Opened her own hotel in Zanzibar: – I cry when the guests leave
There are no room numbers on the doors. That's because you should feel at home when you check in here. But with a good dose of luxury and turquoise blue sea, Elga, originally from Italy, believes there is a reason why tourists choose to vacation at her hotel.
Many of us dream about it... packing our bags, abandoning our humdrum existence, and moving to a secluded and beautiful place by the sea. But few dare to pursue this dream, and even fewer succeed in living out life surrounded by chalk-white sand beaches and palm trees.
"Something changed me when I first came here," says Elga Giannini.
Following her passion, she now runs the exclusive Uzuri Villa boutique hotel in Tanzania, off the east coast of Africa.
The hotel is located right by the beach on the outskirts of the fishing village of Jambiani, so guests can start their day by wading straight into the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
From Tuscany to Zanzibar
The year is 2008. Elga, from Tuscany in Italy, is on holiday in Zanzibar with her then-husband. She will be gone for two weeks, and the first ten days will be spent travelling. She visits the city, does some sightseeing, and enjoys lazy days on the beach.
Zanzibar is especially known for its sandy white beaches and crystal clear waters and is popular for snorkelling and water sports such as kiting and sailing. It also contains rainforests and is home to, among other things, the rare red colobus monkey.
The capital Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it contains historic buildings, markets, and is an excellent example of a Swahili trading post on the east coast of Africa.
"We travelled around a lot on the first few days of the holiday. We were here on vacation, like everyone else. But then we got into more and more conversations with the locals, and I began to understand Zanzibar in a different way. One day we met someone who ran a hotel in the area, and we were inspired," says Elga.
In the midst of African jungles and nature
Elga and her husband headed to the east coast of the island, about an hour's drive from Zanzibar's airport. They looked at areas and properties and came across the place where the villa is located today.
"At that time, it was completely deserted there and there was a lot of vegetation. It was so incredibly peaceful and something about the energy of the place attracted me to it. It felt very special to me coming from Europe – where we run to and from things all day, from morning to night."
Elga pauses as she thinks back to the first time she stood on the beach, before the boutique hotel was built. She feels something changed for her there that day amidst the jungle and an energy she describes as strong.
Built holiday homes in Zanzibar
"You know when something calls you? And you just have to check. That was what the place was like. It is absolutely breathtaking: the sea, the silence and the white sand. In addition, both the light and the water change depending on the time of day you stand there, and I never cease to be amazed at how incredible nature can be. That is what changed my life. I realized that I don't need anything other than this view and the sound of the ocean, that's what makes me find meaning inside myself," says Elga, adding:
"As well as the people here. They're so nice. Even when you see someone who looks serious, they can suddenly smile and their face lights up.
At this point, many of us might start to make plans and dream of returning to the resort and leaving everything at home behind. Maybe you can run something of your own? But most people don't have the opportunity, or the courage, and find their way back to being content with work and everyday life at home. But Elga chose otherwise.
She left Tuscany and built a house in Zanzibar. The idea was to have the place as a holiday home in the winter. But she felt much more at home in her holiday home than in Italy, so they eventually expanded to building hotels.
"I realised it's so special here, it's like coming home, and I want the guests to have that feeling as well. We don't have room numbers, because we want life to be shared, and in my view, it's an opportunity to get to know each other. I actually think there's a meaning behind those who come here, maybe it's just me, but I feel it. So, I often cry when people leave."
Elga describes the villa she runs as a home and says that the staff want guests to feel like they are at home. There is no dress code, and you can walk barefoot throughout your stay, yet it is luxurious. The hotel has a swimming pool, is located right on the beach, and has three suites and three junior suites. The property has a private garden and offers a variety of water activities as well as massages. The hotel also has its own chefs who prepare fresh meals made from freshly caught fish, lobster, or crab, among other ingredients.
"There is generally a lot of seafood on the menu in Zanzibar," says Elga.
"My favourite is octopus and mashed potato, which we like to prepare with coconut. Otherwise, the fish here is often marinated with ginger or lime, but it is important that the seafood retains its flavour."
Hakuna Matata meaning
Besides seafood, water activities, and tranquillity by the sea, there is one thing that is at least as important in Zanzibar: Hakuna Matata. This is a saying that most people recognise from Disney movies.
"That was one of the first words I learned on the island," Elga says with a laugh.
"It's Swahili and means 'there are no problems'."
"The funny thing is that when I was here at the very beginning, it could take 1-2 hours for the food to arrive when I was at a restaurant... you know.... But then they smiled and said hakuna matata, the food is coming, we just don't know when. That mentality is impressive.
We don't have to keep up with the times, nothing changes if we're just a little patient and wait a bit!"
Five tips on what to do in Zanzibar:
Zanzibar Butterfly Center: Located in Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. Experience butterflies in their natural environment.
2. Prison Island / Changuu Island
Changuu Island is located 5.6 kilometres from Stone Town. The island was initially used to isolate prisoners during the colonial period, and also to isolate people who were infected with tuberculosis, for example.
Zanzibar is full of surf schools, and the island is known for excellent waves. The east coast of the island it especially good for water activities. Ask your hotel about the best places to surf.
4. Maalum cave
Maalum cave has a natural pool and is Elga's favourite place. Swim and relax and dine at the local restaurant.
4. The Rock – a popular seafood spot
The Rock is a unique and popular restaurant located on a cliff by the Indian Ocean. The view is fantastic (you are surrounded by turquoise sea), and the menu naturally consists of fresh fish and shellfish. You need a boat to reach the island during high tide but can walk out if the tide is low.