A drop in the ocean

Azura at Quilalea has a history that dates back to Arab Trade routes in AD 300 and a future that is protected by an ecologically sound management ethos, a marine sanctuary and a national park

Set amongst a row of 32 spectacular coralline and sand islands that resemble a tide of electric-blue jellyfish washing up on a shoreline, Quilalea is genuinely remote, malaria free and staggeringly beautiful. The Quirimbas Archipelago is the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique is still relatively undiscovered and the adventure begins with the journey to get there. After three consecutive smaller planes, a truck through a coconut plantation and a boat ride, you are beached on a soft white shore besides two ragged coral cliffs. Wide grins, chilled facecloths and a tall drink welcome you to the main lodge that is arranged to deliver a sunset view through a baobab tree into the dancing blues of the Indian Ocean. Traditional dhows track the sea like hermit crabs in upright shells and, even after last light, the air feels sun-kissed.

The legend goes that the island’s small coves were used as a resting place for laden dhows and the local nickname ‘lala’, or sleep in Swahili. has evolved into its current name: Quilalea. It’s apt, as sleeping something you do deeply here.

There are a million ways to be busy or lazy all day, from turtle-tracking to scuba-diving, mangrove-kayaking and island-hopping, or even just dozing in the shade after snorkelling the house reef. You can stroll around the 35-hectare island in a few hours, rest under baobabs and swim at five beaches without coming across another soul. There is a maximum of 18 guests at any one time and, even at meal times, tables are set for privacy and intimacy amongst constellations of candles on the beach, the deck or in the restaurant.

The nine villas, four facing the sunset and four facing the sunrise, plus one presidential suite, are makuti-thatched and built out of rough coral stones, so they sit back in the coastal forest as if they belong there. Inside, the interiors are awash with light and sea breezes blowing through woven window shutters that tie back rustically with a rope. The partridge wood king-size beds lie under swathes of decorative, colour-dipped mosquito netting that drifts across the smooth cement floors. The room palettes borrow from the sky or sea and use evening pinks and morning blues in a range of sophisticated fabrics and textures by Jim Thompson, Julie Patterson, Ashanti and Mavromac. A curtain by St Leger and Viney fringed with raffia by Coral Stephens of Swaziland floats between the generous room and bathroom, complementing the woven lights that soften eco-globes with their fluttering strands of sand-coloured raffia. The effect is brighter, more neutral rooms with elegant highlights and brilliant eco credentials. In each room there is a ‘luxe’ or ‘eco’ switch you can flick to conserve energy during your stay. Besides this, sun and rain are harvested, a de-salination unit provides delicious drinking water and the garden that has been landscaped with indigenous plants and coral pathways. All waste is removed from the island and rubble produced from the renovations is being used to help build a school on neighbouring Quirimbas Islands.

The interior design lab, GDF, has been inventive in sourcing mats, baskets and talent on a road trip from Pemba to Kisanga-you’ll see a drinks table made from an upturned basket with a slice of wood as a top, handcrafted stools and things you simply cannot buy in decor shops. The floor in the bar is made like the traditional dhows in this area, using mismatched planks of wood, hemp and melted tar. The arabesque shapes of smooth concrete in the sunken lounge and the coral rock texture of the bar alongside, with its roughly hewn wooden bar stools, create a new kind of Robinson Crusoe chic that suits the barefoot luxury of this island.

Quilalea has an easy sexiness that is part nature and part style…

Contact: Andrew Shapland

Email: andrew@tourismcorp.co.za

Tel: 021 426 0992

Website: www.therovingambassador.com

Quilalea: www.quilalea.co.za