‘Welcome to Mnemba Island!! Let me take those for you, you won’t need them here…’ said the general manger reaching for my flip flops. And she was right…for our four day stay on &Beyond Mnemba Island I never once put my shoes back on as the fine white sand was silky soft between our toes and there was no need to ever dress up…
But let me start from the beginning…it was an easy hour and half flight from Kenya to the main airport serving the archipelago of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania. The largest island, Unguja, is informally known as Zanzibar and it is surrounded by several small islands one of which is the paradise island of Mnemba.
From the airport it takes around an hour and a half to get to the Mnemba Island crossing point and when Mr S and pulled up at the pristine white beach we did have to wander ‘what now?’
But the representatives from the island hiked our bags up on their backs and we all walked through the water and towards a speed boat…
Bound for this island paradise. A tiny private island only 1.5 kilometres in circumference and only twenty minutes to walk around. Mnemba Island is actually run by &Beyond Group and the exclusive Mnemba Island Lodge is all that lies on its shores. I’d never stayed in an &Beyond property before so I was excited for my first taste of the experiential luxury travel company. Mnemba Island Lodge is one of their 31 lodges and camps located throughout Africa but &Beyond also design bespoke tours and operate through fifteen countries in Africa, five in Asia and four in South America.
As we approached the island we were treated to an absolutely glorious sunset, something that we were soon to discovered was a daily occurance. Well, of course the sun always sets every day, but there was never a cloud in sight and we always had a perfect view of the glowing orb dipping beneath the horizon.
With a welcome committee to greet us, it was clear that we would be experiencing incredibly personal service. Rajab, our butler for the duration of the stay, handed us a refreshing lemon drink; general manager Amanda, gave us the warmest of greetings and took our shoes for us and Ash, the chef, was immediately keen to tell us what we’d be having for dinner that day. Food is a big deal on Mnemba Island and we met with him everyday to go through the menu and discuss our preferences.
You probably know the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’, made popular by The Lion King? Well the Swahili for ‘no worries’ is a popular refrain in Zanzibar, and one that couldn’t be more true on Mnemba Island…
With only twelve beachfront ‘bandas’ or small cottages, the main attraction of Mnemba Island lodge is total privacy and very high levels of personalised service both of which characterise &Beyond properties. We were fortunate enough to be staying in room twelve, the banda right at the end of the beach that no one else ever walked past. It did take a little longer to walk to the main lodge and restaurant, but it was worth it for the total privacy. As you can see our gorgeous banda was nestled in the woods with a sandy path leading towards the pristine white beach and an expansive outdoor living area.
But first come inside and let me show you around…
As you can see the room was totally open, once again there were no locks on the doors, and the straw blinds were simply let down at night. Though there was no air conditioning we never felt too hot as a cool breeze flowed gently through the room.
A beautiful porch area had a natural and organic feel and the straw floor was perfect for sandy feet!
A little dining area, sofas with deep relaxing pillows and plenty of board games for lazy days.
I loved all the beautiful woods and cottons that gave the room a rustic feel but also the stylish elements that added character. Like this over-sized picture frame; what a prettier picture to frame than nature itself?
I loved the rustic simplicity of our little cottage for two.
With simple walls of thatch embellished with Zanzibari carvings and allowing the simple beauty of nature to flow through. A beautiful chest was stocked up with soft drinks and beers but there’s also limes to make your own cocktails. As Mnemba Island Lodge is all-inclusive, you can pretty much ask for anything to be brought to your room so the fridge can be stocked with your favourite wine too.
There’s no gym on the island (and honestly why would you want one) but instead you’re supplied with a bag of weights and a yoga mat which is enough to satisfy simple needs.
A large storage and dressing area reflects the open style of the room and honestly you don’t need much here. I never wore anything more dressy than a bikini and a kaftan and of course no heels were ever necessary. Now let me show you the best bit…
A long indoor / outdoor corridor leads to the most glorious open air bathroom.
The definition of rustic-luxe, I loved the mirrors hanging from the thatched roof, wood work and exposed stones.
