Nature is complex, beautiful, and fascinating. Human creativity consciously or sub-consciously draws a lot of inspiration from nature. In fact, modern science has embraced bio-mimicry: a practice where innovation mimics solutions already available in nature. And this is not new. Man’s quest to take to the skies was inspired by what nature had, for millennia, already innovated in birds, bats and flying insects.
In our quest to create spaces that are as fascinating as they are homely, we too have oft times drawn inspiration from nature, culture and history. Every Serena Hotel, lodge, Resort or Camp is built in such a way that it not only compliments the environment but also reflects the culture of the people.
Serena Beach Resort & Spa is no exception. Set in the Coastal town of Mombasa, the resort borrows from the Swahili culture of the people of East African Coast. Like many other aspects of the Swahili culture, the architecture is heavily influenced by the Arabs, Indians and other cultures that visited the coast. However, the Swahili architecture has evolved over the years to reflect the tastes and the evolving needs of East Africans. This has resulted in a striking and original mixture of mud and stone (mainly uncut coral), flat-thatched roofs with sophisticated decoration and finish.
One of the greatest attractions at the Kenyan coast is the remnants of early settlements. Manda Island remains host to the oldest ruined Swahili town known to man. More flamboyant than Manda, though, and established in the 13th Century, is Lamu town. In the same spirit, Serena Beach resort and Spa is designed to resemble a small, traditional town with narrow winding streets, a shady market place and a few public buildings, framed by palm trees and overlooking the blue green Indian Ocean.
A common feature in the hotel’s details is a traditional Swahili motif with a central niche which is evident on the fountain and around soap dishes in the bathrooms. This motif is believed to be a heavily stylized representation of a turtle which are still found off Kenya’s shores (Serena Beach resort and Spa runs a Turtle Hatchery with the aim of conserving turtles by ensuring they get to hatch and make it safely back into the ocean).
The main door to the hotel is a replica of a famous door carved by well-known Swahili poet and carpenter Mohamed Kijuma of Lamu. In fact, the replica at Serena was carved by Kijuma’s grandson Abdulla Ali Skanda. The rooms have little balconies on which occupants relax, as is custom of the Swahili. Ornamental frames around mirrors and exquisite arches over bathroom doors tell of the artistic splendor that adorned Swahili homesteads. Everything within the guest rooms – the bed, the carved, hanging lamps and roof beams – is decorated exactly as the Swahilis would.
Borrowing from the Islamic influence, Serena Beach Resort and Spa has a huge tower which houses a hairdressing Salon and a water tank, much like a mosque would. Descending from the dining room and the main buildings is the swimming pool where stands a little conical tower which is a replica of the towers found throughout the Mombasa Island and which are believed to have been used for look-out, graves or some sort of architectural folly. Also around the pool stand several tall, slender towers; minarets. Minarets are tall slender towers attached to a mosque and are furnished with one or more balconies and originally served as illuminated watchtowers.
The main Bar (Nyota Bar) at the right of the top of the staircase is designed like dhow with the bar counter being the hull with an authentic canvas sail rising above and capstans serve as bar stools. Beyond the bar and to the right is the dining area build around a central courtyard with a foundation.
The Swahili cultural influence doesn’t end with the architecture. Drawn up on the shoreline, just yards away from the breaking waves and built to resemble a Swahili Dhow complete with sanded decks, painted prow, roped capstans, lashed sails and kanga-decked tables, is the Jahazi Grill which specializes in freshly caught seafood and other delicacies for one to enjoy lunch and dinner. Whereas upstairs deck has a formal floor, downstairs floor is a continuation of the sand beach with a bar serving cocktail and preferred drinks. The service crew is also dressed in sailors’ attire and ready to serve you.
Apart from the sea food, Serena Beach Resort and Spa menu contains several local delicacies loved and perfected by the Swahili for millennia. Some of these are unique to the coastal settlers and others are well known delicacies across the country. Some of the Swahili inspired dishes that you can you can look forward to include Chicken Biriani, Fish Coconut Masala, Chapatis, Fried Cassava, Mchicha, Swahili marinated beff Kebabs and many more.
Serena Beach Resort and Spa is not Lamu town or Gedi or Jumba la Mtwana, but it’s architecture and design will give you an eye for detail and insight into Swahili culture that will enable you to know what to look for on your visit to these historic places and to truly appreciate them. But even if you never set foot outside the hotel grounds, you will have experienced something of the real atmosphere, the timelessness and the serenity of a traditional Swahili town.