ACHOLA ROSARIO’S NEW YEAR SPECIAL – A VISIT TO THE VISIWA BEACH RESORT
By Achola Rosario, Contributing Editor of ATCNews
(Posted 02nd January 2021)
Elemental is a word used to describe forces of nature that are usually deceptively simple in their camouflage. They move about the globe in a manner that is both unobtrusive but commanding enough to attract attention and patronage. One such person is the creator of Visiwa Beach Resort in Watamu, Corinne Magni from Italy and her life partner, internationally renowned Chef Mauricio Marino, who according to the Prague Tribune, initially wanted to become a gynecologist.
A pocket-sized blonde with flashing lime green eyes, Corinne personally designed this large airy hotel, perched on the edge of Watamu beach’s 7 islands, one of which, Love Island, is apparently well known on TripAdvisor and has attracted many international visitors to the area. The building itself is a perforated rectangle, where the wind is allowed to channel through the indoor pool beneath the staircase, circulating around the open plan restaurant Amici Miei (My Friends).
Patrons puff on cigarettes Italian-style without worry of affecting the non-smoking patrons, as the air is constantly renewed by the vigorous ocean breeze. There is no front door and the reception is also open to the elements. Straight lines, pure white walls and directors’ chairs with accents of Prussian blue cushions, punctured tin table mats and standing lamps, and waving palms in large clay pots, give the lower level of the hotel a sharp Mediterranean feel, along with the trapeze outdoor pool flanked by a rope-faced beach bar, and plenty of sunbeds. A contrast to the Bauhaus Minimalism in the rooms upstairs.
As you climb up the warm local hardwood suspended staircase, which allows an uninterrupted view of the indoor infinity pool below that changes color at night, you get to a room with a sign that declares the importance of health, as well as the hygiene measures taken by the hotel for each room. The door opens to a lushly tactile concrete screed and glass bathroom on the left and a pure white bedroom ahead with a raised concrete slab for a bed, with a mattress so soft as to wonder if it was made of feathers. The pillows and duvet were definitely duck down feathers. The overall feeling was one of strong soft security as you slept. A large painting of a young deadlocked African maiden in full jeweled regalia that dominated the headboard wall, reminded me of me, as we had pretty much the same hairstyle and jewelry. Not that I am a maiden but we will skip that part…
The balcony offered a wooden table and director’s chair, as well as another white cushioned concrete slab on which to lounge as you take in the glorious sunset that changes the room color from white to dusky pink to amber, and caresses the garden below with gold. Those of you who like air-conditioning will be delighted to know that the air-cons here were imported directly from Italy and have that ergonomic hum that is unobtrusively effective. Be careful of the overhead fan though, it can get rather enthusiastic and those metal blades look quite lethal.
My love for sashimi is what initially endeared me to this place, when I was on a recce mission during my previous visit to Watamu, and it did not disappoint once again during this particular stay. Pure tuna sashimi served with soy sauce and wasabi and a few slices of rye bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, was such a revelation on my tongue that I had to come back for more. It is a $10 starter but the portions are large and the flavor satisfying enough to qualify as an entrée if all you are after is a taste sensation. However, because Chef Mauricio has owned 3 restaurants in Italy and Prague in the Czech Republic, one of which, La Vita Bella, was frequented by none other than Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and various famous European footballers, it would be an insult not to try more. I went for the $9.50 Pizza Capricciosa because I was on a budget, but the size of the pizza as well as the fresh, not tinned, large fleshy artichokes, mushrooms, capers, Parma ham and lashings of mozzarella made it more than worth it. I ate it for dinner and for breakfast. Along with a perfectly flaky croissant with ham ricotta and tomato slices. Don’t blame me, I was hungry. Also, Hammatony H. the waiter needs a raise for his ever-smiling fleet-footed ways.
Amici Miei restaurant was initially at a different location in Watamu, Corinne and Mauricio have been in Kenya for 13 years and in Watamu for 6 years. They built up a clientele so loyal, that when they finally built and opened Visiwa Beach Resort in December 2019 and relocated the restaurant there, their clients followed them and religiously come to eat here every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tanned and bronzed, brash and loud, the local Italian residents come here to touch base with each other and trade local gossip, amidst good food, caviar, red wine and endless bottles of Prosecco. Meals linger here and non-residents also come to partake of the slice of Italian glamour being offered. The artwork above the bar and in the reception are by a reclusive Italian artist who Corinne was reluctant to name, who also did the artwork for Malindi airport.
Dignified by contrasting African majesty with European props, each photographic portrait is endowed with a sense of revisionist history, placing the African in the global context of history. The painted portraits of the dreadlocked maiden in my room and of other Masai bejeweled youth in the upstairs bedrooms were done by Dominico Di Genni, who used to live in Kenya and now lives in Italy with his Kenyan family.
Later, as I followed Safi, a deep voiced Rastaman who camouflages his kind heart with a straight face, from Visiwa down the beach to his little seafood restaurant on my last day, we commiserated on the state of the local economy due to the COVID lockdown, as at the time the president was contemplating another locking of county borders. But the feast of grilled lobster, kalamari, prawns and fish that was spread before me as I arrived drove all thoughts of doom and gloom from my head and for one perfectly gluttonous moment, the aura was pink and the palms fronts decorating the restaurant shade on the edge of the clear water shimmied their appreciation on my behalf. The video below will prove that I am not exaggerating. If I was so inclined, I would think Visiwa Beach resort and also neighboring Safi’s Ocean Breeze restaurant, would be perfect for a simple beach wedding…
The Garden View rooms at Visiwa Beach Resort go for $100 bed and breakfast, while the Ocean View rooms go for $120 bed and breakfast, subject to seasonal variations. Weddings and party bookings are available so long as noise levels do not go deep into the night. Visiwa is best suited for couples, business and solo travelers.
+254 790 299 926
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To new beginnings. Happy New Year from the F.O.M.O. Travel Show and ATCNews team.