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Xanadu Villas and Retreat in Zanzibar is a design lighthouse in a sea of mediocrity made up of cookie-cutter chain hotels littering the spice island’s revered coastline.
At first glance, Xanadu Villas & Retreat could be mistaken for a ’70s Bond film set – the extravagant “groovy pad” that serves as the villain’s hideout. (The large villa even looks as if it could fly into space!) There is something intangibly sensual about its abundant curves and palatial haremness of its Arabic influences. One would be very wrong to label it kitsch.
Xanadu is the architectural equivalent of the new Mini Cooper: Its creators have captured the essence and character of Zanzibar’s past, but placed it firmly in the now. The set directors are no less exotic than the vision they’ve fashioned. Eileen is a Norwegian-Zambian who speaks six languages, and Marcus is a maverick Durban boy (never man, as they stay enviously youthful) who, in his wanderings of the wilder parts of Africa trading in tribal art, fell in love with Eileen and moved to Lusaka.
Living in a landlocked country kindled Marcus’s genetic desire for warm waves to surf and palm trees with a hammock to swing in. He found this on the east coast of Unguja, one of the islands in the Zanzibar Archipelago, where the balmy sea is bluer than that of his childhood and the grass is greener. “It took four years of nightmares to achieve a dream,” Marcus says with a laugh. After some initial practical help from an architect, they hired the best local craftsmen to fabricate their fantasy without skimping on quality.
The cathedralesque thatch over the main pool dining area is made of makuti panels (the sun-dried leaves of the coconut palm), as tightly packed as fish scales on the inside, smooth and hairy as a prize dog’s coat on the outside. The walls are built of pink fossilised coral blocks. The floor planks, some furniture and all the windows and doors are made of mango wood taken from a hulking old sunken trading dhow, which could only be gradually removed piece by piece every day at low tide. Each plank was then carefully carved by machete to fit, jigsaw-like, into place. The curved boat ribs naturally formed the Arabic-style door and window frames.
The one private pool has, depending how you look at it or how much you’ve had to drink, a distinctive sculpture of sails/leaves/waves/surfboard/shapes flowing/curving/crashing/cruising over it. To top off the fanciful vision, one of the villa’s massive third-floor bedrooms has a huge shining metal multi-bladed turbine-looking looking fan in the cavernous roof space that cools the room’s occupants as they make their way up a curving staircase to a private plunge pool in a capsule on the fourth floor. Its wrapped curving roof has walls with a series of open slits, giving the feeling of looking through the teeth of a whale’s mouth or delightfully imprisoned in a concubine’s boudoir.
You will feel like a star as you sip your shaken martini with Bond girl Eileen while Marcus, dressed in a bright patterned dressing gown, sits in a high-back chair stroking his cat, not scheming to achieve world domination but at last plotting his takeover of the hammock. This is a movie you won’t want to end.
Fancy a stay at this dreamy oasis? Visit their website to book your stay.