Island in the stream

MAY 2015 – A private, uninhabited island paradise lapped by the warm waters of a pristine marine sanctuary, Azura Quilalea is a tropical gem tucked in far northern Mozambique. It lies deep in the Quirimbas Archipelago, far removed from the bustle of modern life; a place where modern-day castaways can relax and stretch their legs in quiet and luxurious seclusion.

The sun is high and so is the tide of the turquoise Indian Ocean. It doesn’t get much better than this – stepping out the door of your magnificent seaside villa, straight into the warm ocean before you, to swim, snorkel or dive. This private island, surrounded by the pristine waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago marine sanctuary, offers a luxury hideaway that’s off the radar, off the wall for divers, and off the chart for barefoot luxury lovers.

Part of the Azura Retreats group, the nine seafront villas dotted around the island are a haven of African-style chic. Surrounded by indigenous gardens or natural bush, they’re magnificently hewn from local materials. They have natural coral stone walls, carved wooden beams, makuti thatch roofs and timber wooden decks. Windows have reed shutters rather than glass, and are opened to let a breeze through by day. At night they’re closed for privacy, which is a top priority at Quilalea. Guests who want all the modern-day conveniences, including air-conditioning, can flick the ‘luxe’ switch in their villas, while those who want to tread more lightly on this unspoiled island paradise can opt for  ‘eco’ mode, which translates into power for the bare essentials of lights and fan.

There are four Kaskazi Villas, with panoramic views across the ocean to Quirimba Island. Four Kusi Villas offer even more exclusive locations, along with an outdoor bush shower and hammocks for lazing away days in the sun. The ultimate hideaway, though, is Villa Quilalea. Located on its own private clifftop on the sunset side of the island, it’s the quintessential escape from the world – although the entire island can also be reserved for exclusive use should guests value complete privacy.

Villa Quilalea is quite separate and offers decadent accommodation for a couple looking for total seclusion overlooking the lapping turquoise ocean, where the only  intrusion comes from traditional cotton-sailed dhows wafting by. A step ladder leads down to a private cove, where there’s a small beach at low tide, and immediate swimming and snorkelling when the tides comes in.

For those who dive beneath the surface of these pristine waters, there’s a rainbow of colours to be enjoyed. Given the island’s position in the heart of the Quirimbas National Park, its waters are swarming with marine life – everything  from schools of hunting jacks to Napoleon wrasse and huge potato bass. There are walls and rarely visited reefs just a short boat hop away, and a spectacular house reef for day and night diving. You can easily start your diving career here too, as the dive centre offers PADI dive courses.

Swimmers may even be lucky enough to encounter a school of dolphins, diving and jumping and playing all around them in the crystal-clear depths. It’s a breathtaking experience, and nirvana for marine-life lovers, who find themselves diving below the surface and then treading water with head above so as to experience the spectacle from every angle.

The fishing around Quilalea is also legendary. Sport fishermen will be able to hook giant trevally and tuna, along with many other species endemic to the area. There are equally many bird species to keep twitchers busy, with 140 varieties that live in the area, including Madagascan bee-eaters that nest here every year.

A great way to explore both land and sea is to take a kayak ride around the island, stopping en route to swim on deserted beaches – there are four in all. Take along a picnic packed by the lodge for sustenance, and keep an eye out for the humpback whales that migrate past Quilalea from July to October. Also be on the lookout for olive ridley, green and hawksbill turtles – they nest on the beaches from October to January, and hatch up until April each year.

A day trip, by boat or by helicopter, to nearby Ibo Island is another option – to visit the white star-shaped fort, walk the sand streets of the crumbling colonial town, and watch traditional silversmiths crafting lacy jewellery.

But really, there’s no need to leave Quilalea at all. The retreat is sensitively designed to create uniquely personal spaces for guests, from a hammock under the trees to a daybed under a poolside umbrella and oversized cushions in a chill zone overlooking the ocean. For guests who want to connect with the outside world, the informal communal lounge has satellite TV and a laptop with internet access – plus there’s complimentary Wi-Fi in the lounge, bar and pool deck area. Or why not swap tales with other guests over a pre-dinner drink at the bar?

Meals here are a full sensory experience. Whether it’s a candlelit feast on the beach, in the cosy wine cellar or the romantic intimacy of your suite, guests seldom dine in the same place twice, and the Mozambican hosts take special pride in their innovative dining set-ups filled with special touches. For breakfast you  might find yourself seated at the water’s edge, while lunch might be a picnic on a sandy island. The menus are simple and understated, with a focus  on what is fresh and local. The huge mangrove crabs are a particular speciality, as well as crayfish, which is available in abundance.

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