Azura hotel is a castaway fantasy: a remote retreat of luxury thatched villas on the sunny shores of Benguerra Island. Join in with island life, and help out with one of the many conservation projects, or just sit by the clear blue lagoon and watch the tide roll in and out.
Double rooms from £1103.78 ($1,390), including tax at 17 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $15.00 per person on check-out.
Rates include all meals and most drinks, butler service, a 15-minute massage when you arrive, a Landrover drive around the island, a dhow cruise at sunset, laundry and medical insurance, but not a US$15 a person National Park fee, charged at check-out.
A suggested $10 daily donation to the Rainbow fund, a registered charity, will help to support ongoing social and environmental projects in the local community.
At the hotel
Diving centre, spa, gardens, free WiFi in the bar and lounge, and a library of books and DVDs. In rooms, minibar, universal plugs and a selection of books. There’s a boutique selling swimwear, flip flops and handmade jewellery.
Our favourite rooms
With a separate DVD-stocked kids’ lounge, and an extra bed for a nanny, two-bedroomed Villa Amizade is perfect for families. For the most secluded setting, go for villa 4 or 7 – they’re the furthest from the hotel’s communal areas. If there’s a few of you, blow the budget on the Presidential Villa, a glamorous complex of three bedrooms, including a split-level master suite, a 16-metre pool and a party-friendly deck with a lounge in an octagonal treehouse.
Each villa has its own sea-facing infinity pool, with teak decking, day-bed, sunloungers and deck chairs.
Down on the beach, the spa uses local ingredients and traditions: get wrapped up in a blend of African body butters and oils, or go for a Marula oil massage.
Bring some pencils, crayons and pads along for the hotel to pass them on to the local school.
There’s a remote chance of malaria-carrying mosquitoes on Benguerra Island, so it’s best to be cautious and take some medication.
Baby cots are free, and extra beds can be added. Babysitting with hotel staff costs US$10 an hour and, ideally, should be arranged when booking. The chef will discuss dedicated meals on arrival, but younger children are asked to eat at 6.30pm.
The hotel is committed to sustainable and responsible fishing, as well as building projects to help the local community. The Rainbow Fund was used to build the island’s school, and there are plans for a clinic. It also sponsors the football team, and provides English lessons.
There may be several choices, but you can’t beat dinner in the abandoned wooden dhow (a boat), romantically lit with candles. For shade from the midday sun, have lunch under a parasol on the Gecko Deck.
Floaty maxis and elegant linens all the way.
Jelly Fish, a wood-beamed, thatched hut, is the main restaurant, but guests are encouraged to eat all over the island, and your butler will surprise you with different dining options: breakfast with your toes in the sea, a private lunch in your villa or a beach-set dinner under the stars. The modern Portuguese food uses Mozambican ingredients, and there’s plenty of fresh seafood. The chef puts on a seven-course tasting menu, as well as regular barbecues. Lunchtime picnics can be packed, too.
Star Bar is an open-sided, shaggy-fringed cabin serving colourful cocktails and wine from the owners’ estate in France. Your butler will be able to get you anything else that isn’t in your minibar (including a selection of premium wines and spirits, which cost extra).
It’s up to your butler: all meal times are arranged through them.
Jelly Fish's menu can be served in-villa between 7am and 10pm.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Azura is 14 kilometres away from mainland Mozambique, on Benguerra Island, part of the Bazaruto Archipelago, and can only be reached by air.
From Johnannesburg, fly directly to Vilanculos on Airlink (www.flyairlink.co.za) in 90 minutes, or alternatively try LAM (www.lam.co.mz). On Thursdays and Sundays, Airlink flies via Mpumalanga International airport in Nelspruit, taking passenger from bush to beach in an hour. From Vilanculos, a helicopter transfer over the sandy-bottomed lagoon to the hotel costs US$590 a person, return; there's room for up to four guests a helicopter, and anyone over the age of two must have their own seat.
The resort has a fleet of Land Rovers to take guests on inland safaris.
There’s also an airstrip behind the resort for private aeroplane charters.
Worth getting out of bed for
Scuba-dive and snorkel with the hotel’s own Padi centre, which can also arrange night dives, or go fishing – shore-based or deep sea. There may not be many cars, but it’s easy to get around on horseback, riding along the beach. Guides can be arranged to take you on tours of the island and to meet the local community. Binoculars and telescopes will come in handy: spot birds and whales, then, after dark, turn to the skies and admire the sparkling constellations.
Luxury resorts bring out the Mills-&-Boon-aphobe in Mr Smith. The more palm-fringed, coral-reefed, champagne-corked and canopy-bedded the setting, the more he exhibits a perverse delight in not falling for it. And vice versa. Once we went to Clacton-on-Sea off-season, just for the fun of it, and my mate came over all Byron and Shelley. To this day ‘let’s go to Essex’ is Mr Smith’s very un-Mills-&-Boon shorthand for you-know-what.
