Economic mismanagement and a bitter 16-year civil war that ended in 1992 marred the country’s early days. But today, Mozambique is emerging as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. A booming business travel trade has been fuelled by investments in the oil and gas industries, and a new-found optimism is spreading through the tourism sector.
Mozambique’s coastal hotspots in the north and south are leading the way. On the Pemba peninsula in the north, a five-star resort, Diamonds Mequfi Beach (mequfibeach.diamondsresorts.com), opens next month. Nearby, in the Quirimbas Archipelago, Ibo Island Lodge (iboisland.com) introduces sail and safari experiences on 56ft yachts from December and next year launches a luxury villa on its private island, Mogundula.
In the south, Maputo Special Reserve is being regenerated with wildlife relocations through the Peace Parks Foundation. Within the reserve, an exclusive-use villa called Colina Verde (colinaverdemoz.com) opened last summer with wild coastal panoramas, while nearby Machangulo Beach Lodge (machangulobeachlodge.com) offers game drives and fabulous diving. New hotels are in the pipeline, including barefoot luxury Anvil Bay (anvilbay.com) launching in December.
Benguerra Island, Bazaruto Archipeilago
The newest lodge on the block is &Beyond Benguerra Island in southern Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago, which opened on June 1. My 10-minute helicopter flight from Vilanculos revealed seas of jade and turquoise with dashes of golden sandbars. I stared at the ocean, searching in vain for dugongs. They are intriguing creatures. Sailors of old believed they were mermaids, yet they look like bloated dolphins without curves or grace. Vulnerable to extinction, about 250 survive here, their only stronghold along East Africa’s coast, where &Beyond supports the island’s Dugong Emergency Protection Project.
“I was on the boat when this dugong came up and turned her face towards me,” said lodge manager Thys Taljaard. “Then she brought her flipper up as if she were waving – a special moment.”
A ghost crab in Mozambique (Photo: Alamy)
Formerly a rundown fishing lodge, & Beyond Benguerra looks set to create many special moments. Fellow guests included three honeymoon couples, and romance simply oozes from the place with its beach-chic ambience. Thirteen beachfront villas are discreetly secluded, with Portuguese-influenced interiors of exotic dark wood and cool splashes of blue. Outdoors are vast wooden decks, private pools and hanging double beds under thatch on the sand. Savouring superb seafood and fine wines, I dined with my partner on the beach with candles and starlight.
Lying within Mozambique’s first marine protected area, established in 1971, Benguerra is spectacular for diving and snorkelling, with pristine coral gardens and more than 300 species of sea creature, from yellow-backed fusiliers and parrotfish to manta rays and migrating whales. I had hoped to see dolphins during a sunset dhow cruise. Sadly, they eluded us, but expansive views of the bay and a G&T under a fireball sun were ample compensation.
Aside from marine life, the island is home to some special horses. Mandy Retzlaff’s book One Hundred and Four Horses tells of a great equine escape, when she and her husband led 104 horses from Mugabe’s land-grab regime in Zimbabwe to Vilanculos. Six of the horses now live on Benguerra, available for hacking, and I fell in love with Vumba, my trusty white steed, as we ambled along the beach. Tequila, the head of the herd, came too, rolling in the cool seawater.
About 200 bird species frequent the archipelago. Without leaving our deck, we saw a hoopoe, olive bee-eaters and an African paradise-flycatcher. And on the island’s “wild side”, so called because waves crash constantly on to the dunes, peppering the beach with driftwood, we saw six greater flamingos sauntering in a crocodile-infested freshwater lake, oblivious to danger.
A villa at &Beyond Benguerra
During our island drive, we realised Benguerra is also about people. Around 1,500 live here, eking an existence from fishing. “We asked local leaders how we could help,” explained Johan van der Merve, &Beyond’s general manager. “Their priority was a community centre where they could all come together.”
With the centre almost finished, & Beyond aims to help with other projects, including education and access to water.
Born of South Africa’s gold rush in the late 19th century and known as Lourenço Marques after a Portuguese navigator who first explored its shores in 1544, the small port town grew to become the country’s capital in 1898, stealing the title from Ilha de Moçambique. Its new-found prosperity produced rich colonial architecture and a mosaic of Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings. Many have been preserved, but others are crumbling and crying out for protection as a maze of cranes and new constructions pierce the downtown skyline.
“Mozambique’s national parks are fabulous,” said Jane Flood, a British expat living in Maputo, “but it’s this architecture that’s endangered.” She is passionate about the city, sharing her knowledge of its history and heritage on walking tours focusing on architecture.
With a relaxed Afro-Mediterranean vibe, Maputo is a melange of faded grandeur, modern glamour and urban grime. Our tour included the elegant colonial railway station full of marble pillars and wrought-iron decoration, the Art Deco Radio Mozambique building, and the modern, boat-shaped Fisheries Museum. The cathedral, glistening white with a clock tower reaching up to heaven, stands near the neoclassical town hall.
