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Lamu, Kenya: envy those who call it "home"

Every July we get a little excited. We feel slightly more luxurious. And a tad more exotic. And we try to imagine: if we called this blue, green and watery place home, would "exotic" still exist in our vocabulary?

It's Architectural Digest's "Exotic" issue. Below, "Swahili Time."

This is the home of Robert Peugeot, vice president of a company within his family’s French automobile empire, and his wife, Domitilla. Designer E. Claudio Modola, Italian but Swahili-transport for parts of the year, navigated the "composite of many styles" that is the island of Lamu for the Peugeot's. “The Arabs and Persians left something, the Indians left something, and the Europeans left something,” says Modola.

The island of Lamu, on the Kenyan coast, graciously welcomes tourists, but it’s not a tourist destination in the conventional sense of that phrase. Most of the island’s narrow streets aren’t wide enough to accommodate cars, and as a result there aren’t really any to be found; transportation options in Lamu Town—a 14th-century Swahili settlement and redoubt of African Islamic culture that has changed little since its emergence—are basically limited to donkeys (which are found in abundance) and one’s own two feet. Hotels and guesthouses are packed with travelers who must endure frequent power outages, typically choosing to wait them out with a good-natured smile and a cold drink from furnished rooftops where sunsets dazzle and merciful breezes blow in from the Manda channel.

Nearby is the tiny village of Shela, itself a getaway from the getaway that is Lamu Town. Among other things, Shela is renowned for its long, calm stretch of white-sand beach; its central mosque, an exemplar of Swahili architecture that dates from the 17th century; and the Peponi Hotel, which opened in 1967 and whose bar has become the village’s undisputed, if unofficial, center of activity, especially for a sizable population of part-time and full-time European expatriates.

It became the place to go when they needed to escape. “At night, with the right light, you have the impression that the entire village is looking at you rather than you looking at the village."

Read the online article accompanying these photos on architecturaldigest.com >>

Also included in the issue: Bali, Acapulco, Bahamas, Athens, India, Singapore, Israel, Kenya, Istanbul

[images © Architectural Digest]

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