News & Reviews Africa Tanzania Review: Xanadu, Zanzibar

Xanadu has been on my radar for quite some time, yet its no-children-under-five policy meant it remained harder to get than the truth from George Santos.  As luck would have it, my permission slip was signed to travel kids-free to Tanzania.  Zanzibar does not have a world-beating reputation for luxury properties, more like the kind of place, you end up after your safari cos it’s better than returning to seeing your children, who are under five.  But Xanadu is essentially all-inclusive, and as anyone who’s ever been to Spain knows, that means it’s going to be luxurious.

Our journey to Xanadu began with a scenic 40-minute helicopter ride from Thanda Island.  Our driver was fashionably late, which in Tanzania means just in time to keep you wondering if you’re stranded.  He greeted us with a cold towel that felt like it had lost a fight to a tsunami and a bottle of water that was a bit too easy to open for my liking.  I’m not saying I was suspicious, but let’s just say I was more than content to hold off on a drink until after the 90-minute drive to Xanadu.  At the end of ThirstGate, as it shall henceforth be known, we were greeted at the entrance, which doubles as the gift shop.  Capitalism has a lot to answer for.
Welcoming us in our villa was our dedicated butler, who greeted us not with a tray but with a song.  The room setup and preferences were perfect and included an abundance of sweets and even a plethora of toothpaste options, strategically and subtly placed next to all the sweets.  This set the scene for the stay, as I always felt generosity was a key element of Xanadu.  Rooms were stacked with Smeg fridges, not minibars, and the service was like having a mind-reading butler who would show up with things without being asked.  My dad apparently exudes a ‘beer vibe’ because he always had one on hand.

The villa is right beside the beach, with sand so soft it felt like walking on something really soft, like sand that was soft.  Damnit, why didn’t I go to university?  It is a public beach, so you might get propositioned by someone selling handjobs, or whatever it is they were offering.  Maybe ice cream, I always confuse the two.  Still, it’s a lovely place, so why not treat yourself to either option?  Xanadu is small enough that you’re never far from anything but also small enough that you might wander into someone else’s ungated villa.  Who needs privacy when you can make new friends unexpectedly?  The benefit is that you’re so close to the beach.  In fact, you’re close to everything Xanadu has to offer, which isn’t a great amount.

With its cosy collection of nine villas, Xanadu has a vibe reminiscent of Iniala Phuket, skillfully squeezing so much into a surprisingly compact space.  While each villa shares a similar, cohesive design theme, they each differ architecturally and offer a choice of one or two bedrooms.  What really catches your eye is the local flair in their design, which I loved.  It infuses a sense of place and culture, rather than being a generic “could be anywhere” that so many hotels seem in favour of.  While uniquely designed, they share much in common, like all having a living area.  They also have bedrooms, which comes in handy.  There’s so much variety at Xanadu, ranging from walking from the bedroom to the living room to sometimes going to town and walking from the living room to the bedroom.
The Mbundu suite, the second-best villa, was nothing short of impressive.  Its towering ceilings gave the illusion of stepping into a cathedral, which was quite fitting for my god complex.  Spread across three floors, the master suite boasted a unique feature: a private, enclosed rooftop pool.  I never used it, because it wasn’t heated, but just knowing it was there was the real pleasure.  The kinda that gives you the warm fuzzies, just like nuclear weapons.

I appreciate somewhere that has tried to give an authentic local look without being vomit-inducing.  Xanadu creates that right mix: it’s exceptionally spacious, relaxing, calm and authentic without going overboard.  Except maybe the smell, it smelt like an explosion in a flower shop – but in a good way.

I loved the authenticity, unique design and ample level of comfort.  It almost felt excessively extravagant, especially coming from Thanda Island, where your somewhat cramped room seemed to force you outside, whereas, at Xanadu, you could live out a pandemic in just a single room.  Downstairs is even larger, with a plunge pool – the type that’s too small to swim in and too large to call a plunge, but also too cold to be classified as water – two huge sofas, multiple loungers, a bar area, kitchen for a chef to cook, dining table and lots of greenery that creates privacy, even if it is far too easy to walk in on as there are no gates.

