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    Dhow House Lamu Island, Kenya Africa & Luxury Lamu Beach House

    Dhow House is a spectacular beach house combining both traditional Swahili and modern design. The Dhow House is an oasis of calm, sitting between the Indian Ocean and timeless sand dunes set back in 3 acres of gardens; a hidden treasure offering maximum privacy. The circuitous journey to Dhow House, a spectacular – beach private villa on the Kenyan island of Lamu, is all part of its charm. First there’s the one-and- a-half-hour flight from Nairobi, which delivers a glimpse of the Lamu archipelago, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel and pro­tected from the Indian Ocean by dunes and coral reefs. Upon landing, it’s an­­other ride—this one by boat and 20 minutes long—past lateen-sailed dhows and into the shallows surrounding Shela village. But after all that, throw off everything but your shorts, caftan, or bikini, and voilá. You’ve arrived at possibly the chicest beach house in Africa. "Finding Lamu Island is like waking from a sublime dream and realizing it was true and Dhow House has that kind of impact," says Dhow House’s owner, Brit­ish photography agent Katy Barker, who built the property with French architect Laurent Buttazoni. "It needed to feel open, spacious, and, above all, sexy, like it belonged to me and wasn’t just another rental." The seven-bedroom house is indeed generously proportioned, comfortably accommodating 14 people, and as such it has been much in demand, with past guests like singer Marianne Faithfull and actress Gillian Ander­son.

    The airy, sunshine-flooded rooms, which were created with cement using an old Swahili method, open onto a large blue-and-black checkerboard–tiled pool and lush three-acre gardens. These are stuffed with palm trees, hibiscus, and flat-topped acacias; Barker’s giant tortoise resides there and a tamarind tree produces the fruit, from which fresh juice is made every morning, The main feature of the thatched-roof outdoor living area is a sunken sofa stuffed with pillows—ideal for lounging. And throughout the house tasteful accents (that perfect antique Persian chair, an Indian Mogul painting here and there) reflect not only Barker’s eclectic style but also Lamu’s exotic past. A 14th-century Swahili settlement, the island eventually attracted Por­tu­guese explor­ers, Turkish traders, and Omani Arabs, and each group left its mark. Today Lamu retains a slow, re­­laxed pace, the manner of its people so charm­ing and the lob­ster so fresh, devotees easily forgive the occasionally lackadaisical service and the dearth of contemporary cui­sine. They come to enjoy the sea breeze, not air-conditioning, after all, and to read and read and read, sipping fresh coconut milk as they laze away the beachfront hours. Expect five star services with a full staff of seven, a beautifully lush landscaped garden and a swimming pool. Situated on the Island of Lamu in Kenya, Dhow House is encompassed by the village of Shela, which is a destination in its own right.

    Traditional stone houses, winding paths, mosques and ancient ruins surrounding a central square all create an authentic African experience. The traditional way of life is still observed in the village with local villagers hawking their wares and local produce from small stalls and shops alongside fish and lobster caught daily by the fishermen and then sold to the house. Traditional Arab sailing dhows travel between Lamu Town and Shela as well as neighboring islands. Described by The Times as being at the 'top of the food chain' when it comes to Lamu property options, and recommended by everyone from Conde Nast to Harpers Bazaar, Dhow House Lamu Island is a three story beach house frequented by, among others, Tracy Emin, Marianne Faithful and Paul Allen. Completed in 2004 by London based photographic agent Katy Barker, Dhow House is located in Shela Village, overlooks the sea, and is - in this, an island filled with architectural wonders - in itself, an extraordinary build. Set in well thought out gardens and fronted by a beautifully designed pool, its whitewashed exterior is dominated by a charmingly leftfield turret, and the approach is broken up by a Romanesque outbuilding.

