“Stylishly rustic cottages and dive school, romantically set on sea-washed rocks alongside a white sand beach”
The Main Lodge consists of 12 spacious suites stretching up the rocky coast, well screened from their neighbours by palms and pine trees. Each cottage has a private path to it, a thatched roof and a private terrace with a double hammock and view to the Indian Ocean. This a perfect place to swing yourself awake as the sun rises over Mnemba Atoll, or swing yourself to sleep as the sky turns lilac.
Inside, the style is organic and gorgeous: white walls, dark wooden doors, beamed or thatched ceilings and natural furniture like bamboo-and-hemp clothes racks, wicker baskets and half-coconut bowls. Comfy net-draped beds (though mozzies are fairly rare) are strewn with flowers on arrival; ceilings have fans; glassless windows have ingenious louvres so you can switch the sea views and the ocean roar on or off.
These are proper suites with an indoor sitting area and (in some cases) a loft space with an extra single sofa bed. All rooms have solar-powered lighting and some have solar-heated showers. Our bathroom was huge, with a sunken tub, double sinks and a walk-in shower.
A short walk north of the main lodge is an even more indulgent Retreat with 4 secluded, free-standing suites set on their own little beach. Each has a vast veranda with a cocktail bar and dining area, a double bedroom with air conditioning and separate shower/tub bathrooms, and an upper sun terrace with a private plunge pool. A butler is at your beck and call. With stone walls, palm-thatch roofs, coconut-wood furniture, solar water and floor matting made by Stone Town's Association of the Blind, it's clear that Matemwe's owners are staying true to their eco principles. This has beach honeymoon writ large all over it - but actually we felt the main lodge suites are just as lovely, and much better value (Liz stayed at the main lodge on her honeymoon and loved it).
A newer addition is the stunning Beach House, a 3-bedroom villa with a private pool and direct access to the beach. The villa is spread over 2 floors, with a ground floor bedroom that avoids any steep stairs (making it perfect for younger children) and a mezzanine reached via a ladder-like staircase. The 3 airy rooms make use of natural light and the stone walls ensure that the interior remains blissfully cool. The Beach House (which, confusingly, is also referred to as a retreat) comes complete with butler who will also help with booking activities, a private chef who visits the villa on a daily basis to discuss meal plans for the day (all meals are freshly prepared), and bar service which you can enjoy from the seclusion of your private terrace.
Leave your window louvres open and let the wonderful sunrise start your day bright and early. Wander along to breakfast from 8am and help yourself to fresh fruit, bought from the local market and piled high on a wooden tray: melon, watermelon, passion, mango, papaya, pineapple and others we didn’t even recognise! Yoghurt, cereals, mini-croissants and eggs set you up for a busy day, and the spiced tea clears any remaining drowsiness. If this all sounds far too healthy, there’s excellent filter coffee and other teas.
Step off the beach at lunchtime and an equally rich buffet greets you: seafood, salads and excellent puddings, which put to bed any thoughts of snorkelling to the back of your mind.
Dinner is one of the highlights of the day, with a daily-changing choice of 3 courses based on local seafood with a more European slant than at other lodges. You might find lobster stew, grilled chicken or crême caramel, or a more African BBQ of meats and fish, but either way it's always fresh and delicious, and can make a refreshing change from the ubiquitous fish curry and fruit salad.
All meals are included in the price, and served in the thatched restaurant area whose open sides let in a cooling breeze from the sea. There's a lovely bar by the pool for (fabulous) pre-dinner cocktails, styled to resemble a boat, with the skeleton of a sperm whale stretched out for guests to gawp over. Guests staying in the Retreat Suites can have their meals brought to their dining terrace and served under the African stars, while those in the Beach House have use of a private chef and meals are arranged daily. The chef will make suggestions depending on special deliveries and the catch of the day.
Matemwe Beach House: children of all ages are welcome. Lodge Suites: children over 5 only, unless the lodge is booked exclusively. Retreat Suites: over 18s only. Children under the age of 5 are not permitted to dine in the main restaurant, but the Beach House has a private chef who will discuss meal plans on a daily basis.
The vibe here is predominately romantic, but that said, this is a great place for older kids, with a sandy beach, kayaks and boat trips. On the downside, there are no organised kids' activities, the sun is fierce and there are various natural hazards (rocky coast, sea urchins).
Children aged 2 and under stay for free, and those aged 3 to 15 pay reduced rates for an extra bed when sharing with adults. Children aged 16+ pay adult rates for an extra bed.
Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)
The Beach House is a good option for families as it has a downstairs bedroom for young children, though the mezzanine has steep stairs and is only really suitable for older kids. It also has a portable bathtub for babies, a private chef, and a safety net for its private pool.
Baby cots available on request (in the Beach House only)
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking