I am always on the lookout for the coolest and most unique places to stay wherever I visit and when I arrived in Zanzibar I was ready for a little luxury, after spending the previous few weeks in the wilds of Kenya and Tanzania sleeping under canvas and spotting lions on safari, so I was excited for my stay in Stone Town’s number 1 hotel (according to Tripadvisor).
Emerson Spice Hotel, Zanzibar
I knew I was in for a treat before I even got to the hotel, having read the rave reviews.
The building used to be an old Merchant’s House, as well as being the home of the last Swahili ruler of Zanzibar, Muhammed bin Ahmed, known as Mwenyi Mkuu. In 2006, the building was bought by Emerson, who lovingly restored it into the beautiful boutique hotel it is today.
We took a taxi from the ferry to the hotel, however we needed have bothered as it is a relatively short walk away and as the hotel is inside the maze of Stone Town, we had to walk most of the way anyway. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the staff and offered a cool drink of juice, which was very welcomed as it was a very hot, humid day.
The hotel is visually stunning and decorated to perfection. Everything in the hotel is unique and literally a work of art. The hotel is over 4 floors, with the reception areas on the ground floor, the rooms being on the 1st and 2nd floors and the restaurant/roof terrace making up the 3rd floor.
Another lovely touch, was that we were even given a phone, in case we got lost and needed the staff to come and find us and always someone to walk us where we needed to go, so I always felt super safe.
The 11 rooms in Emerson Spice are all named after women. For example, one is named ‘Belle’, after the Southern Belles of the world (Scarlet O’Hara, Blanche DuBois, and as rumour has it, Emerson’s mother), ‘Violetta’ after the lead character in Verdi’s La Triviata and ‘Kate’, after the one and only Katherine Hepburn. Our room was called ‘Camille’ and she was a true beauty.
The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the room is the bathtub, which takes pride of place in the main room – shrinking violets need not apply.
The rest of the room was equally beautiful with walls that are painted in a mottled pale blue, dark wood furniture and golden curtains. We had two balconies – one from the room, and one from the bathroom. And of course, the bed was four poster, with the prettiest mosquito net I’ve ever stayed under. But it wasn’t just that, it was the attention to detail and little touches, both in the room and throughout the whole hotel.
The welcome flowers and fruit, the home-made insect repellent (made of citronella, lemongrass, tea tree, geranium, lavender, peppermint oil and aqua – I used it instead of my perfume), the stained glass windows, the books on Zanzibar history and the bits and bobs box in the bathroom that had all sort in from ear plugs to a razor.
Food & Drink
On our first evening, we were booked into the Tea House Restaurant on the rooftop of Emerson Spice. The restaurant is one of the top restaurants in East Africa, and known for having one of the best views of Stone Town. The menu changes daily, created by the chef, using the daily catch of their very own fisherman.
We made our way up the stairs at 6pm, to enable us to catch the sunset, with a cocktail of course, feeling a million miles away from the busy streets below. We were the first to arrive, but we were soon joined by another few couples, a party of three and four girls celebrating a birthday. Across the way we could see the Emerson Spice sister hotel, Emerson on Hurumzi, also famous for its beauty, food and hospitality.
The waiter brought us a menu as the kichen staff were busy preparing the food just a few metres away from us. Dinner is always a set menu of five courses and that night were having:
I had no idea what most of the foods were, but I was excited to try them and the evening meal was served promptly at 7pm. The courses flowed and we ate our exquisite meal, under a canopy of silk as the sun set beneath the terracotta rooftops of Stone Town. It was wonderful. I ate things I’d never even think of ordering in a restaurant usually, and the staff were happy to explain what everything was.
Russell, the manager of the hotel wandered from table to table, talking to the guests. At the end of the night, when everyone else had left, Russell joined Matt and I for drinks. He told us of the history of the hotel and of Stone Town. But not the type of history you find in the guide books. The real history, the behind the scenes Zanzibar.
And he told us of Emerson, the man himself. Sadly, Emerson passed away last year, and from talking to the staff at the hotel, he is greatly missed by all who knew him. He sounds like someone with a big heart, who was a lot of fun and I wish I’d been fortunate enough to meet him and attend one of his legendary parties. We chatted and laughed for what seemed like hours, but eventually, the night became dark and silent around us and I knew it was time for bed.
The next day, we were up early for breakfast in the rooftop restaurant once again. Breakfast was toast with butter, eggs, fruits, fruit compote, honey and a muffin.
The Emerson Spice Hotel is in the heart of Stone Town, less than 10 minutes away from pretty much anywhere you’d want to visit – once you get your bearings in the maze of alleyways of course.
It’s around a 10 minute walk to the ferry terminal and a 20 minute drive from the main airport.
Things To Do
Stone Town is the perfect place to spend a couple of days exploring.
After breakfast, Russell and the team were so helpful, arranging a guided walk around the city for us with Farid Himid, a wonderfully eccentric and vocal Zanzabarian, with good English, excellent knowledge of the island and all the local gossip. Farid seems to know everyone in Stone Town and they all seem to know him (I think he’s a bit of a local celeb – he showed us a picture of him and Matt Dillon) and is involved in all kinds of projects – cleaning up the island, youth work and social enterprise, plus he’s a journalist too. Basically, what Farid doesn’t know about Zanzibar, probably isn’t worth knowing.
Forodhani Gardens (food market serving Swahili and Zanzibari cuisine) is a great (and cheap) place to visit in the evening and I recommend the Zanzibar pizzas, sugar cane juice and samosas. You can organise a number of trips via the hotel, including a boat trip on Safari Blue dhow or trips to prison island.
If you’re looking for a haven in Stone Town then Emerson Spice is a fantastic choice. It’s a place imagine you are a princess in a magical land where genies live in lamps and handsome princes take girls like me on magic carpet rides. Ok, so maybe that will never happen, but if you’re looking for the real life equivalent, Emerson Spice comes pretty close.
- Since I stayed, Emerson Spice seems to have gone off the main booking sites, so to make a booking I suggest you book via Tripadvisor or via their Facebook page to contact them direct.
- We stayed at Emerson Spice Hotel for 2 nights. A double room costs from £152 per night.
- Breakfast is included in the room rate.
- Dinner at the restaurant is VERY popular, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment. Dinner is served promptly at 7pm and is a 5-course set menu costing $30 per person. Head up to the rooftop for around 6pm so you can watch the sunset with a cocktail. Enjoy!
- The hotel is right next to a mosque, so if you are a light sleeper you may be woken up by the early call to prayer. The hotel does provide ear plugs, but if you are a super light sleeper, you may want to bring your own. I personally love being woken up like this.
- There is no lift so the hotel would not be suitable for guests who have trouble walking.
- If you want to read more about my time in Stone Town read this post: Things to Do in Stone Town (when you only have two days).
Pin It For Later
Thank you to the Emerson Spice Hotel for hosting me on 1 of the 2 nights I stayed there. All views, as always, are completely my own.