feet on Diani BeachBetween our safari and the business portion of our Africa trip, we took a short hiatus at beautiful Diani Beach, on the Indian Ocean just south of Mombasa. Our base was the Almanara Beach Resort. You can go to their website to see pictures of their luxury villas, their pools, their beach facilities, their Sails Restaurant and all about the sugar sand beach. Go ahead, go there, get the deets. But let me tell you what they don’t talk about. Because, sometimes it’s the subtler things that, at least for me, make a place special. And make no mistake about it, Almanara is very, very, very special. So let me fill in the gaps and tell you all the ways that Almanara is not like any other beach resort you will ever go to.

1. Absolutely unique decor and ambiance. There are luxury hotels and luxury hotels. Sometimes they can blend together in their generic “luxury hotelness”. You can pretty much guess that the toiletries will be from Penhaligon or Jo Malone. If you find yourself at a One and Only Resort (I don’t recommend them) and, whether you are in Cabo San Lucas or Mauritius or The Bahamas, you’ll find them all exactly the same from furniture to set-up to design of the restaurant menus. They’ll have little to do with the country or region they are in and everything to do with being a One and Only chain member. When I say Almanara is unique, I mean I can abso-fricken-lutely guarantee you there is no other property like this on Earth. Much of that has to do with the fact that the resort started as a family retirement home gone terribly out of control. A large beachfront property was purchased. A grand house was built. A few villas were added for some income since the family only lived there part time. Then more villas were built. Then a restaurant, gift shop and more! Suddenly, a resort!

In the interest of full disclosure, that family is, I guess, now my family, at least by marriage. (Frequent readers of this blog may remember The Other Royal Wedding.) The husband of my niece — who I’m now proud to call my nephew — has a family that you don’t find much outside of fiction. His father grew up in Nairobi with Italian and Somali parents. His mother is Egyptian but spent significant time in Libya. Now imagine all those cultural influences brought to bear in design, then executed by local Mombasa and Kenyan craftspeople and artists. The result are uniquely decorated and designed villas that are modern in aesthetic, but somewhat Middle Eastern in aesthetic with a touch of the Raj, a lovely overlay of Africa, and throughout warm, intimate and with a sense of place that we wine people would call terroir.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Almanara Resort

One of these lamps is an Indian antique, the rest were copies executed by local Mombas craftspeople. The painting on the wall of Masai women is by a Kenyan artist.

This day bed is an Indian antique from the days of the British Raj. But reupholstered with a more modern vibe.

This day bed is an Indian antique from the days of the British Raj. But reupholstered with a more modern vibe.

You turn some corners and you could be in the Casbah.

You turn some corners and you could be in the Casbah.

In other corners, you might believe you've been transported to Cairo.

In other corners, you might believe you’ve been transported to Cairo.

2. Locally sourced or grown food. In each of the villas, you get your own chef, butler and maid to take care of all your meals. But we are big fans of the on site restaurant, Sails. The executive chef manages the chefs in the villas, so you get the same quality of food. But Sails has a young, hip, ex-pat vibe that we like. And it, like the villas’ kitchens, features local produce.

This was the most incredible appetizer -- seaweed, gathered daily from the beach, lightly fried in a tempura batter.

This was the most incredible appetizer — seaweed, gathered daily from the beach, lightly fried in a tempura batter and served with a soy sauce dip.

Did I say local produce? Did I clarify that most is grown on site in Almanara's own kitchen gardens?

Did I say local produce? Did I clarify that most is grown on site in Almanara’s own kitchen gardens?

Sails is a sophisticated take on the beach bar.

Sails is a sophisticated take on the beach bar.

3. An easily accessible reef and sand island. If you travel with a diver, as I do, you are used to the big discussion and logistics that happen when one person wants to dive and the other person isn’t convinced they want to commit the better part of a day to a long trip in a smelly diesel boat. At Almanara, a reef is just off shore from the property and it’s a reef with enough sealife to satisfy even a serious diver. On a few hour trip to the reef we saw at least a dozen types of colorful tropical fish (including Nemo!), five different types of starfish and three types of anemones. It’s not the diversity you’d see on the Great Barrier Reef, but it also took us only ten minutes to row out there, we could see it all by snorkeling and when any of our party got tired, we could drop out of the snorkeling and relax on a sand island.

The fact that you are taken to the island and reef in a traditional African fishing boat is a huge plus for me.

The fact that you are taken to the island and reef in a traditional African fishing boat instead of a smelly diesel dive boat is a huge plus for me.

The sand island only appears at low tide. You can see where it is from the wave break. Meanwhile, there is plenty to see on the beach right in front of the Almanara property.

The sand island only appears at low tide. You can see where it is from the wave break. Meanwhile, there is plenty to see on the beach right in front of the Almanara property.

 4. Locally produced toiletries. The shampoo, conditioner and body gel is all locally produced products made from local botanicals. Even better, they totally work. Even after a day in salt water, chlorine pool and sun, my hair had never felt softer. The body lotion even includes natural, herbal mosquito repellant. It’s a small thing, but as I explained to my niece, Americans love this shit. Oh, and they are presented in eco-friendly blue glass bottles. If they’d sold these products in the gift shop, I would have filled up my suitcase.

5. Amazing artwork. This is a subset of point Number 1. But I can’t emphasize it enough. Staying at Almanara is like living in an African art gallery. Bella, our nephew’s mother, picked out much of it. The art was not only sourced. In many cases, she took in pictures and commissioned original pieces.

Here's nephew Leo with a piece that began with a photo he took outside the property. A local artist created a modern painted take on it.

Here’s nephew Leo with a piece that began with a photo he took outside the property. A local artist created a modern painted take on it.

Given our recent safari experiences, we appreciated that this commissioned piece was hanging in our suite.

Given our recent safari experiences, we appreciated that this commissioned piece was hanging in our suite.

I should mention that the artwork and design and commission of furniture was largely overseen by our nephew’s mother, the glorious and exuberant Bella.

How did I manage to capture the one nanosecond when this woman was not smiling and laughing? You will never see her looking like this.

How did I manage to capture the one nanosecond when this woman was not smiling and laughing? You will never see her looking like this.

The large main house, which is rentable as a Presidential suite, is called Casa Bella. As well it should be.

6. A warm family feeling. The eclectic decor and the elegant yet homey feel of Almanara is more than enough to set it apart from nearly every luxury property you could book. But when you stay here, you will actually be in the midst of family. Our lovely niece Gemma and her husband Leo are managing the property. And they’re working with long term staff that has been with the family for years. So, while you have the complete privacy of your villa, should you choose to step out and experience the full property (and I hope you do), you’ll be in the midst of a large, warm and multi-cultural family like no other.

Here, Gemma dances with some of the employees as they surprised her with an African rendition of Happy Birthday. But if you aren't having a birthday during your stay, I've heard the staff singing throughout their work so you'll have an opportunity to experience their talents.

Here, Gemma dances with some of the employees as they surprised her with an African rendition of Happy Birthday. But if you aren’t having a birthday during your stay, I’ve heard the staff singing throughout their work so you’ll have an opportunity to experience their talents.

There you have it. I dare you to tell me a property that can match this level of uniqueness. I may be biased, but I think I’ve made my case.

I haven't even mentioned the wildlife such as monkeys and these Hornbills. Not that other hotels don't have hornbills. But these may be just a bit friendlier.

I haven’t even mentioned the wildlife such as monkeys and these Hornbills. Not that other hotels don’t have hornbills. But these may be just a bit friendlier since they graciously knock on the bathroom windows to let you know they see you showering.

 

 

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