-1909) when it was ruled by the Sultans of Oman.
The exhibit traces the moving and harrowing history of the slave trade including photographs and a moving art installation of chained sculptures in the grounds. Slaves from Africa were shipped in to be sold to the Arabian market. And continued even after the British had abolished the trade.
Nearby is the cathedral Church of Christ which stands on the site of the former slave market.
You will hear a lot about the Anglo-Zanzibar War – a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The Brits instigated the war because the Sultan refused to end the slave trade. It’s significance is that it lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest war in history. A new Sultan was installed who abolished slavery in 1897.
Other attractions include the Jozani Forest – the island’s only national park. While Zanzibar boasts no big game, unlike its neighbour Tanzania, people come to see the red colobus monkey (native to Zanzibar).
As Zanzibar is synonymous with spice a visit to a spice farm comes highly recommended; although it is surprising to learn that all the spices were brought from India, Asia, Europe and South America.
Nutmeg came from Madagascar, cardamom, tamarind, lemon grass and turmeric from India; green oranges, red bananas, green and red cocoa trees from South America and avocado trees from Malaysia.
The spice farm, an hour’s drive from Baraza resort, has examples of spices and fruit grown on the island including pepper vines, vanilla, pineapple, Arabica and robusta coffee.
And if ladies forget their make up an alternative lip gloss is available – the bright red tandoori (lipstick) fruit.
Kenya Airways operates daily flights from Terminal 4 – London-Heathrow to Nairobi with daily onward connections to Zanzibar. Flights on Kenya Airways start from economy £730 (inc. tax) www.kenya-airways.com / 0208 283 1818