Onsea House is a homely lodge near Arusha, with commanding views across the district.
Onsea House: Our full report
Onsea House (its full name is Onsea House Country Inn and Guest Cottage is a renovated colonial-era property, with just four bedrooms. It opened as a guest house in 2006. Together with its sister property Machweo Wellness Retreat and Fine Dining, on the same plot – and a new sibling property Siringit, also near Arusha – it has a reputation for producing some of the best food in the region. The house is owned and run by the Janssens-Onsea family, from Belgium, with the very experienced cousin Axel Janssens in charge as Chef-Manager.
Onsea House has a great atmosphere – you feel as though you're a guest in someone's home, as indeed you more or less are. It is relaxed, personal and comfortable. The lodge is not overly luxurious, but has a simple understated style that gently blends African and European design.
The main house sits at the top of a steep driveway, past a foliage-swathed dry rock wall. At ground level, through wide doors opening out onto the driveway, is the downstairs bar area. This includes a pool table and a long wooden bar with bar stools. A variety of cocktails are on offer here, as well as local and international beers, a good wine list, Champagne and various spirits.
Above this is the outside roof terrace, set with tables and chairs for dining, and a sofa and loungers. From here you can look out across the Maasai steppe and on a clear day you can see Mount Meru – the views are lovely.
From the upstairs roof terrace, walk inside to the upstairs bar and lounge, with its pair of vast and comfortable sofas. Wood carvings, flower arrangements and Tingatinga paintings (the bright, naive style founded by Edward Said Tingatinga) add an African slant to the décor, while tiled floors and clean lines add a European minimalist touch.
There are two double bedrooms inside the main house, and a further two rooms in a separate cottage in gardens lower down. It is only a minute's walk to reach this separate cottage, close to Onsea House's sparkling swimming pool. However there are some quite steep and irregular stone steps to walk down here.
All four of Onsea House's bedrooms are broadly the same, though in terms of space and privacy we slightly preferred the ones in the cottage – as they have the advantage of more communal lounging space, as well as being close to the pool. That said, anyone with slight mobility problems would be best advised to stay in the main house, thus avoiding the additional stairs. In fact, Room #1 is somewhat wheelchair-adapted (one of the owners' family members uses a wheelchair and often visits).
None of Onsea's four rooms is particularly large or luxurious, but the furnishings are well made – four-poster, Swahili-style beds with mosquito nets, and wooden writing desks in each room – and each room also has bathrobes, pool towels, a digital safe and a hairdryer. The rooms don't have air-conditioning because Arusha generally has moderate temperatures throughout the year.
The en-suite bathrooms have cream floor tiles and white walls. Each has a bath and shower, a flush loo and a basin. They're quite spacious and bright, and include Gilchrist and Soames toiletries.
During our last visit, in April 2015, it became clear that the Onsea House rooms are used less and less – unless specifically requested or when sister lodge Machweo is full. The cottage rooms could do with a lick of paint, while those in Machweo are more contemporary and have beautiful furnishings and bathrooms.
One of the main reasons to stay at either Machweo or Onsea is for the food, which has made the Machweo restaurant a favourite evening spot with locals and expats. Axel has experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and he specializes in Belgian- and French-influenced food, mixed with traditional Tanzanian flavours.
Our viewOnsea House is a small and personal property. It may not have the most luxurious rooms in Arusha, but the food in the Machweo restaurant is fantastic and the overall set-up very comfy and relaxing. As a result it would be one of our favourite places to stay in the area were it not trumped by Machweo itself.
Ideal length of stay: One night if you are simply passing through Arusha and the beginning or end of your safari. However if you want a more leisurely stay you could easily spend two or three nights here.
Directions: Onsea House is located in a semi-rural setting, a 15–20-minute drive from Arusha and around 40 minutes from Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO).
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Onsea House Ltd - Dirk and Inneke Janssens-Onsea
Staff: Many of Onsea's excellent staff come from a school and orphanage supported by the business.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: One of the biggest reasons to stay at Onsea House is the food, which is prepared and cooked by the Michelin-experienced Axel, cousin to Dirk and Inneke. The food is Belgian/French-influenced, and is very tasty!
Onsea House offer a vast continental spread for breakfast. Guests can expect a range of bread, cheese, cold meat and sausage. You can also order your choice of egg-centric cooked breakfast.
Lunch is very flexible and you can request what they want depending on what is seasonally available. There is usually a choice of main courses and desserts, as well as lighter dishes and salads. We ate a delicious salad of huge, golden avocado slices with roasted carrots, spinach and sesame. The meal was deliciously light and very tasty – perfect for lunch.
Dinner is a longer and more drawn out affair that can last a few hours, with a number of courses. Guests can usually expect a soup starter, a main course, desert, cake and chocolates with coffee.
With both lunch and dinner, wines are chosen to compliment the meals. With a varied selection from South Africa, Italy and France the wines here are very good and is included at no extra charge during meals.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Wine with meals is included, but all other drinks are extra.
Further dining info: Room service is available, at no extra charge.
Attitude towards children: Children are welcome at Onsea House. The owners, who are not always there, have a young family.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions.
Special activities & services: With advance notice, babysitting can be provided from housekeeping.
Equipment: Some toys and DVDs, plus baby cots and highchairs are available.
Generally recommended for children: Yes – the lodge is informal and friendly and has a lovely swimming pool. If you're staying in Onsea House, you will also be able to use the pool at Machweo.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There is a back-up generator and inverter for Arusha's fairly frequent power cuts.
Communications: There is mobile phone reception and free wi-fi throughout most of the property, though guests are encouraged not to use their devices in public areas.
TV & radio: There is satellite TV in the downstairs bar.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Water is pumped from the local river and goes through six filters, making the water used in the kitchen completely sterile. However, bottled drinking water is provided free of charge for guests.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Onsea House has a first-aid kit on site. Four staff at Onsea and Machweo have received first-aid training. For more serious cases they are only a short drive from Arusha and a nearby hospital.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: Onsea House has a secure gate and askaris (guards) around the property day and night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers inside and outside the main areas and most staff are trained to use them.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: Limited foreign exchange can usually be arranged, but using an ATM in town is likely to be more cost-efficient.
Accepted payment on location: You can pay for your extras on checking out using US dollars Tanzanian shillings, British pounds or Euros in cash. You can also use MasterCard and Visa credits cards, with no surcharge for this service.