Emerson on Hurumzi

Stone Town & around, Tanzania Book from

A sumptuously restored merchant's mansion with renowned rooftop restaurant in the heart of Stone Town
This hotel has had a yoyo-ing identity. Back in the 1990s, it was Stone Town's pioneering boutique hotel, founded by (and named after) the American partners Emerson Skeens and Thomas Green. Taking on the tropical rain and sun, African pace and a poor socialist infrastructure, they managed over 10 years to turn a pair of crumbling merchants’ houses into a stylish and luxurious little hotel.

In the noughties, the hotel acquired a third building and the name 236 Hurumzi (its street address) - Thomas Green still had an interest, but the service started suffering. Then, in 2013, it reverted to the original name, and came under new management, with just 11 rooms and lower rates.

One thing remains constant: the larger, ceremonial bedrooms are among the most atmospheric in Zanzibar. Stained-glass windows and wooden lattice-work throw mysterious patterns over marbled bathtubs and oriental rugs, while vast mosquito nets are draped over carved four-poster beds. The view from the towertop restaurant over the motley roofs of Stone Town forms a magical backdrop for a Swahili dinner served at knee-high tables by robed waiters.

Highs

  • Most rooms have something special: an open-air bathtub, a galleried balcony overlooking town, painted wooden fretwork or, quite simply, palatial dimensions
  • The location is very central, on a busy but traffic-free lane
  • The rooftop restaurant had a great atmosphere when we last visited
  • The Suites are particularly impressive, with private 'tea house' terraces and lots of space
  • The rates represent good value for money, and the extras (including airport transfers) are very reasonable

Lows

  • The hotel is undergoing a rolling renovation, but work is only being undertaken when Emerson is empty, so it shouldn't cause any disruptions to guests
  • We have not checked service or food in its latest incarnation, though guest feedback is good
  • There's some noise from the streets (inevitable in central Stone Town)
  • Be prepared for steep stairs and no elevator
  • Stone Town can feel a bit rundown to first-time visitors, but stay a while and you'll find a warm and historically fascinating town

Best time to go

All year except May, when it is closed for the long rains. April, early June, November and early December can also bring sporadic rain. Spice tours and city sightseeing can be difficult during the rains, and some of the shops remain closed.

Our top tips

We recommend staying for 2-3 days at the end of your Zanzibar trip. If you're there on a Thursday evening, check out the wonderful concerts at DCMA, where students and pro musicians combine their talents, accompanied by sundowners, great sunset views - and dinner if you want. If you can coincide with the Dhow Countries Music Festival, or the ZIFF film festival in July, do.

Bring light, long-sleeved clothes dinner, sandals for general use, and anti-malarial (and any other necessary) medication.

Great for...

City Style
Family
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 11
  • Restaurant (dinner only; closed Mondays)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 17 Apr 2017 - 31 May 2017
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room: South

Rooms

Room size and layout varies hugely, from cosy internal double rooms to palatial suites with semi-outdoor shower area and private terrace. It's worth booking early and requesting the biggest room available. All have a double antique Swahili bed, and a couple have an additional single bed - these are the only options for "twin" rooms. You get mosquito nets, a ceiling fan and an ensuite bathroom; many rooms have stone bathtubs in the bedroom (not enclosed). Most rooms have air-con; but none have TV or phone (it's not that kind of place).

The 2 Standard Rooms are great value, and can handily interconnect for groups or families. We like the top floor Superior Rooms, which have great views, many with wooden lattice walls, vibrant colours and balconies overlooking the town. However, low pressure up here means you need to plan your bath time and they lack air-conditioning (but usually get a good breeze).

We also liked the look of the Suites, in the separate wing. Suite Tour, besides its spacious blue bedroom with brass double bed and large stone bath, has teak steps up to a private tower-top sit-out. Similarly, Keep Suite has a private staircase up to a "tea house" for impressive views over Stone Town; inside, the boudoir has a large sleeping platform like a harem.

Features include:

  • Cots Available
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Phone
  • Safe box

Eating

Breakfast is served in an inner courtyard on the first floor, or you can ask to have it on your veranda.

The hotel’s Towertop Restaurant is perched on top of the building, looking down over Stone Town's patchwork of rusting and ramshackle roofs to the boat-cluttered sea.

We were advised to book early, and to get there for sundowners between 1800 and 1815, (sunset barely varies all year, being so near the equator). We climbed the steep steps, took off our shoes, and squeezed between the low tables and the plump floor-cushions (tables and chairs are also available) to sip Planters Punch and nibble fried coconut and banana chips.

The food provision has altered substantially since we our visit. Now we're informed it is Persian inspired, with dishes served on large brass plates. The food is bought daily, any requests can be accommodated with a little notice. We found the service to be efficient - so efficient that by 8.30pm we were unbending our legs and tottering downstairs again.

On balance, I would recommend booking dinner here once, and eating out the other nights. Emerson Spice, nearby, comes highly recommended.

Features include:

  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the maze of alleys, shops and stalls of this Unesco-recognised town
  • Stock up on fabrics, shoes, spices and other gifts to take home
  • Visit the House of Wonders, the Arab Fort, the People’s Palace and other historic buildings
  • Sail a boat to one of the nearby islands
  • Take a spice tour into the lush interior - read our review
  • Check out the historic slave chambers, the Anglican cathedral and the covered market near Creek Road
  • Guided half-day city tours are available

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures

Kids

Children are welcome at the hotel, and Zanzibar is very kid-friendly. Under 12s go free in parents' room; 12s and over are charged a small supplement. Baby cots can fit in nearly every room.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Nearly all rooms can fit a baby cot. The Standard Rooms can interconnect, one sleeps 2 while the other, Rose, has a single bed in situ so has space for 3 people. Large Superior Room Zenana has two double beds so can host a family of 4. The Suites are suitable for 2 adults only

Families Should Know:

Do bear in mind that there are lots of unprotected steps throughout; the rooftop tea houses are unsuitable for small children

Distances:

  • Airport: under 30 minutes
  • Shops: 2-3 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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