Onsea House & Machweo Retreat

near Arusha, Northern Circuit, Tanzania Book from

Two fabulously friendly retreats sharing a restaurant with top gourmet cuisine, just a short drive from Arusha
East of Arusha, a line of hills covered in lush, subtropical vegetation run up towards the towering cone of Mount Meru. Onsea House, and its sister property Machweo Retreat, perch on the first of these green ridges, with soaring views out to the town and to the distant flank of the Rift Valley: sunsets seen from here are simply phenomenal. Dirk and Axel Janssens, 2 polyglot cousins from Belgium, founded Onsea House in 2006 and added Machweo Retreat 6 years later. Their brief was to create a boutique hotel providing top-notch accommodation and first-class food. They've succeeded brilliantly on both counts.

Onsea House bills itself as a 'home from home', and from the moment that you're greeted by Axel's easy smile it feels good to be here. The relaxed mood flows throughout: deeply cushioned sofas, bright Tinga Tinga artwork, angular lamps and light slanting in from high, valley-facing windows impart a feel that's bright and uplifting. Bedrooms have the same cared-for feel and spread across the original house and Machweo (meaning sunset), where the restaurant's gourmet cuisine further gilds this remarkable African lily.


  • You won't find better food in Arusha: Onsea's restaurant continues to be the favoured venue of the local intelligentsia
  • This is a perfect place to chill before or after a safari or gruelling Kilimanjaro ascent
  • The subtropical garden's exotic plants, trees and bushes are home to myriad avian and insect life
  • The dining terrace and alfresco sitting area, with long views out across the valley, is a great place to be at any time of night or day
  • The lodge is set on a hillside peppered with small-holdings: you get to see plenty of ethnic colour by simply stepping outside the front gate


  • You should expect to hear galagos (night apes) in the small hours
  • The 2 garden cottage rooms at Onsea House (Zebra and Rhino) are accessed by exiting through a locked gate, crossing a dirt road, then passing through a second locked gate: all a bit of a to-do
  • Machweo Retreat was built after our visit so we can't personally vouch for it, but reports suggest it only enhances the hotel

Best time to go

The only time of year that's best avoided is the season of the 'Long Rains', which tends to last from April through to May and sometimes on into June. There's a second wet period, the 'Short Rains', which generally falls between October and early December. At any other time of year you'll be guaranteed a memorable holiday and safari experience. But remember that at Christmas, Easter and summer holiday time in Europe - July and August - you can expect to see a lot more Europeans in town and will need to book your safari and accommodation well in advance.

Our top tips

Nearly everyone who passes through Onsea House is either heading off on safari, returning from the Parks, or on their way to or from Kili'. This is a blissfully relaxing place to wind up your time in Arusha as well as a safe haven on arrival.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 14
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • Welcome but not ideal
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Pool Table
  • Bicycles Available


Together, Onsea House and Machweo offer 14 guest bedrooms. Machweo is newer; its 6 Cottage Suites (double or twin beds) have sitting areas, small kitchenettes and showers, the 3 Honeymoon Suites have the most luxurious bathrooms on site - each with a freestanding bathtub and a rain shower. All have private balconies positioned to make the most of the Mount Meru views.

Onsea House has just 5 ensuite Standard Double Rooms. There are 2 doubles giving onto the main dining terrace (Giraffe and Guineafowl), a larger room (Elephant) on the second floor which can also take a third bed, and 2 more doubles (Zebra and Rhino) in a garden cottage beyond the road which divides the property. The latter have a shaded terrace looking out to the pool and the beguiling sub-tropical garden - ideal for a larger group or anyone planning a longer stay - and the cottage has a fully equipped kitchen and a sitting room with twin sofas which can be made up as beds for kids. All ensuites have bathtubs with overhead showers.

Rooms have immaculately crafted wooden doors, writing desks and butler-style bedside tables, and are equipped with safety boxes, minibars and hairdryers. Floors are screed or tiled, a mostly-white colour scheme is jazzed up by brightly coloured walls and Tinga Tinga paintings, and the beds have mosquito nets, Egyptian cotton sheets and duvet covers. Expect little extras like Onsea postcards and stationery, a list of 100 birds frequently seen in the gardens and an extensive drinks menu. Machweo rooms and the garden cottage rooms have flatscreen TVs, and the garden cottage rooms also have DVD players.

