How would you describe Forodhani House in a nutshell?
Forodhani House on Lamu Island in Kenya is a beach house backed by the village, facing the beach and jetty at the very spot where decades ago stood a watch-post that controlled the ships and passengers entering and exiting the Lamu Archipelago. Its location is truly stunning! The house commands superb views of the arm of the Indian Ocean that separates the islands of Lamu and Manda. It towers over the dhows and their crews sliding out to the ocean or returning to the quiet waters after a night of fishing in the deep ocean. You have 270 degrees of breathtaking but peaceful views of the to and fro of boats entering and leaving the archipelago!
Your beach house is located on Lamu Island, in the Indian Ocean. What was your inspiration to open a vacation home there?
I have been dreaming about Africa from an early age. I get to travel or live in several countries in East and West Africa — Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Botswana, Algeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Kenya, of course — and found a place to renovate or build and be my ‘nyumba tamu nyumba’, home sweet home.
It’s the Swahili culture and its rich cultural mix which have led us to Lamu. It was love at first sight — we fell for the Lamu Archipelago and its communities instantly! It was about three years ago when together with the inhabitants of Shella Village we decided to build our vacation house there.
What would you describe to be the spirit of your beach house and your philosophy?
We have done our best to let our vacation guests relax and be lulled by the lapping waves of the ocean. The house is white, with round or Arabic arches which frame the sea views and the sky. I always find it magic! Palm trees, ylang-ylang trees and bougainvilleas add some wonderful colours and scents.
And because of our spectacular location, there is always a show: you suddenly see a bunch of sardines jumping, trying to escape barracudas, or dolphins swimming up the channel, a friends’ dhow sliding from one arch to the other, or a fishermen boat coming from the open sea with a load of tunas. It’s both relaxing and so interesting!
How would you describe the style of the villa interior?
We built our beach house in authentic Swahili style with the best craftsmen on the island, Ali Skanda, Mr. Mbwara and his niru artists’ team... We wanted it as a joyful celebration of their ancestral talent. The architecture features zidaka plasterwork and niches, carved and painted beams, daka porch, Arab arches and carpentry work at its finest. The quality finishes make the house one of the finest modern architectural achievement on Lamu Island.
Visiting the old city is an absolute must. What else would you recommend not to miss during your vacation?
Going to Old Town is an enjoyable walk along the beach — the area is perfectly safe to walk around day and night. During your stay, try to go to the market in the town centre at least once, and of course visit Swahili House, the Fort, the National Museum and the Donkey Sanctuary.
Lamu is classified by the UNESCO for its great cultural, historical and architectural interest. You will feel the 13 centuries of history, the complex mix of Arabic-African-Indian culture, which results in the rich Swahili culture and above all its welcoming atmosphere.
Shella is also a good spot for kite- or windsurfing. As the marine life is very rich here, snorkelling or diving on the coral reefs Manda Toto or Kinika is also great. And finally, I would also get a dhow for a wonderful sunset cruise around Manda or a day cruise around the whole archipelago. In August we also have the famous Dhow Race — it’s really beautiful.
Please tell us a bit about the activities you offer, like observing Hawksbill turtles who come to nest.
Quite often you can see turtle clutches and above all turtles babies just across the channel on Manda Island — it is really beautiful! Wildlife generally is amazing here. From September to April you can swim with dolphins and from July to December it is the best time to watch humpback and blue whales — awesome!
There is also great fishing, from small-scale fishing in the channel right in front of the house, to tuna, kingfish and the legendary swordfish, a bit further out in the ocean.
To you personally, what has been most rewarding about renting your vacation house to guests?
The friendly and close contacts we have with Lamu-Shella inhabitants and with our guests. We have had so many guests who came back to stay with us again. They, too, truly fell in love with the place and the people – that is really rewarding. We feel the same and often keep in touch to share news about the house, Shella and Lamu…