Malindi doesn’t just have a blissful climate, beautiful beaches and a brilliantly bustling vibe; it’s also got style, chic and a hot, hot, HOT nightlife. No wonder, it’s had over six centuries to perfect its exclusive take on sun, sand and scintillation.
Mentioned in one of the world’s first ever travel guides, written by traveller and historian Abu al Fida (1273-1331), Malindi has been attracting the world’s glitterati since the 13th century, when it had already established itself as the ‘go to’ resort of the East African coast. In 1414, the Chinese explorer, Zheng He, anchored his fleet off the town and such was his rapport with the locals that they gave him a giraffe as a gift. Next came Vasco da Gama in 1498. It was the first place he visited in Africa – and he liked it so much that not only did he rush back there on his return from India, but he was also very keen to sign an exclusive trading agreement with its ruling sheikh.
By 1498, Malindi was booming. It had a wealthy ruling Arabic class, a heady mix of Indian, Chinese and African merchants and markets full of hedonistic treasures. By 1499 the Portuguese had joined Malindi’s fan club, establishing a trading hub there, and by 1861 the Sultan of Zanzibar had made Malindi his slave-trading capital. By 1890, the British had taken over and abolished slavery. But everyone still wanted a piece of the magical Malindi action.
In the 1930s Malindi was in the news again, this time as the preferred haunt of writer and celebrity Ernest Hemingway, who famously drank gin at the Blue Marlin hotel and fished for marlin in the blue waters of the bay.
In the 1950s Malindi boasted a number of fashionable hotels, many of them built by Europeans returning from the war, and was the preferred holiday resort of the British colonials. And then, in 1964, a small group of Italian scientists arrived in Malindi to establish the San Marco Space Research Centre. And so enchanted were they by the intoxicating mix of sun, sea and Swahili style that most of them never left. Soon word of this enchanting Swahili town had drifted back to Italy and, throughout the 1970s, the Italians flocked to the place (swiftly followed by the rest of the fashionistas of Europe). The Italians, however, liked Malindi so much that they christened it ‘Little Italy in Africa’ and today 30,000 Italian tourists visit the town per annum, 1,500 Italians live there permanently, there are over 50 Italian owned hotels and resorts in the place, and it is regularly visited by Italian billionaires, beauties, celebrities and politicians alike.
It even has its own Italian Consulate.
So no wonder then, that the pizzas in Malindi are the finest you can get outside of Italy, that the streets are studded with superb Italian restaurants, that the prosecco starts popping late morning, that the gelati are as good as you’ll get outside Rome; and that the style on the street is Malindi meets Milan.