    Dhow House caters for up to 12 guests, has a staff of 7, and consists of 8 bedrooms, a dining room, lounge and a number of spacious terraces. Design-wise, the effect is extraordinary: stone floors, ornately carved furniture, sunken seating areas, shuttered openings, carefully chosen pieces of art...all of which are placed or positioned in such a way as to never seem cluttered, and are designed to make maximum use of Lamu's light. Similar only in so much as they are en-suite, possess large handmade beds and are furnished with the same eye for space as are the shared rooms, the bedrooms are quite different from each other. With one master bedroom, three double rooms and three twins, Dhow House caters for all types of groups, including families. Inspired as much by the location - the sea, the people, the island's history - as she is by the sensibilities of European interior design, Katy Barker has created a home whose parts are equal to the whole. Activities include swimming at Shela beach, dhow trips, snorkeling, cultural visits and lazing about the pool. Please note that the swimming beach is a 5 minute boat ride away - it can be accessed by foot as well - and that the beach from which the house takes its name is a public beach, and one used almost entirely for the building of dhows. It is a working beach and not one, therefore, used by guests for the purposes of swimming / sunbathing.

    Lamu Island Information

    Lamu Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kenya. The white sand beaches, cobalt waters, the scent of the tropics, warm weather and the majestic architecture of the stone houses and galleries are the key attractions of Lamu Island, the Lamu Island consists of Lamu Old Town, Lamu Island and Lamu archipelago. If you visit, you should try to visit all three. The archipelago is a chain of seven islands and a multitude of islets, separated from the mainland at its narrowest part by a channel just a few meters wide. Dense mangrove forests fringe the mainland and the inland sides of the islands, while the seaward sides are protected by reefs and lined with dunes. Throughout the Lamu archipelago, there are numerous historical sites; visible and tangible evidence of ten centuries of a colorful and often rich cultural past. Most of these settlements are Arab in origin and started as small trading stations. As these small colonies grew, they absorbed much from the local people and a distinct Afro-Arab culture emerged.

    This culture, which came to be known as Swahili, today, dominates not only Lamu but also the urban centers of Mombasa and Malindi, and its language has become the principal Lingua Franca of East and Central Africa. The beach on Lamu Island is 12 kilometers of empty sands backing on to an ocean unprotected by a reef, and therefore livelier and more powerful than you find elsewhere in Kenya. But no one comes to Lamu only for the beach. The town is now well known, a delightful anachronism carrying on its daily life as it has done for centuries so that the visitor has a science fiction experience of being transported back through time. Settlement dates back to the 14th century and by the 19th century Lamu was a flourishing trading community. But labor emigration and a fall in the value of its exports brought, in the early days of the 20th century, an end to its heyday. There are still many manifestations of the elegant, refined life led by the richer folk in past eras. If you can be shown the interiors of some of the grander mansions, from the outside appearing both formidable and similar, you will find enormously intricate plasterwork unknown in the rest of Islam. The architecture is admirably suited to the climate - a series of open plan galleries almost always without doors, and interior courtyards open to the sky, which ensure shade and calm against the tropical sun. The town is crowded with houses and people, the streets so narrow that you can shake hands with your neighbor in the house opposite.

    The main street, Ndia Kuu, is lined on either side with shops and workshops, each no more than a room stretching from the street to the living areas behind. Here you will find carpenters and herbalists, jewelers and grocers, coffee houses and cooks preparing the local equivalent of Turkish Delight called halva - stirred in huge copper cauldrons, and even a factory, using Dickesian machines, which makes local spaghetti, known as tambi, and coconut oil used for cooking by the townsfolk and for sun tanning by visitors. In the center of town stands the fort. Built for Omani invaders around 1812 it later became a prison, and is now a cultural center operated through the museum. The Lamu museum itself is on the waterfront, occupying a house once the home and office of colonial district commissioners. Before that, it had housed Queen Victoria's consul - one Captain Jack Haggard, brother of the more celebrated author of King Solomon's Mines. This museum is a small gem, housing a collection of Swahili artifacts, jewelry and crafts unequalled anywhere else.

    The two most import ant items in its collection are the Siwa - ceremonial horns; one, made of ivory, belonged to a former sultan of Pate (an island in the archipelago) the other is from Lamu itself. As befits a maritime community the museum houses a collection of sea going vessels and marine tackle and there is a wonderful model of the rope sewn vessel known as mtepe. A 45-minute walk from the town (or 15 minutes by motor boat) brings you to the sleepy village of Shela. This is where the beach begins and the complexities of life end. Even the beach is simple, just a 12 kilometers swathe of shining sand lapped by a balmy sea. To sail the archipelago is to discover. Beautiful beaches, glorious seascapes, ancient ruins, fishing and scuba refuges. For Desert Island lovers there are remote hideaways at Kiwayu Island and on Manda Island which are the ultimate in getting away 'from it all. From these havens it is possible to visit the wildlife sanctuary at Dodori or the beautiful Kiunga Marine National Reserve.

