Review: Le Mersenne Zanzibar, an Autograph Collection (Marriott) hotel
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This is our review of Le Mersenne Zanzibar, a new Marriott hotel on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.
You’ve probably heard of Zanzibar, but do you know where it is?
Zanzibar is a small cluster of islands just 50 miles off the coast of Tanzania. It is so small that it is practically invisible when looking at the whole globe – it simply blends into continental Africa. It is about as big as Dorset.
I was there as part of my Ethiopian Airlines business class review trip. The airline wanted to focus on its transit facilities (we reviewed the Cloud 9 lounge here, and the airport hotel will follow soon) so I needed to fly on somewhere, and chose here!
Le Mersenne is the first Marriott-affiliated property on the islands, which illustrates just how relatively recently international tourism has been going on. In fact, including Le Mersenne, there are just five internationally-branded hotels, so it is far less developed than Mauritius or the Maldives to which it is sometimes compared. (A reader reviewed the Park Hyatt as part of our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ series during the pandemic.)
The lack of development is something that is immediately apparent when landing on the island. Zanzibar City, the capital, is a small but sprawling city of tin-roofed huts with a population of 220,000. Once you leave the city it gets very rural very quickly – it really is a tiny place with an overall population of just under two million, spread across both islands.
Le Mersenne is a relatively new hotel having opened in 2020, although I’m not sure if part of the development predates that. In December 2022 it joined Marriott as part of the Autograph Collection, and it continues to upgrade its facilities to conform to Autograph standards. This includes updated guest rooms, a refreshed lobby and a gym with brand new equipment. I also noticed works of some sort in the spa although I didn’t venture in.
Marriott generously provided the hotel for review purposes.
Where is Le Mersenne Zanzibar?
Whilst there is a cluster of international resorts on the Northern tip of the island, Le Mersenne is on the East coast of Zanzibar, one of the more quiet and out-of-the-way parts of the island.
It really is a quiet spot – the closest town, if it can be called that, is about 10 minutes down the road and is made up of single-storey huts. Le Mersenne is just north in Pingwe, halfway up a little finger that sticks out of the Eastern coast.
It is between an hour and an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the airport across the island’s sometimes bumpy ‘main’ roads, which limits speeds to 40 or 50 miles an hour. Every so often the local town or village will place some particularly aggressive speedbumps that don’t help!
As you will have noticed, I am labouring the point about the hotel’s isolated position on an already isolated island. Outside of Zanzibar City or even the cluster of resorts in the north this is a very undeveloped location, which can have both its charms and its frustrations.
Inside (or outside!) Le Mersenne Zanzibar
As you would expect, outdoor living is very much the modus operandi at Le Mersenne. The hotel lobby is a small open-air building with stunning views out across the reef and the Indian Ocean. It really is very picturesque:
I was greeted by a small welcome song from the staff as well as a refreshing cold towel and welcome drink, which was very satisfying after an almost 24-hour journey.
The reception staff and were very friendly and quickly checked me in before taking me to my room.
Rooms at Le Mersenne Zanzibar
At present, Le Mersenne features about 70 rooms and villas, with just over 50 available to book via Marriott. The remaining 20 or so include a number of over-water villas and cliff-side villas which are currently being brought up to Autograph standards.
I was given a Ujima Deluxe Garden Room, one of the entry-level rooms. One thing you can’t complain about is the size, which Marriott tells me is 75 square meters, although I’m not sure that’s entirely correct given that would be bigger than my two-bed flat in London.
Regardless, it is very large:
If you’re not a fan of open-plan bathrooms please look away now, because the bath tub and sink are right behind the bed:
…. although you’ll be relieved to hear that the shower and toilet are in separate cubicles. I know not everyone is a fan of such open bathrooms and installing some wrap around curtains could be an easy way to create some privacy for those who want it.
You do get two wash basins and plenty of mirrors. Toiletries are from a local brand called Inaya Zanzibar:
To the left of the bathroom is a large wardrobe which also includes a luggage rack which I’m always a fan of:
You then have the large king bed the headboard of which is also a long desk:
Finally, to the left of the bed you have a modern TV plus the mini bar and armchair. There is no coffee machine but you get a kettle, some tea bags etc and an empty fridge:
Beyond this you have an extremely large balcony. It is so big that the two chairs look a bit lost in it:
On the whole I thought the room was pleasant and spacious, although there are definitely some oddities such as the master light switch which also turned off the mains socket next to the bed. The decor is very standard for a tropical beach resort of this kind, with white-washed walls, sea-blue accents and wood and rattan furniture.
