Zanzibar Palace Hotel

Stone Town & around, Tanzania Book from

Reviewed by Rachel Hamada
Lovingly restored boutique hotel in the heart of Stone Town, with excellent craftsmanship and personal service
This boutique hotel in the heart of Stone Town was once a ruin. Now it has been transformed into a palace worthy of a spice-trading Sultan. The tall thin building wraps around an atrium, with just 3 rooms on each of its 3 floors. At the top are 2 superb suites, with al fresco bathrooms and private decks overlooking the town's ramshackle roofscape. The other 7 bedrooms are no less magical, combining antique furniture, Persian rugs, colourful silks and locally-crafted four-posters to regal, Arabic-Indian effect.

But it's the friendly multilingual owner Frans and his manager who bring it all together with their tireless personal service: rescuing guests from papaasi (touts), doing late night airport runs and generally making everyone feel instantly at home. French-style dinners are served in their cosy restaurant, shopping or diving trips are easily planned, there's a small spa and the enthusiastic staff keep the house dhow-shape.

Highs

  • The stylish and tasteful interiors showcase Zanzibari and Arabic craftsmanship, with luxurious modern touches
  • The hugely helpful and hands-on hosts make it feel more like a home than a hotel
  • The generous breakfasts include grapefruit, eggs, cheese and real coffee
  • It's conveniently placed for shopping, boat trips, taxis and town tours

Lows

  • Expect some street noise - Stone Town is a busy and bustling little place and you are right in the middle of it
  • There's no pool to relax by, though that's what the east coast is for
  • It's quite expensive, but there's a high level of detail and service and the 2 Luxury Rooms are a little cheaper
  • The stairs are steep, especially leading up to the Palace and Honeymoon Suites on the top floor

Best time to go

All year except May, when it gets very wet. 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 at these times.

Great for...

City Style
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 9
  • Restaurant and bar
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

The 2 top-floor suites, Honeymoon Suite (Dunia) and Palace Suite (Sherali), are the ones to go for if you can afford it. Dunia is vast and has a majestic kingsize Sultan's bed, plus a living area furnished with Zanzibari antiques. But it's the open-air bathroom which is the main attraction: its huge bath and adjacent decked balcony are well screened and perfect for enjoying sunset cocktails, amazing views, a massage, or all 3 at once. Sherali has large wooden sliding windows surrounding the room, so you not only get a view of the ocean but Stone Town as well. Décor is faintly Victorian and rather romantic, with a kingsize bed, a cushioned lounge with a divan, and a claw-footed bathtub in the middle of the room. The ensuite bathroom has double sinks, a shower and a dressing area.

The Signature Suite, Arabica, is also on the top floor and has an antique four-poster bed, a balcony and 5 big windows overlooking Stone Town's rooftops. Its semi-separate bathroom has a shower and a dressing area with a beautifully crafted Zanzibari dresser. The Grand Suites, Shaba, and Kijani, are on the floors below, and have an apartment feel, with a double bed and baraza (low sofa) in the bedroom, while the separate bathrooms boast an exquisite Sultan's bath and very large dressing area. Romantic Suites Farizah and Sultana have open bathrooms and huge balconies.

The Luxury Rooms, Nadia and Rosewood, are the smallest - and good value if you don't mind the lack of bathtub and narrower (5-foot wide) beds. Rosewood comes in soft greens; Nadia in warm gold and pale blue. Both are decorated beautifully and have a mix of patterned linens and dark wood features.

All the linen is of the highest quality; cushions and curtains are silk or organza. As the building is tall and wraps around a courtyard, with only 3 rooms on each floor, there's little room-to-room noise.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Mosquito net
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

Meals are usually taken in the Palace Restaurant, although you can choose where you would like to eat. The dinner menu changes seasonally and consists of French inspired food with a Zanzibari twist. There is a real focus on serving fresh, local seafood, as well as high quality meat and a small number of vegetarian dishes. Start with char-grilled stuffed calamari followed by grilled lobster or pan-seared kingfish fillet with bacon, served with Zanzibari rice, guacamole and chilli sauce. The chef frequently offers a Swahili Experience menu, which allows guests to sample authentic Swahili cuisine. Alongside the food is a comprehensive list of specially selected wines.

Breakfasts are generous and made to order. You can expect real coffee, French toast, pancakes and eggs any way you like, or a continental buffet that includes spicy sausages. Tea and coffee can be brought to your room to ease you into the day more gently.

The cosy and welcoming Arabic Lounge and Bar serves snacks, drinks, beautifully decorated cocktails and coffees all day - perfect to come back to after a hard day's sightseeing.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the island: the hotel can arrange tailored excursions for you, plus Frans and his team will chat to you about what you'd like to see and do during your stay
  • Stone Town is one big museum and fascinating to wander around. Check out the Old Fort (5 minutes' stroll), the House of Wonders (3 minutes away) and the Palace Museum; or take a guided city tour. The old slave dungeons are particularly chilling
  • Shopping in the markets is part of the fun - you can pick up colourful fabrics, spices, hand-crafted shoes and various Zanzibari objets d'art to take home with you
  • The best local festivals occur every February and July, bringing colourful processions, dancing and music to the streets
  • A spice tour is a must - most are half-day affairs with a guide, taking in 2 or 3 spice and coconut farms
  • Day trips to breathtaking beaches and dive sites can be arranged from Stone Town (hotel staff can advise on the best operators)
  • Half an hour away by boat is Prison Island, the site of a 19th-century jail and home to a population of giant tortoises
  • Jozani Forest, Zanzibar's only national park, is a 30-minute drive away. Its most endearing residents are the Red Colobus monkeys, one of the rarest species in Africa and found only on the island
  • Back at the hotel, you can relax with a massage, a body scrub or a manicure at the small spa

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Fishing
  • Museums / galleries
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming

Kids

Children are welcome. Children under 3 stay for free when in a baby cot.

Family friendly accommodation:

The Grand Suites can fit an additional bed as well as a baby cot, while the Suite, the Romantic Suites and the Palace Suite are all able to accommodate an additional bed or baby cot. Luxury Rooms can fit a baby cot.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
8/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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