But it was the glamorous beaded shower that was the real centre piece.
Admittedly with an outdoor bathroom, I carefully checked the loo for spiders every time I went in but we never saw any creepy crawlies the whole time that we were there.
A little way from our banda, down a sandy path was a ‘baraza’, the Swahili word for meeting place…
But we gave the comfortable lounge area the nickname ‘the office’ as it was where I got some shade during the day to write some blog posts…
I even had my own fridge!
And there’s a shower to rinse off after the sand.
And just a few steps from here was Mr S’s ‘office’, where he went to work on his tan!
Across the softest of white sand with a view of a stunning turquoise sea, it’s a short walk to the lodge’s main guest area. I have to admit to an irrational fear of crabs (they’re like the sea creature version of spiders) and we did see a lot of them scuttling around the beach. Ghost crabs are indigenous to the island and they’re a kind of pale colour that blends into the sand; needless to say I did my best to avoid them on any walks.
The other animal that we came across during our stay were these gorgeous baby turtles. The endangered green turtle returns to Mnemba Island every year to breed with the female digging a nest to lay its eggs. The staff are on high alert for the turtles and warned the guests when they become aware of hatchings of these adorable and rare creatures.
Another important element of Mnemba Island and the wider &Beyond group is conservation and sustainability and at every single one of the lodges they find ways to benefit the natural environment and local communities. At Mnemba Island the Oceans without Borders project works on monitoring the green turtles and protecting nesting sites. Also protected on the island are the coconut crab and two rare species of antelope that are actually bred on the island.
Community is also an important part of the &Beyond ethos and Mnemba Island works with the communities of Matemwe and Kigini on Zanzibar island to support schools, gardens and protection of the beaches.
Like the bandas, the main lodge had a rustic, organic yet glamorous feel. There’s only one ‘restaurant’ though it’s not really a restaurant in the ordinary sense of the word as there are so few guests on the island, eating and the location of meal is very bespoke and personalised.
Of course, our toes were never far from the sand and we always had a view of that turquoise sea.
Our butler was with us for the duration of the stay and offered highly personal service both in our room and in the restaurant. He got to know exactly how we took our coffee and our favourite wine and beer. The ethos of &Beyond is offering the highest level of guest experience whilst enjoying the natural luxuries of a location and we certainly feel the excellent level of service with every member of staff that we encountered. Not only was nothing too much trouble, but every request was met with warmth and a smile.
I’ll elaborate more on the food and dining concept in my next post but everyday a suggested menu was displayed in the main guest area and the chef would talk it through with you and adapt it if necessary.
Behind the dining area, you can take refuge in this lounge on plump cushions shaded by the thatched roof.
And on the other side of the restaurant was a beautiful bar for sun downers in the evening.
Once again, I just loved the juxtaposition of the beaded glass curtain with the organic woods and stone.
And in this all-inclusive heaven, you can ask for any drinks that you dream off! Cocktails are made using fresh fruit and wines are very high quality.
There’s a gorgeous shop for swimwear, jewellery and souvenirs of the island…
And library should require some books to borrow or a TV. There’s no television in the room, but one is clearly necessary for Mr S if Tottenham are playing.
There’s also an excellent dive centre at Mnemba Island and snorkelling, scuba diving and sea kayaking are some of the key activities offered on the island. The lodge is actually located in the Mnemba Island conservation area on a beautiful coral reef with a thriving population of fish and other marine life. &Beyond work with the Zanzibar Department of Fisheries to keep the area protected and reduce net fishing in the shallow waters and introduce techniques that don’t damage the reef.
One morning Mr S and I took a boat out to explore the reef and take a swim in the Indian Ocean, also giving us the opportunity to see the lush landscape of the island from afar.
There are over 430 varieties of reef fish and bottle nose dolphins are often spotted around the island and jumping into the water allowed us to view a whole world of beautiful multi-coloured fish and other sea creatures.
Our stay at Mnemba Island was total and utter barefoot bliss; staying on an unspoilt island in total privacy is perhaps the very best kind of luxury.
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