"Welcome home." We'd been gone a week, and had only spent a couple of nights at the hotel, but the doorman at the Zanzibar Serena Inn not only remembered our names but also where we'd been. Nudging 7ft, in a flowing yellow coat, white trousers and fez, he looked as though he'd stepped out of the Arabian Nights.
The Zanzibar Serena is a chain hotel but doesn't feel like it; it's also right on the edge of the steamy labyrinth that is Stone Town – but doesn't feel like it. An air of calm and light permeates every carefully restored corner. The hotel has been concocted from two of Stone Town's historic buildings. One was the Chinese doctor's residence, the other the old Extelcoms building. The former, originally an old Arab house, is one of the oldest buildings in Stone Town and was the British Consul's residence during the forties and fifties. The latter was built at the beginning of the 20th century, although to a colonial blueprint.
Zanzibar's architecture is a mix of Arabic, European, African and Indian design and, along with its palm-fringed beaches and slave and spice trade heritage, enhances the island's exotic image.
Stone Town's seething narrow streets are caked with history and choked with traffic. Tinny bicycle bells, blaring horns, the eerie call of the muezzin from the mosques clog the air.
Veering off into alleyways crammed with stalls, hemmed in by crumbling facades, the stench of decay mingles with sea salt and pungent spices. Stone Town is heady and intoxicating. The Serena Inn, with its cool terracotta floors, lush foliage and sea breezes is a balm for saturated senses.
Location, location, location
The Serena Inn, PO Box 4151 Zanzibar, Tanzania (00 255 24 223 3587, www.zanzibar.net/serena). On one side of the hotel is the Indian Ocean, on the other Kelele Square, a tree-shaded corner of Stone Town.
Time to international airport: Zanzibar airport is 8km away. A taxi takes about 15 minutes and costs £7. The hotel can arrange private transfers for the same price.
Are you lying comfortably?
There are 51 rooms and suites all facing the Indian Ocean. Ours had a view of the landscaped pool and fishermen in old dhows sailing back to harbour as the sun set. The enormous, carved wooden door, a typical feature of Zanzibari architecture and traditionally a symbol of wealth, opened on to a room of Moorish design. The concrete floor was inlaid with tiles in cream, green and blue, while the beds had mosquito nets suspended from a intricately carved wooden canopy. Shutters kept out the glare of the sun, and French windows opened on to the balcony.
Freebies: forgettable toiletries in the white marble bathroom, next to unforgettable sachets of mosquito repellent.
Keeping in touch: A business centre on the ground floor has internet access. Direct-dial telephones in bedrooms.
The bottom line
Doubles start from $340 (£240) per night, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: the Dhow Palace (00 255 24 2230304) has rooms from $85 (£60).Reuse content