Bringing Charm Back to Stone Town
Italian-born Francesca Scalfari has a passion for Zanzibar and a great talent for design – her newest endeavour, a modern boutique hotel in a historic building, combines both.
A Stone Town renovation can take many different turns, and many wrong ones – from careless modernisation to low-budget improvisation to opulent stuffiness. The Sharazad Wonder is different. With the right dose of subtlety and freshness, it brings the charm back to Stone Town. A nude-pink colour scheme, lots of traditional Neeru wall plastering and concrete floors set the tone for a stylish, but not overdone new Stone Town experience. And surely here, on Gizenga Street 351/352, the guest is in the midst of it. Nowhere gets the historical quarter denser. Just like in Naples or Marrakesh, one can open a window and almost touch the house façade on the other side of the narrow street.
Story of nationalisation
The intimate boutique hotel with eight rooms on three floors was officially opened with a cosy reception and many illustrious guests last December. History was tangible. “They must have overlooked this building”, revealed the original owner, Masoud Al Riyami, present for the occasion. Of 62 houses his grandfather possessed in the area, the vast majority was nationalised during the 1964 revolution. Is he bitter? “But no”, Riyami says, “who knows if I would have had the same education I received in Oman here in Zanzibar?”
As many citizens, he has meanwhile returned to the motherland, dividing his time between the countries. It makes him happy, he said, to see the house, listed in town documents as early as 1927, being turned into a fine boutique hotel.
4 years, 3 architects
It took “four years and three architects” to bring the historical building back to life, says Francesca Scalfari, who also owns the Wonders boutique on the ground floor, a long-time favourite of Zanzibar expats and visitors, now with a branch at the airport, too. In the light and airy hotel rooms, some with beautiful balconies, local kanga material used for pillow cases and western design bedside lamps harmonise perfectly. “We want to be in harmony with our surroundings”, says Scalfari, who lives in Zanzibar with her husband Simon and son Luca.
The courtyard, a firmer school yard, hosts the excellent in-house restaurant. Two towers of the iconic St. Joseph Catholic cathedral can be seen from some of the spacey guest rooms. Family rooms, double and single rooms are offered. At 8 pm, when guests settle for dinner with delicious calamari and cauliflower puree, the call of the muezzin is heard – you are in the heart of heritage!