Big and functional bathrooms display the same attention to detail: snowy white cotton dressing gowns and fluffy towels, cut flowers, and soap, body cream and gel courtesy of Gilchrist & Soames, London.

Features include:

  • Cd player
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi


It is Axel's cuisine that lifts Onsea House into the first division of boutique hotels. Classically trained in the French tradition, and the former owner of an award-winning restaurant in Belgium, his first point of reference is Arusha's colourful fruit and veg market where he shops every morning. Herbs are brought in from a farm at the foot of Mount Meru, fish from the Indian Ocean, and the best cuts of meat from as far afield as New Zealand. Not to mention that Axel is a trained sommelier and chooses superb wines to accompany each of his courses.

The open-air terrace dining room at Machweo is the stage for his culinary art. It looks magical at night when oil lamps are lit and tables are dressed in crisp white linen. In colder weather a brazier of coals as well as Maasai blankets are brought to your table. Music is always present: our meal was accompanied by fado, Carla Bruni love songs and, in keeping with the flavour of Belgique, Jacques Brel.

Snacks of guacamole and hummus are served before Axel's 4-course extravaganza. Our first night's dinner began with watercress soup followed by a spicy grilled calamari salad, duck in an orange blossom sauce accompanied by gratin dauphinois, and an amazing dessert of iced Spanish melon foam with homemade ice cream. On the second night - we couldn't bear to eat elsewhere - our entrée was pumpkin soup followed by grilled langoustines, then trout from the local fish farm in a scrummy lemon, almond and butter sauce: we knew it could be no fresher having watched it being netted that same afternoon. A wicked concoction of chocolate ice cream and fresh mint ended the meal on just the right, self-indulgent note.

The same level of culinary care is lavished upon breakfast, served in the lodge's small dining room at a single square table. The food follows a continental model with hot French bread, homemade jams, a selection of cheeses, cold meats, biltong (dried meat) and a plate of seasonal fruits sculpturally prepared by Axel. It's accompanied by prize-winning Blackburn coffee. A cooked breakfast is also on offer but if you ate at Onsea the night before this could be de trop. At lunchtime, light fruit and leaf salads along with a small choice of snacks are on offer, or you can ask for a picnic box to take on day trips.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cooking classes
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Room service


  • Accompany Axel on his morning fruit and veg run to the colourful Arusha market

  • Take a day trip up into the Arusha National Park. It gets less press than the Kilimanjaro Park but the walking, scenery and birdlife are all simply amazing

  • Head out on a “bird-watching day trip” with an English expert birder in the area around Arusha, Arusha National Park or Tarangire National Park

  • Bicycle into Arusha for an evening at the Via Via cultural centre. There are frequent musical events, but even when there's no live music it's a great place to have a drink or meal and to meet fellow travellers

  • Relax on a lounger by the pool then head up to Onsea's top terrace for an avocado oil Jacuzzi followed a Swedish massage at Machweo Wellness, the on-site spa

  • Walk out along the dirt track that cuts round the Namasi hillside, perhaps in the company of Terry, Onsea's recommended guide

  • Take a hot-air balloon over the Serengeti at sunrise and watch the animals at their most active

  • Brush up your culinary skills: the Cultural Tourism programme can arrange Tanzanian cooking lessons, or Axel can teach you Belgique/French techniques

  • Climb Kilimanjaro - Africa’s highest mountain (5895m) and the world’s tallest freestanding volcano. It can be climbed in 4-7 days without specialised mountaineering experience or equipment, and the hotel can arrange this for you

  • The hotel can also arrange a host of other activities and excursions, including trekking, day safaris, golf, tennis and canoeing

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Kayaking
  • Pool table
  • Safaris
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Well being
  • Wildlife


Children are welcome and would love the pools and garden. Even so, the place has a very grown-up feel to it and the minor concessions made on prices for kids (0-2 free of charge) means that families would probably get a better deal, and more kiddie facilities, at one of Arusha's larger lodges.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Two of the Cottage Suites can interconnect, as can the 3 Honeymoon Suites. The Elephant room in Onsea House can take an extra bed

Baby equipment:

Baby cots are available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

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