Emerson Spice Hotel sits on a tiny square overlooking Tharia Street in the centre of Stone Town, a five-minute walk to Forodhani Gardens, the Old Fort and the city’s other main sights. There’s no direct vehicle access, so ask your taxi driver to call the hotel once nearby; staff will happily come to guide you along the narrow, winding streets. Street noise carries through the wooden shutters, and the night is pierced by the first call to prayer from the mosque across the road.
Style and Character
Once home to Swahili royalty, the building was bought by an American expat and has been restored and decorated in an opulent, theatrical style. It’s packed with Zanzibari antique furniture, rich textiles and original carved wood. Staff too, dressed in flowing golden kanzus and embroidered skull caps, seem to have stepped out of another era. As in all such traditional houses in Stone Town, there’s a steep wooden staircase spiralling upwards to a spectacular rooftop terrace, with great views over the city.
Service and Facilities
The hotel’s many uniformed staff are gentle and courteous, and service is personal without being intrusive. Staff can happily help with directions, restaurant recommendations and booking taxis and tours. As can be expected in this location the building itself has few facilities other than the restaurants, but towels are provided for the town’s sandy beach just a 10-minute walk away.
The 11 rooms of Emerson Spice Hotel each have a unique character and are inspired by fictional heroines throughout history. There’s a mix of doubles, twins, and two Superior suites, and all rooms but one have a balcony. Carved wooden Zanzibari beds draped in mosquito netting, antique furniture, vivid colours and subtle lighting combine to create a magical atmosphere in each. While deeply romantic, rooms are missing some practical touches like comfortable pillows or effective hairdryers. All rooms do have good air-conditioning, ceiling fans and a fridge. Most have an open-plan bathroom, with the toilet behind a small screen and a hammam-style bath with modern shower overhead. Homely touches include fruit platters, antique books on local history, and homemade citronella mosquito repellent.
Food and Drink
There’s a simple but tasty breakfast of organic eggs, homemade jam and fresh mandazi pastries, which can be taken on the roof terrace or delivered to your balcony. By night, the terrace transforms into the Tea House, one of Stone Town’s best-regarded restaurants. A sundowner precedes a set five-course tasting menu, which uses the best local produce at market each day. Dishes may include kingfish in baobab sauce with cardamom-infused rice, or lemongrass calamari with baked banana and garlic okra. Book one of the 12 tables well in advance. There’s also the Secret Garden restaurant downstairs, a more casual spot in a quiet stone courtyard, perfect for a light lunch or nightcap.
Not ideal because of the steep stairs and quiet, romantic atmosphere. However, cots and babysitting services are available.