I have nothing but praise for the room.  Which is perfect because the purpose of Xanadu is to spend your time in your villa doing somewhere between fuck and all.  The main restaurant and pool were right next to our villa and visible when walking to the first floor.  There’s a spa, just a room containing some beds, and a beach with a few non-motorised watersports toys.  There’s not even a gym, but you can drive 10 minutes to the “neighbour hotel”, which to me is a form of exercise.  This is not a place to come with the expectation of doing anything other than lounging, eating, drinking and relaxing.  Maybe discovering what that person on the beach is really selling.

The problem is, our experience with the food meant that it wasn’t something to look forward to.  Admittedly, we were only here for two nights, but based on the limited selection, we managed to cover most of it.  During breakfast, they would ask what we wanted for lunch and dinner, with a selection of three starters, mains and desserts.  Choosing that directly after eating felt like taking a test I hadn’t studied for whilst someone punched me in the stomach.  Interestingly, breakfast is a large spread, with around 20 a la carte options, so you do have the right to choose, just only in the mornings.

They did try to spice things up by varying the dining locations: lunch under a tree, breakfast by the ocean, and dinners alternately in the restaurant and our villa.  Despite these efforts, the overall dining experience was too significant a downgrade after the culinary excellence we experienced at Thanda Island.  It was like being told you were going on a date with Margot Robbie, then finding a deformed Barbie doll sitting in the chair opposite.

The service was top-notch.  Each villa comes with its own butler, and ours was exceptionally attentive, although when we didn’t finish one meal, it looked like it mortally wounded him and I don’t think he was ever the same again.  I’d inadvertently dimmed the brightness and crushed the spirit of the world’s most cheerful person—top marks to the fella.  Still, I like to test properties that know all my preferences and see what they do, so I ordered something with raw onions, my culinary nemesis, to see if they would remove it.  They did not.  Better was the welcome hand massage, where I had to fight the sleeping monster for all 25 minutes, as it was so relaxing.

The parting gift from Xanadu was a bag containing two bars of soap, and a neatly folded A4 paper with a computer-generated thank you note.  It had a certain ‘budget austerity chic’ vibe.  My journey began with a tardy driver and concluded with our airport taxi breaking down.  The rescue taxi driver, evidently a multitasking maestro, was engrossed in ‘Coco’ while juggling his phone, which added an unexpected layer of entertainment.  Forget hotels trying to be Instagram-worthy.  These days, it’s all about leaving a lasting impression; hotels will go to any end to make sure you don’t forget them and have a memorable stay.

The Good

  • Beach
  • Setting
  • Service

The Bad

  • Food
  • Hassle to get there

The Luxurious

  • Accommodation

Rating

Good

Conclusion

As you stroll into Xanadu, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve accidentally wandered into a work camp where relaxation is mandatory.  In a good way, of course.  Everything about the property is about chilling out.  It’s so tiny your daily steps will never exceed 100; your butler is always on hand (and contactable, strangely, via a walky-talky) and materialises with all sorts of goodies before you even think to ask,  and the biggest decision you’ll make is whether to sleep beside your private pool, the ocean or pass out from boredom next to a pile of sweets and toothpaste.

The question with Xanadu: How long would people stay here for, and who is it targeting?  There’s really nothing to do there, so I’m gonna guess honeymooners or corpses stay for 3-4 nights.  I doubt many people take their Dad there, like I did.  Still, it really is a beautiful little spot for someone desperately fighting writer’s block or if you need to finish that book your best friend bought you for Christmas three years ago and keeps asking what you think of it, and the guilt is riddling you with shame.  You’re basically stuck to your villa or the beach, so it’s good that both are excellent.  

In Summary

  • Family friendly

    Kids under 5 aren't allowed, which either makes it extremely peaceful or means you have to dump your children at the airport and collect them on your return. Your call.

Villa Nyota starts from $6280 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 18th Dec '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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