Pool, gym and pier at Le Mersenne
Yes, you read that right: Le Mersenne has its own pier:
As you can see, there are 10 over-water bungalows, plus a central building which acts as a jetty for boats but also as a spot to relax. It does feel a bit underutilised – it would be a nice spot to offer sundowners and canapes (even though the resort faces east) or something similar.
To get to the pier you need to head down the relatively steep cliff via the stairs or ramp. This is also where you’ll find the pool, hotel bar and restaurant (there’s just one, in this case). Here is the pool:
It is relatively small for 70 guest rooms, although I never found it at all busy and always managed to grab a sun lounger. A lot of the villas feature their own plunge pools, so this probably helps.
Underneath the pool you have the bar on one side:
…. with the restaurant on the other. The restaurant also features a rooftop patio that serves a nightly buffet.
Up on flat land above the cliff you’ll find the spa and gym. The gym is new and features equipment that still smells unused when you walk in:
Unfortunately there is no beach – this part of Pingwe is very corrally. There is a beautiful beach just 10 minutes up the road and the hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle service to a tidal sand bar.
Breakfast and dinner at Le Mersenne
As I mentioned above, a nightly buffet is served although you can also dine in the a la carte restaurant below. On the night I arrived the buffet featured Swahili specialities, which I enjoyed:
On the second night I intended to go to the a la carte restaurant, but I thought the menu was relatively similar to the BBQ buffet upstairs so I just went to that instead. It featured a range of salads, rice, curries etc as well as a BBQ of beef, chicken, local lobster, prawn and fish:
…. plus a range of desserts to choose from.
Bar the addition of Swahili specialities the buffets were relatively similar, so you don’t get a huge variety of choice in terms of cuisine. That said, for any fussy eaters you can get some fries and chicken nuggets ….
Breakfast is also a buffet affair, served in the main restaurant downstairs which also has a small patio of its own:
The buffet is relatively simple, featuring cereals, cold cuts of meat and cheese:
Lots of fresh local fruit (it was mango season!):
A hot station with beef bacon, sausage, baked beans and potatoes etc. A range of pastries and sweet treats were available:
There was also an omelette station:
I mostly stuck to some mango-avocado-tomato salads which were delicious plus, as you can see, an omelette.
My impression of Le Mersenne
Whilst I enjoyed my stay at Le Mersenne, the hotel still feels like it is in the throws of an upgrade program to meet Marriott’s Autograph standards and there are areas that I think need improvement. I do think it will get there with the right leadership and investment, especially from the current GM who only took over in December.
In particular, the property can sometimes feel a bit DIY, one of the problems in being in such a quiet and undeveloped area in the first place. For example, whilst the rooms are to a good standard, other parts of the hotel can feel a bit haphazard, including the stairs up to my room which weren’t always the same height! On occasion it feels a little rough and ready, and not quite as slick as you would find at a resort on other Indian Ocean islands.
Service is another. Whilst some staff are clearly very engaged and enthusiastic, others are quite shy and lack the experience to be as proactive as they could be. For example, there was rarely anyone greeting me when I went for breakfast or dinner, which often meant I hovered around until someone passed by, or found my own spot to drink. Everyone is very friendly – all they lack is a bit of confidence and training, both of which can be easily fixed.
I do wonder why Marriott chose Autograph as the best fit for this property as in my mind it fits better with the Tribute Portfolio, which sits a level down. Sometimes the success of a hotel is based on setting the right expectations, and in this case Autograph feels like it is over-reaching slightly.
That said, at as little as 15,500 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, this is a steal, and cash prices can dip as low as $130. This is significantly cheaper than the other branded resorts on the island where you might be paying multiples of the nightly rate here, so you may find value in booking a cheap and cheerful option where even the standard rooms are large.
I’m confident that the hotel will develop as it does the necessary work to conform to Marriott standards – it certainly seems like a lot of upgrades are still taking place.
You can find out more, and book, on the hotel website here.
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