There’s a boutique wave washing ashore on the African hotel scene. High-design hotels are bubbling up throughout the continent in destinations both traditional and trending. We can’t show them all, but we can show the ones with water views.
This story comes dangerously close to committing the second biggest sin in travel writing: treating a vast collection of cultures and countries as some sort of single entity that can be neatly summarized. Africa is an enormous continent, and any trends or awakenings we might speak of are obviously not spread equally across its complex, contrasting landscape. Although, describing a place as a “land of contrasts” is the biggest sin in travel writing, so, oversimplified summary here we come!
Africa has a rich hotel history. The riads of Morocco are legendary, as are the safari camps of South Africa. And capitals from north to south have their share of converted colonial palaces. But too often we don’t look far enough beyond the established centers of tourism (or beyond the massive chain resorts). Turns out, big things are bubbling up in the beyond. A swell of recent boutique openings in countries like Namibia and Tanzania has made real the possibility that a series of new destinations will be joining the ranks of Cairo, Cape Town, and Marrakech — at least for those attracted to extraordinary hotels.
We can’t list them all, so we’ve filtered with everybody’s favorite feature: water views. These hotels are on the continental coast — some right on the beach, some looking down on the ocean from the top of town. Not all the locations are up-and-coming, but all the hotels have interesting backstories and even more interesting designs. They’re part of Africa’s new wave of boutique hotels, a wave that needs to be ridden in order to grow.
Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa
Paje Beach, Tanzania
Funny as it sounds, there really is a Zanzibar less traveled: its less-developed southeastern shore, to be specific, some distance from Stone Town and the more established tourist industry. It’s hardly undeveloped — the resorts have been gaining ground for some time — but they tend to have more than enough breathing room, and perhaps more importantly, beaches of their own. Such is Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, a name which squeezes all its attractions into one delicious mouthful.
Kizimkazi Dimbani, Tanzania
For those of us in Europe and North America, Zanzibar is impossibly exotic, not to mention far away. But Kizikula, a boutique hotel on the island’s south coast, is as cosmopolitan as they come. It’s the work of a couple of friends from Dubai, one of whom has roots here on the island, and who brought in a Mumbai-based architecture studio and an Auckland-based landscape architect to help them realize a totally unique and totally unforgettable boutique hotel.
La Sultana Oualidia
For anyone who’s ever wished they could combine the architecture and atmospherics of Morocco with the self-explanatory pleasures of a beach town, Oualidia is the answer. This fishing village turned vacation spot is where Marrakchis go when the tourist season hits, and it’s where you’ll find La Sultana. The style here is exactly what you’d expect from a classic Moroccan seaside resort — stone, tadelakt, antique furnishings and original artworks. Colors are soft and sunny, and sunlight and space are both in plentiful supply.
The Marine Hermanus
Hermanus, South Africa
More than a few seaside resorts offer whale-watching excursions. But at the Marine Hermanus, guests need not leave their rooms to watch the spectacle — this stretch of the southern coast of South Africa is a natural playground for the Southern Right Whales that breach near the shore. The 45-room resort, built at the turn of the century and restored in 1998 by Liz McGrath, is gracefully furnished, surrounded by exquisite gardens, and sits on a stunning clifftop overlooking Walker Bay.
Designed in tribute to the numerous shipwrecks on the so-called Skeleton Coast of Namibia, the Shipwreck Lodge is nothing if not unique: its cabins lie in a row a mile inland, surrounded by picturesque dunes, looking out towards the Atlantic. They’re designed in a contemporary style that refers to shipwrecks without lapsing into imitation, and the interiors are as plush as the environment is unforgiving. With just ten units, it’s a tranquil place, even when everyone’s gathered in the main lodge for dinner or drinks.
The Majlis Resort
The seaside might not be the first image that comes to mind when you think of Kenya, but a visit to the Majlis will change that in a hurry. The seaside castaway seclusion of Manda Island, steeped in Swahili, Arab and Indian influences, meets a dream team of architects and artists, including Julian Schnabel, perhaps the world’s most accomplished art/hospitality double threat. The result is a hotel that’s thick with personality, a place whose every square foot feels thoughtfully, intentionally designed.
