There are very few tropical island retreats which actually live up to the fantasy of being the “perfect” beach getaway – you know the idea: soft white sand meets perfectly turquoise ocean with gently swaying palm trees and beautifully setting sun as a backcloth… However, on Benguerra island in Mozambique, in the heart of the Bazaruto marine reserve, Azura comes exceptionally close to actually outclassing the fantasy.
An eco retreat in every sense of the word, with a deep underlying commitment to the island’s environment and its indigenous communities, Azura lies spread out on a languidly long stretch of Benguerra’s west coast on an impossibly pristine powdery beach lapped by the permanently tepid waters of the Indian Ocean, with obligatory palms dotting the beachfront and some truly breathtaking sunsets.
And in very best telemarketing tradition: “But wait… there’s more!” A whole lot more, in fact! It would be very easy to just build a cluster of charming beachfront cabins and let the incredible beauty of the island do the job to keep guests satisfied, but the Azura team decided that in order to get the very best out of what mother nature has provided on Benguerra, you need to incorporate it as much into the architecture as possible, and just add spadeloads of luxury and contemporary organic styling to put a capital A and N in “Au Naturale”.
The result is quite simply breathtaking, with 16 of the most outstanding beach villas I have ever come across in all my years of travelling. Taking the best of what the safari circuit has to offer and adapting it for the beach was step one, with much of the style and feel of Azura borrowed from some of Africa’s top game lodges. Think Singita sur Mer, or put Shompole on a perfectly white sand beach and you’ll get where I’m coming from.
Azura’s villas are a lesson to everyone in the safari design field on the perfect way to blend style and luxury with the environment without completely overpowering the end-user. Everything is beautifully stylish but also practical and user-friendly. You can sit on the loungers without worrying about getting them dirty, lay back on the couches without fear of disrupting the cushion arrangements and curl up on your bed to read without worrying that the percale cotton might get wrinkled!
There’s air conditioning everywhere too, meaning that you can retreat from the heat (which can be considerable) and the mozzies (which at night can also be considerable). And the levels of service are out of this world, whether it be your Mozambican host making you tea or coffee in the mornings on your verandah overlooking the ocean or the smiling staff setting up your breakfast table on the beach with all the love and care they can muster…
The food is as outstanding as the service and the wide, bright smiles on the faces of the Azura staff. And when it all gets too much for you, there’s the option of some great spa therapies to sooth sundrenched flesh and help you on the path to uber relaxation. But if all of the relaxation gets too much for you, Azura has some great activities to boot.
A landrover tour of the island is a great place to start, taking in some of the great conservation and community upliftment projects Azura has been spearheading, as well as giving you a heads up of the island’s eco-systems and habitats and the chance to climb a rather imposing sand dune! Snorkeling and diving are arranged through Azura’s dive centre, which also offers dive courses to the uninitiated.
And guests can also enjoy a great trip to Pansy Island – a sand spit which appears at low tide where the rare pansy shells can be found and where lunch is served al-fresco on the beach, complete with beanbag loungers, umbrellas and chilled wine! Or what about the chance to climb the famed Bazaruto dunes, which tower over neighbouring Bazaruto island? Or dive in search of the legendary dugong, which frequents these waters?
My personal favourite? Snorkeling along the amazing coral channels which lie off the coast of Benguerra, followed by a wonderful spa treatment and an afternoon nap in a hammock next to the pool of my suite, followed by sundowners on a dhow and dinner on the beach… All of which add up to the perfect Azura day!