    Shela Village Information

    Lamu is Kenya's oldest living town, a Unesco World Heritage Site. In its heyday it was one of the great trading posts of the Indian Ocean, a magnet for the ocean-going dhows of Arabia that would arrive every winter, running before the southbound monsoon, laden with cargoes of dates and carpets and brass-bound chests. There they would wait until March, when the northbound kusi would set in, blowing them home with all the plunder of Africa – slaves and concubines, ivory, rhino horn, myrrh and turtle shells. The glory days are long past. The dhow trade ended in the 1970s and Lamu sank into genteel decay until tourism prodded it back to life. The island has always attracted more than its share of drifters and dropouts, idealists and romantics seeking a refuge from the madness of the outside world, hence its raffish reputation. Even so, it's hard to see why Lamu – a traffic-free mixture of Kathmandu street cred and St Trop glamour – should have evolved from a 1960s hippie hangout to a must-see bolt hole for the footloose rich. After all, this is still a devoutly Muslim island with a dress code that requires decorum and 30 mosques calling the faithful to prayer five times a day. Its young men may wear Man United T-shirts, but women remain shrouded in black buibuis that reveal no more than a flash of almond eyes. Lamu Old Town is the island capital, but Shela is the place to stay, a waterfront village a mile down the coast, where the beach begins at the stone steps of Peponi and trade winds cool the sun's blowtorch heat. Peponi – its Swahili name means " the wind blows" – is simply the most romantic beach hotel in Africa. In the mornings, bee-eaters call from the poolside baobabs and the air is scented with frangipani; in the evenings, when fruit bats flit through the lamplit dusk, you wrap yourself in your best kikoi and stroll down to the restaurant, to dine barefoot on the terrace, feasting on drunken prawns and tuna carpaccio while the moon beats a silver path across the water. Shela itself is a surprising choice for the A list. Its shoulder-wide alleys are scattered with donkey droppings, but that hasn't stopped rich Brits and others from snapping up its crumbling coral houses. Princess Caroline of Monaco and her third husband, Prince Ernst August of Hanover, own three villas and a three-storey beach house here, but the Dhow House, owned by the London photographic agent Katy Barker, is top of the Lamu food chain. From its whitewashed tower, you look down through the coconut palms and tamarind trees to a yard where fishing dhows are still built with biblical tools – the adze and the bow drill – and no blueprint but the shipwright's keen eye, as they were in the age of Sinbad. Behind the waterfront, tucked away in the dusty back alleys, are swanky boutiques that would not look out of place in London's West End., visit Aladdin's cave of ethnic beadwork, and Amani sells Anna Trzebinski's fashion accessories. Here you will also find Baitil Aman – the House of Peace – an 18th-century Swahili palace built for a bride and now lovingly restored as a simple guesthouse. Its eight self-contained rooms overlook a central courtyard and are lit by brass lanterns. Even if you don't stay here, you must treat yourself to a rooftop dinner, eating fish curry under the stars. Curry is also on the menu at Kizingo, a few miles down the coast at the other end of the island. To get there, book a speedboat, thumping down the mangrove channel between Lamu and the mainland. The place is the dream-come-true of Mary Jo and Louis Van Aardt, a Kenyan-born coffee-farming couple. Four years ago they leased a slice of beachfront land from the local chief and, using only local materials (mangrove poles and makuti thatch), built the most laid-back lodge on the island. But be warned. Kizingo's insidious charm is addictive. A few days here, exploring the sand hills or perfecting the art of snoozing in a hammock, and you could end up beached on Lamu for good.

