Grandeur for a new age

MAY 2013 – Built in the heyday of colonial splendour, with echoes of the Jazz Age still resonating in its graceful rooms, the refurbished Polana Serena offers sweeping Indian Ocean vistas, tranquil gardens and modern-day comforts, ushering in a new golden age for this historical Maputo hotel.

The vibrant notes of a jazz quartet drift enticingly over the still waters of the wide pool. Here, leisurely sipping a tropical cocktail while gazing out at the starlit panorama of the Indian Ocean, your eye is drawn to the graceful facade of the Polana Serena Hotel. Its proportions are unchanged since the glory days of the 1920s, when it was the most glamorous hotel in Africa – the playground of the rich and famous from across the globe. Now, in the bustling boomtown that is 21st-century Maputo, this Grande Dame of Africa is enjoying a new lease on life. It has undergone extensive restoration and refurbishment in recent years and is once more an oasis of grandeur and tranquillity in the Mozambican capital.  The stories that the marble-floored lobby and Polana bar could tell if only they could talk: stories of bright young things of the 1920s enjoying the latest architecture of world-famous architect Sir Herbert Baker, 1930s playboys dropping in from yachts and cruise liners, World War II spies from both sides relaxed enough to exchange courteous greetings in the safety of neutral Portuguese territory, royal visits post-war, then the upheaval of civil war in the 1970s, with intrepid international journalists its new clientele. In the teens of a new century, political stability and Mozambique’s economic upswing have restored the demand for five-star luxury in Maputo and the Polana has risen to the challenge of redefining the Belle Époque for a new age.

Waking up to the sensuous swish of silk as fingers brush the bed hangings behind the delicately carved mahogany tracery of the bed head and canopy, it’s evident that the refurbishment has enhanced the best of the hotel’s original colonial grandeur. Vintage furnishings that echo Mozambique’s Indo-Portuguese heritage and classic Penhaligon’s products in the bathrooms have a feel of a luxurious bygone age – only belied by the modern amenities of television and Wi-Fi.

Drawing back the embroidered curtains to greet a splendid sunrise over Maputo Bay, where passing dhows are silhouetted against the glittering sea, the grand scale of the hotel is evident in the expansive terraces and gardens descending to the magnificent pool area, all enjoying the same mesmerising views.
Whispers of history are still to be found as you wander the wide corridors, climb the sweeping staircase or descend in the original 1920s wrought-iron caged lift to the marble lobby. Stroll into the grand ballroom hung with elaborate chandeliers and you can imagine dancing the night away in the glamorous days of the Jazz Age. And it’s still a venue for glorious parties, hosting wedding celebrations as well as top events and conferences for business guests.

A new jewel in the Polana crown is the Maisha Spa. Set in its own secluded gardens, it’s a delightfully peaceful retreat for relaxing and rebalancing with blissful pampering. A tiled courtyard of intricate Moorish architecture encloses an outdoor pool surrounded by treatment rooms. Holistic massages restore serenity, whether you choose the aromatherapy or hot-stone options, or one of the dedicated Ayurvedic treatments. A whole menu of enticing wraps, facials, manicures and pedicures is on offer, using either the renowned Elemis range of skin therapies or signature  handmade blends of natural flower oils and herbs. A whole morning can be whiled away here between steam room, sauna and pool, relaxing at the juice bar or visiting the hair salon.

More energetic guests can swim laps in the heated 18-metre-long indoor pool, work out in the large gym and cardio studio featuring the latest state-of-theart equipment, or take classes in dance, kickboxing, yoga or tai chi in the aerobic studio next door.

Maputo is renowned for its seafood, in particular for its peri-peri prawns, and no visit would be complete without a feast of Mozambican flavours. At the Delagoa restaurant, enjoy fine-dining in an Art Deco ambience steeped in history. Savour grilled lobster or even barracuda from the menu, a feast of classic French cuisine that enhances the freshest local ingredients. The more informal Varanda buffet restaurant overlooks the beautiful pool terrace. It’s open all day, starting with lavish breakfasts that encompass everything from smoothies to bacon and eggs any which way, Asian congee and tasty Mozambican specialities. Live music at the Saturday seafood buffets conjures up a mood reminiscent of a more elegant age, as the fans whirr overhead and stars twinkle above the Indian Ocean. For thoroughly modern indulgence, sushi at the Aquarius bar by the pool might be just that touch of casual sophistication you’re after and is a rarity in Mozambique despite the abundance of freshly caught fish.

A real touch of 21st-century Belle Époque is to be experienced at the weekly openair classic movie show by the pool; what could beat watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s under the stars in this glorious old world setting, as you sip at a cocktail and feast on tapas or sushi? An oasis of graceful living in a frenetic modern city, the true spirit of the Polana lives on.

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