Aspirational IslandsFlying over the Indian Ocean towards the gorgeous islands of Mozambique is like entering a kid’s over-imaginative colouring book.
Your camera works overtime to capture the stunning white sand and vivid green palm trees strewn across a dozen shades of iridescent blue. These are aspirational islands, boasting year-round sunshine, a laid back atmosphere, fine food and friendly locals, and none of the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
The best way to get there is by helicopter or light aircraft rather than by boat, which is pricy but worth it for the bragging rights and the incredible views!
You can walk around tiny Quilalea in about an hour, following a trail past huge and ancient baobabs trees.
It sits in the Quirimbas Archipelago, a marine sanctuary of 32 islands, most only inhabited by birds, monitor lizards and a few monkeys.
The only buildings are part of a luxurious lodge run by Azura Retreats. The managers Leon Joubert and Claudia Pellarini-Joubert are deep-sea divers and underwater photography experts who tell wonderful stories of filming for National Geographic and the Hollywood movies Poseidon and After The Sunset. If you want to improve your underwater photography, they’ll be delighted to help.
Coral runs right in front of Quilalea’s main beach just a few steps into the deliciously warm ocean. You can also kayak through mangrove swamps, have a spa treatment and enjoy brilliant meals of seafood and other local treats.
The 5-star lodges are beautifully furnished, with a lounge, a working area, outdoor showers and a wooden deck leading to the beach. www.azura-retreats.com
Nearby Medjumbe is another stunning island where the only buildings belong to the Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa. Each thatched villa has a beach front while the airy main building of thatch and wood has a tepid swimming pool facing the ocean, a snug library upstairs under the roof beams, large lounges with squishy chairs for lazing away the days, and a long terrace perfect for al fresco dining. You can eat lobster for every meal including breakfast, but after a few days of over-indulgence it’s perfectly ok to ask for cornflakes.
The spa is in a thatched hut where the sound of waves lulls you through your massage. For a day trip the delightfully friendly staff whisk you off to an even tinier island to snorkel while the boatmen grill up a seafood extravaganza. http://medjumbe.anantara.com/
Much further south you’ll find the Benguerra island in the Bazaruto Archipelago.
Azura Benguerra Resort is an eco-friendly lodge with its own generator and water treatment plant, as befits a property in a pristine marine national park. Activities include diving and scuba courses, snorkelling, horse riding and dhow sunset cruises. I went during a rare stormy period when all watersports were off, but that gave me chance to enjoy the luxurious villa, have a massage in the fully-equipped spa, and take an island tour to learn about the medicinal nature of plants and visit a school supported by the lodge.
Its 18 villas each have their own strip of beach, a deck with a small pool and his ‘n hers outdoor showers. After supper in the funkily decorated Jellyfish restaurant be sure to challenge the barmen to a game of Tsoro, the addictive board game of strategy and seedpods. www.azura-retreats.com
A short hop away is lush and picturesque Bazaruto Island, 35km long and 7km wide. Unlike other tropical isles it has shimmering sand dunes majestically rising up from a green barrier of palm trees. I loved the dune boarding, terrified myself with horse riding, and snorkelled at every opportunity.
Anantara Bazaruto Island Resort & Spa is a sprawling but discreetly designed hotel with individual thatched villas. Each has a large bedroom and living area and a massive bathroom with a sunken tub facing the ocean. There’s a gym, two swimming pools and a spa with a rasul, an Arabian steam room that usually involves lovers smearing mud all over each other as the heat rises and visibility decreases.
You can take a speedboat to Paradise Island, and snorkel and try to swim with dolphins before the boatmen serve up a delicious picnic of grilled seafood.
Dinners are memorable too, with large and imaginative buffets being the favourite option so you don’t have to decide on only one or two dishes from the menu. http://bazaruto.anantara.com/