Zanzibar has long been a meeting place for cultures from all over the world, where Swahili, Arabic, and English are all spoken in an official capacity. But even by local standards, hotelier Trish Danak has been on a journey — born in Kenya to Indian parents, educated in England, she eventually fell in love with this island and turned a plot of land on its east coast into Upendo Beach, as bright and breezy a boutique hotel as you could ever hope to find.
At La Badira, the fabulous Mediterranean light is the focal point, and it works its magic everywhere you look. Out your suite’s floor-to-ceiling window, for example, lie white-sand beaches and a brilliant seascape. The rooms mostly defer to that vision, maintaining a faint air of desert minimalism with copious tile and perforated Islamic filigree in the furnishings and wall art, and oriented as they should be: you wake in a king bed looking directly out on the view you came here for.
Charming Lonno Lodge
At Italian couple built the beach getaway of their dreams on a gorgeous stretch of coastline near the fishing village of Watamu, Kenya. Today, it’s the Charming Lonno Lodge, an eight-suite boutique hotel personally presided over by the owners. Though the hotel is very much of its place — built into the rocky landscape looking out over the Indian Ocean, with traditional Swahili beds and artwork by Kenyan artists throughout — it’s also rich with Italian details, from the linens to the food and wine.
Wambaa Peninsula, Tanzania
On the southwest end of Zanzibar’s Pemba Island lies Fundu Lagoon, a tiny and luxurious hotel at the edge of a forest along a spectacular white sand beach. There are just twelve rooms, each one a safari-style tent, some right at the water’s edge, others higher up the wooded hillside, with wider-ranging views and added privacy. And if it sounds like roughing it, it’s not — each comes with a private veranda or balcony, and some have their own plunge pools.
For some travelers, full immersion, rather than haughty seclusion, is the only way to experience a new place, and Senegal’s Tama Lodge provides just that — without sacrificing the comforts of a luxury hotel. The lodge, which sits on the very edge of the continent, blends the colors and charms of the beachfront with authentic Senegalese construction and décor; local materials and artwork abound in the guest cabins, which from the outside evoke the shape and character of traditional masks.
Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort & Spa
The name of Bazaruto Island isn’t yet a household one, and it might never be — this private island, just off the coast of mainland Mozambique, is part of the Bazaruto Island National Park, which means that the Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort & Spa is pretty much the extent of the local tourist infrastructure. Which, of course, is a selling point, not a drawback — the Anantara resorts are all about a certain desert-island vibe, and this one’s got that, in spades.
When it comes to atmosphere, Madada Mogador has a lot more in common with some small European boutique hotels than it does with the traditional Moroccan riad. This is no bad thing. If you want picturesque Essaouira seaside charm mixed with cosmopolitan, contemporary boutique style, then this is the place for you. While there’s no central courtyard, there is a capacious roof deck, with views of Essaouira’s greatest selling point: the coastline and the waters of the Atlantic beyond.
L’Iglesia El Jadida
El Jadida, Morocco
The port city of El Jadida is famous for Mazagan, the 16th-century Portuguese fortified city. If you’re coming to see it, why settle for less than a hotel like L’Iglesia El Jadida, easily one of the most atmospheric lodgings in town? The fourteen-room boutique hotel is positioned right beside the ramparts of Cité Portugaise, inside a restored Catholic church. Sip your tea in the church’s former nave, or linger over lunch with ocean views at Café do Mar.
Emily Moon River Lodge
Plettenberg, South Africa
Just up the waterway from Plettenburg Bay, a few miles from the ocean, is a tranquil rural escape: Emily Moon River Lodge’s 16 suites are filled with eclectic treasures from Africa, Asia and Polynesia, and come standard with plenty of space, wooden viewing decks, outdoor showers, and all the luxe necessities. The restaurant offers views of the winding Bitou River, and serves Indian-inspired cuisine made with ingredients from the hotel’s own garden and local producers.
Emerson on Hurumzi
Zanzibar City, Tanzania
If you’re searching for an urban getaway, it’s hard to do much better than the small, privately owned Emerson on Hurumzi, a delirious mix of Islamic, Swahili and Western culture and architecture in Zanzibar’s historic city center. The atmosphere here is one of antique splendor, the rooms packed with eclectic traditional furnishings, each quite different in layout and features. The Towertop restaurant serves authentic local cuisine from a stunning rooftop venue, with views of the old town’s rooftops and the Indian Ocean beyond.
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