Close by, the strangely soothing Tribunal Administrativo opened last year smothered in creamy marble, a favourite motif of celebrated architect Roteiro Forjat. In the midst of these three buildings, looking to the Indian Ocean, stands an enormous statue of Samora Machel, Mozambique’s first president.
Maputo, the capital of Mozambique (Photo: Fotolia/AP)
Our second walking tour took us to Machel’s former home in Mafalala, where Ivan Laranjeira from Iverca (iverca.org), a community tourism NGO, revealed a different side to Maputo. During apartheid, this was the black part of town, and its residents still live in a maze of narrow, sandy alleyways crowded with corrugated tin-shack houses.
Home to Machel, Joachim Chissano (Mozambique’s second president) and the renowned poets Noemia de Sousa and José Craveirinha, writing and fighting for liberation, this was the birthplace of Frelimo (the Mozambique Liberation Front) and its struggle for independence. Eusebio, Mozambique’s football hero, was born here, too. In a primary school supported by Iverca, we saw murals of Mafalala’s famous citizens adorning the library walls, then watched women dancing in dramatic Tufa style and saw the humble single-storey house where Machel once lived.
It’s a far cry from the modern Presidential Palace that dominates the fashionable Avenida Julius Nyerere. This is Maputo’s Mayfair, a cosmopolitan area full of embassies, glitzy new banks and office blocks, expensive shopping malls, swanky restaurants and trendy pavement cafés. Here, the city’s top hotels all look out to the ocean: we stayed in the elegant, colonial-era Polana Serena, the grand dame of Maputo’s hotels, built in 1922.
On Avenida da Marginal, new high-rise, high-end hotels, such as the Radisson Blu and a luxurious but as yet unfinished Chinese development, dominate the skyline. Our final night was spent at the newly refurbished Southern Sun, and we sipped sundowners in its popular bar with Maputo’s beach on our doorstep.
Ilha de Moçambique
It’s hard to believe that tiny Ilha de Moçambique preceded Maputo as the country’s capital. Just two miles long and 600 yards wide, the island’s diminutive size belies its historic significance. For 400 years, this northern Mozambican island was Portuguese East Africa’s capital, a legacy of its strategic position along ancient Arab and Portuguese trading routes, with affluent gold, ivory and slave merchants frequenting its shores. This Unesco World Heritage site is dominated by the 16th-century Portuguese fort of São Sebastião. The oldest complete fort in sub-Saharan Africa, it was never conquered despite the best efforts of mighty Dutch, British and Omani flotillas.
Below the fort’s ramparts lies the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere, the Church of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. Serene and simple, it looks out to sea with whitewashed walls and glassless windows in the shape of crosses.
When I first came here five years ago, Stone Town, as the area is now known, seemed sad and sleepy, a place of faded glory imbued with an exotic concoction of Asian, African and European heritage. Reminiscent of Lamu, or Zanzibar years ago, its history of slave trade wealth seeped out of once grand buildings gradually crumbling from creeping neglect.
Today, it’s a different story. Roads are paved, street lights shine at night and charismatic buildings such as the Hospital, the Old Customs House and the Governor’s Palace, which houses the island’s fascinating museum, are all being sensitively restored.
A old Portuguese fort at Ilha de Moçambique (Photo: Alamy)
“There’s a new international airport at Nacala, about 70 miles away, and we’re planning at least two new hotels,” said Saide Amur Gimba, the island’s new mayor. “But it’s a balance between developing the area and preserving what we have. We need to keep this island special.”
Jardim dos Aloés, a new boutique b&b, is doing just that. Tucked away in a quiet back street opposite the grand white gates of the Maritime Building, its towering wooden doors lead into a pretty courtyard full of potted aloes and a huge Indian chestnut tree. Over four years, Italian Bruno Musti and his Mozambican wife, Judite, have been renovating this traditional lime and stone house, producing three beautiful, individually styled rooms with jewel-coloured fabrics, stone baths and antique furniture. Eventually, they will renovate another three and add a pool.
The couple are passionate about “slow food”, evident in their breakfasts of homemade breads, jams, quiche, yogurt and muesli. During dinner with their friends, we enjoyed prawn kebabs with avocado purée, roasted parrotfish and siri-siri (a local algae similar to spinach with coconut milk and cashews), then homemade whisky ice cream. It was the best meal of our trip.
With local guide Hafiz Juma, Bruno took us to Macuti, a stark contrast to Stone Town’s mellow vibe. About 15,000 people live in this labyrinth of reed and breeze block houses named after the thatch traditionally used for roofs. This region in southern Ilha is lower than the rest, its stones having been excavated and transported north to build the fort. We met carpenters making old-style furniture and bakers sweltering by their stone ovens.
Later, in a modern take on traditional dhow cruises, we sipped champagne on Bruno’s yacht, looking back to the indomitable fort and its tiny white church as the sun set. It was a blissful, golden moment. But I hope the Ilha doesn’t become too modern.
“Even if we renovate all the buildings, they’ll never stay the same for long because of the humidity,” Bruno said. “These houses choose their own colours. They have their own spirit. And the Ilha’s character will never fade.”
source: Philip Briggs
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