So it seemed to me that eco-boutique retreat Azura, on Benguerra Island off the coast of Mozambique, possessed everything necessary to bring out the romance refusenik in Mr Smith: a glittering coral coast stretching as far as the eye can see; off to the north, an ocean shaded in eighth notes of aquamarine punctuated by sandbar swirls; the island itself absolutely luscious with palms. We see all this from the six-seat Eurocopter that ferries guests over from the international airport at Vilanculos, a 10-minute flight. (Those terrified at the prospect can opt for transfer by speedboat, a 25- to 45-minute trip or trial, depending upon sea conditions, and should, as the website quite candidly notes, ‘be prepared for a knee-deep walk through the sea.’)
Mr Smith, who has been quite grumpy since landing in Johannesburg after an all-night flight, suddenly becomes a lava lamp of touch and talk. He takes my hand, says that he feels let out of jail, begins humming Cherubino’s mi fa palpitar refrain from Figaro, and wonders, sottovoce, if one is allowed to swim naked at the resort. ‘Let’s not make that our first question, darling,’ I say, trying to bank, not douse, the M&B flame.
Azura is a work of passionate determination. The first edition was blown away by a freak storm and the second one went up in flames. Three’s a charm, right? The 16 villas are luxurious in their own right, but extraordinarily so given how far off the map this place is. There’s a deeper side to Azura, though, a vision that allies creature comforts to serious social and ecological commitment.
The entire resort was built by the islanders – and by hand, as they had but one cement mixer and one truck at their disposal. The wood used in building the property is from sustainable sources, and the hotel turned a cyclone to advantage by harvesting brawny downed trunks for supporting beams. Some of the furniture was made on-island, the jekka (shaggy roof thatch) is supplied by women the hotel set up in business, the crushed oyster shells that compose the paths behind the villas are bought from local fishermen to supplement their income, and the hotel staff is drawn from Benguerra. Azura is, in effect, a construction- and hospitality-industry vocational school, which it calls ‘a policy of uplift’.
Mr Smith, meanwhile, has abandoned all sense of neutrality. As we sip a cocktail in the lobby, he gushes about the school of beaded fish overhead (charming, but not exactly Calder) and walks over to pet the wall textured to resemble a sand dune. Someone here has a shelter-mag eye, having adeptly juxtaposed solid tribal chairs with woven beach furniture and little glass tables. It’s at this point that we are introduced to our butler (every guest gets one), who takes us to our room at the far end of the beach.
Which is extraordinary. Like all the rooms, ours is tucked away and carefully screened. It has an infinity pool stocked with an ocean view (and a bar). In the two-car bathroom is a freestanding roll-top tub and a shower area set with mosaics and coloured hanging beads. We have twin showers outside, which are only just obscured from the beach, I note, at the same time thinking of some good clean fun. Then Mr Smith lays eyes on the bed – it’s massive and sumptuous with linen, cushions, and carefully colour matched hangings in greens and golds – and rolls his eyes. Our butler smiles shyly, I blush, our Man Friday exits stage right.
But before long, he is back with a bottle of bubbly from the owner’s French vineyard. Which somehow pulls the pin on Mr Smith. ‘Off to Essex,’ he shouts and disappears into the bathroom with the bottle and two flutes. I hear the bath filling, the sound of an electric razor, that Mozart theme. Butler Smith says, ‘I am just outside,’ and vanishes, at which point I strip, walk into the bathroom and, determined to nip Mr Smith in the bud, shimmy him into the tub for some good clean fun.
Byron never had jetlag, I suspect. Two glasses along, Mr Smith goes all glassy. The tub ends up being his hammock, the bubble-bath suds his comforter. The most risqué thing we do that evening is try to learn an ancient Mozambique backgammon-style game called tchuva with another couple in the Star Bar lounge and Gekko Deck over caipirinhas.
By the next morning, Mr Smith is almost himself, meaning the old cynic, however clearly tinged with a huge crush on Azura, meaning perfect. We have breakfast on the beach, letting the gentle surf lap our toes, then take up the itinerary that the staff had suggested to us upon arrival – was that only 24 hours ago? In the morning, before the heat cascades down, we take an eco-tour of the island, and after lunch, go sailing in Bazaruto Marine National Park. That evening, we have a holding-hands dinner in the laid back restaurant, which offers international dishes with some local twists. The next day, I discover that Mr Smith has signed us up for the desert island barbecue picnic, a catered lunch, after which the staff retreats and leaves us to comfy bean chairs, a sun canopy, a cooler box – and our imaginations.