    Lamu Island Main Attractions

    Lamu Island can be best explored by dhow, which is a traditional Arab sailing vessel. Dhow trips are cheap and they offer the ultimate experience. Shela Beach located on the north end of Lamu is the most beautiful white sand beach. Shela Beach is renowned for the Friday Mosque also. Shela is an important tourism hub on the island. Numerous guest houses can be found here. Matondani is another popular village in Lamu Island. Surrounded by mangrove trees, the village is famous for building and repairing dhows. Lamu Museum is a must see place. It was built in 1891 and was served as the residence of the British Governors in the colonial era. The museum gives you a glimpse of the rich Swahili culture. Lamu Island is the best place to relax and explore the beauty of nature. You can wade in to the clear waters, stroll in soft white sands, collect tiny sea shells and enjoy snorkeling opportunities. Lamu Island remains unpolluted, as motor vehicles are not allowed here. You can find many seafront restaurants in Lamu Town that serves delectable seafood at affordable prices. You can try the crab soup or garlic crab at the Seafront Café. In the streets, you can find young boys selling yummy samosas. Lamu Archipelago offers a range of accommodation options, from luxurious hotel in Shela village, private houses to guest houses and budget hotels. You can find some bars in the Lamu town where you can get beer for cheap prices. Dhow excursions along with overnight camping are available in Lamu Island. The dhows are equipped with a camping shower, kitchenette, snorkeling equipment, first aid kit and beach towels. Dhow excursions offer you a chance to relish dinner under the stars

    How to get to Lamu Island

    Lamu is the name given to both the town and the island and you will soon find that nothing much happens here in a hurry. There are no cars - only boats and donkeys.

    Founded in the fourteenth century, Lamu is the oldest surviving Swahili town in Kenya, which explains why the streets are only wide enough for donkeys and pedestrians.

    The best way to get to know this place is to take a two-hour guided walking tour. This will take you past some of the many shops in town that sell intricate handicrafts - from small wooden boxes to traditional Swahili doors made only in Lamu, which take two months to complete. When you have had enough of walking, a great way to see the rest of the island is on the back of one of the 3,000 donkeys on the island. Alternatively, you could take a Dhow, which is a small boat easily identified by its triangular sail and single mast. If you are into water sports, sailboards can also be hired from Shela Beach in Lamu Township. If you find yourself a bit peckish, the waterfront in Lamu is littered with cafes and restaurants, each selling the catch of the day. To wash it all down, the best place to find cold beer is at Petley's Inn, the oldest hotel in Kenya. Lamu Island is part of the Lamu Archipelago that can be reached by air from Nairobi or Mombasa. The airport is located on an island near a village that necessitates a short boat or ferry ride. Bus services are also available from Mombasa to Lamu. It takes 5 to 7 hour to the island by road. Lamu is way up north on the border with Somalia - it will take approximately 9 hours by bus from Mombasa to the little ferry port and then the dhow taxi's take about 45 minutes to Lamu town main jetty.

    Alternatively fly to Nairobi and then fly up to Lamu - safari link or Fly540 (both can be booked from here) - have regular flights. October to March is a good time for Lamu as the waters have cleared and the sea's are calm so you can go snorkeling (from a dhow) as well as sailing and scuba diving. Hire a dhow and captain for a day (or even longer to explore the islands further north - speak to Rachel) to explorer the Lamu Archipelago. Most places close for April through to June and then reopen at the beginning of July - the waters are still quite silty then from the various rivers and only start to clear in October. If you are a group there are loads of private villa's and apartments to rent in Shela Village.

    Lamu Dhows

    Lamu Island part of an archipelago with the same name made of Lamu, Manda, Manda Toto, Pate and Kiwayu. Lamu Island is a place to rest and relax where “escape from it all” has that meaning. On holiday to Lamu, you have an opportunity to immerse yourself in medieval peace that is only punctuated by the braying of donkeys. The Dhow has been described as the most graceful of sailing vessels. This is the vessel which, for centuries, plied the western trading routes of the Indian Ocean. It was the prime mover in commercial links between Asia and Africa. The first written account of dhows was made in the Greek book, 'Periplus of the Eritrean Sea' (also called Periplus of the Red Sea) believed to have been written in the mid 1st century. But before its publication, the boats were a common feature in the western ports of Indian Ocean and those of the Red Sea. Indeed, it is said that when Vasco da Gama arrived at Matondoni Island, the pristine tourist site better known for its historic sites, he found a people who believed that they were cursed into making a living from the sea. They were expert canoe and dhow makers. The sailor, it is said, fell in love with these people’s creation - the dhow. Six centuries later, a fellow European, Marco Bruno from Italy, left his country in 1965 to settle in Lamu. Like da Gama before him, he was as awe-struck by the dhows. At the launch of the dhow, Utamaduni, commissioned by his son Marco Brighetti in 1994 he said, "This is the biggest moment of my life. I have always liked dhows. With something like this you can cruise along the entire Kenyan coast." While the Utamaduni was certainly not meant for maritime commercial ventures between the Persian Gulf and East Africa, its commissioning illustrated the love that some people attach to the dhow.

