A deserted beach of purest white coral sand, a line of thatched bandas beneath swaying palms and the Indian Ocean just yards from your deck: there can be few places to stay so droolingly picture-perfect. Your idyll begins with a light aircraft hop from Dar to Mafia Island's tiny airport, followed by a bumpy jeep ride through coconut groves and rice paddies. The long, sandy track eventually ends at Ras Mbisi's high pole-and-thatch lodge, crafted entirely from coconut wood, with white cotton curtains billowing in the sea breeze.
This is a place for really kicking back, one where the pleasure lies in doing very little. The airy main lodge has an intimate vibe with cushion-strewn chill out areas and a sundowner bar hoisted above the dining area: you quickly get on intimate terms with other guests, with Michelle, Jon and their daughters, and with their three doting hounds. The craftsmanship of the lodge is faultless, the food fabulous and the beachside bandas as beautiful as any we've come across.
The design of the 8 ocean-side bandas was, we thought, simply perfect. Staggered in amongst tall coconut palms, each is linked to the main lodge by a narrow path of the purest white sand which cuts in from the beach. Like the main lodge, the polished decks, low walls and furnishings have been crafted entirely of coconut wood from the surrounding groves. Roofs of makuti thatch drop down low on either side: your intimacy is all your own even though each banda is open on 3 sides to the ocean breezes. At night the bandas are closed up by dropping down screens of white cotton: you can choose to leave them open to the ocean and the night sky.
A big deck with Planter-style chairs and deck chairs leads through to your sleeping space. This has a kingsize four-poster bed, bench seat with silk cushions, writing desk and chair, a big lockable trunk and a simple A-frame hanging rack for clothes. At the back of the banda is an airy bathroom with a rain shower, white ceramic sinks, a big mirror and plenty of surface space for spreading your toiletries around. Soap is made from virgin coconut oil and is on sale at the lodge: we returned home with masses of it for friends and family.
In keeping with the guiding eco-ethic of Ras Mbisi, a great deal of what graces your table is grown in situ or will have been locally sourced. Most meals are served in the lodge's dining room. You eat at individual tables at lunch and breakfast and at one long table for dinner: just ask if you prefer to eat alone.
Breakfast gets going early: you naturally tend to slip into an 'early to bed, early rise' routine. Expect a lavish spread of fresh juice and fruit salad, homemade Greek-style yoghurt and freshly baked bread and Danish pastries, pancakes with maple syrup and cereals, as well as a full cooked breakfast. Eggs come fresh from the lodge's own hens.
After such a huge breakfast, lunches follow a light formula: some kind of seafood salad or a light pasta or noodle dish followed by fruit salad and homemade cake.
Both the dinners we had were simply excellent. You'll probably first gravitate to the sundowner bar where snacks and a range of exotic cocktails are on offer. Our first meal began with really scrummy crab samosas which were followed by mchuzi, a Swahili fish stew made with coconut and tomato. The following night our starter was a homemade liver paté and our main course an excellent seafood lasagne. Deserts were memorable, too: an Eton Mess variant made with passion fruit, and a wicked chocolate pudding cake which was served with a mango coulis. It was obvious that Michelle had got the whole food number very well sussed.
There was a smallish, really generously priced wine menu: 6 red, 6 white, 1 rosé – a mix of South African, Spanish, French and Chilean - plus red & white house carafes, and Rosé or Brut Cava.
When to go?
Any time between mid-June and September is a perfect time to visit: you know the weather will be warm and dry and the island is looking at its lushest after the spring rains. From December through to February winds pick up and you can expect to see quite a bit of seaweed on that otherwise pristine sweep of white sand, but it's still very pleasant and whale shark season is October to March. The lodge closes during the wettest period of the year, normally from the end of March to some time in May.
Activities on site or nearby include: