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Checking in to Zanzibar's Fundu Lagoon

Island life: looking out from Fundu Island ( )
Island life: looking out from Fundu Island ( )

As a child, I remember hearing the word Zanzibar and thinking how magical and intoxicating it sounded — something about those z’s — and swore to visit one day. I have now been to Zanzibar three times, most notably for my honeymoon, and am happy to report it is indeed a magical and intoxicating place. Masai tribes on snow-white beaches, the ancient spice port of Stone Town (and the birthplace of Freddie Mercury), the heady mix of Arab and African cultures. It doesn’t get any better. Unless you head to Fundu Lagoon on nearby Pemba Island.

Like all worthwhile destinations, Fundu Lagoon is a bit of a nightmare to get to. It’s 80km north-east of Zanzibar, which means a 12-seater plane hop, a 90-min drive and then a white-knuckle speedboat ride. It’s bumpy and wet but the arrival at Fundu Lagoon’s long jetty is the stuff of dreams, thanks in no small part to the welcome from general manager/heart and soul Hannes, who used to manage London institutions Quo Vadis and The Groucho. He came here for the opening New Year’s Eve party in 1999 and never left. It’s easy to see why.

My wife and I arrived just in time for lunch. The chicken Thai broth, tangawazi prawns and fresh lobster immediately confirmed our culinary hopes — if the date tart is on the menu, order it, twice. Our beach house turned out to be a huge safari-style tented structure that gave most five-star suites a run for their money. Wi-fi is restricted to the communal areas, which means you have to find your own entertainment; not a problem with regular visits from a family of vervet monkeys (they’re light-fingered so zip up your room when you’re out.) Best of all, though, it was just 11 steps down to the beach. Swimming here at 5pm in bath-still waters is something I’ll never forget: the only sound the clattering of shells in the gentle waves and occasional voices from distant dhow fishing boats. I occasionally saw another guest but most of the time we shared the beach with chickens. For the adventurous, there’s a full menu of snorkelling and diving courtesy of Nemo (not his real name). We booked the early morning dolphin boat trip and made friends with a pod of bottlenoses. For landlubbers, there’s a treetop swimming pool and an adjacent spa for eye-rollingly good massages.

The simple life: inside Fundu Lagoon
The simple life: inside Fundu Lagoon

Of course, every unforgettable holiday revolves around a bar and the one on Fundu Lagoon’s jetty is an all-time fave. Sipping expertly made Pimm’s Spritzes and Negronis in front of the sunset while The Eagles play in the background is hard to beat. As Hannes chuckled ‘Welcome to my office’ from his bar seat, we exchanged aren’t-we-lucky glances with the other residents (one elderly couple had been coming since its opening). Dinner is served on cande-lit tables lining the jetty or on the beach in front of your room; either is heaven.

Leaving Fundu Lagoon was hard. Yes, I’d been up till silly o’clock drinking with Hannes, but it was more than that. As our boat sped us away, the resort’s structures became invisible among the trees.

I remembered Hannes commenting that if the resort was ever abandoned, ‘it would just become part of nature again’. I imagined humans stumbling across Fundu’s footprint in 200 years’ time and believing they’d discovered a long-lost temple to the gods of pleasure and relaxation. Go and worship now.

Rooms from £340 (fundulagoon.com)