    The Kenyan dhow evolved from dau la mtepe (a dugout boat with matting sails) which was replaced two centuries ago by dau la misumari. Besides the use of nails in their construction, these boats had cloth sails and masts which were introduced from the Persian Gulf. In the 1870s, traveller G.L. Sullivan wrote the book, 'Dhow Chasing', in which he described the mtepe dhow thus: "The mtepe is the most remarkable and primitive of these vessels that can be seen anywhere. They are large barges built with strips of the bark of a tree sewn close together with thongs of hide and rudely caulked with rags of cotton." The mtepe was built by the Bajuni of Pate island while the jahazi, its bigger version, was built at Matondoni island. Blown by the seasonal monsoon winds, these wooden craft in their heyday carried exotic cargoes of dates, Arab chests, carpets and spices from Arabia and India to the ports of East Africa. When the winds changed direction the fleet returned to the Persian Gulf ports with mangrove poles, cereals, gold, ivory and - during the era of Arab slave trade - slaves. The arrival of the Arabian dhow fleet at the Kenyan coast between January and April caused a flurry of activity in Mombasa. Elderly residents still recall the excitement as Arab seamen, in flowing white robes, toured the narrow streets of the Old Port announcing the arrival of their goods. Dates were sold or used for barter. Salt from Aden and Berbera was another popular commodity. Other exotic cargoes included Arab chests, carved or studded with brass, coffee pots, copper trays, carpets, curved Arab daggers from Muscat, Mangalore tiles from India, figs, almonds and dried or salted fish. Of course smuggling of ivory, gold and illegal drugs was a lucrative occupation for many dhow crews. One craft is said to have arrived in Mombasa carrying cheap earthenware pots. For apparently worthless goods they were snapped up quickly. The pots, it transpired, contained opium!

    Dhow House Lamu Information

    We specialize in deluxe vacation rental homes in gorgeous locations all over Lamu Island. Let us help find a superb Lamu house rental for you, or perhaps you'd prefer a luxury villa in Lamu, or a five star hotel Lamu. We provide the ultimate luxury in private vacation home rentals and enhance your stay with professional personal concierge services. We have luxury homes for rent in Lamu Island: in places like Manda Island, Kiwayu Island or Shela Village. Our island rental homes fit a wide range of budgets. We also have many vacation rental condos in Pate Island, Lamu, Our exquisite beach properties offer breathtaking ocean views, gorgeous beachfront locations, and the finest amenities that include swimming pools, spas and close proximity to beaches, water sports, night life, shopping, and world-class dining. In Lamu Island there is always something fun and exciting for everyone in your party even if it's "just" relaxing by the pool. Let us fulfill your favorite vacation wishes, Relax on sparkling white sand beaches with crystal clear water, and enjoy dazzling sunsets. Our Lamu luxury vacation rentals are ideal for family vacations, corporate retreats, family reunions, and just getting away from it all. Lamu Island Reservation Center is dedicated to creating the perfect tropical vacation for you. Lamu Island is both favorite destinations for many travelers with a high percentage of guests returning every year. Let our Lamu island specialists do your research using their in depth knowledge to help you plan your luxury vacation. We promise NO SURPRISES! We will help you create your own custom all inclusive vacation packages in one of our outstanding vacation rental villas or condos. We will assist with arrangements for anything, from private sailing excursions to sunset cruises, from baby needs to corporate events, from a dinner for two to a party for one hundred, heavenly spa treatments, and the list goes on. We will arrange for even reserve an accomplished personal chef to prepare delicious meals catering to any desire or dietary need in the privacy of your dream vacation home. Our top luxury villas include a local concierge on island during your vacation.

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