Follow your bliss to this Mozambican island resort, officially Africa's best
With its luxe villas, acclaimed spa and fine dining, Anantara Bazaruto won 'Africa's Leading Beach Resort' at the 2020 World Travel Awards, and it's got a great deal for SA residents right now
There's something so soothing about the sea. Perhaps it's the hypnotic flatline of blue that cues our minds to clear the clutter. Perhaps it's the shushing of waves on shore that makes us feel safe again, rocked like babies in our mothers' arms.
I can't say for sure. But I do know that, landlocked in Jozi through the annus horribilis of 2020, my daydreams often meandered to a memory. It starts with the shadow of a tiny plane skimming over a swirling carpet of golds and blues. Inside the plucky six-seater — a Gippsland Airvan, if you want to know — the beating of the plane's propeller keeps pace with the passengers' hearts.
It is early December 2019, and this flit through candyfloss clouds carries us away from Vilanculos on the Mozambican mainland across 35 kaleidoscopic kilometres of ocean and sand to the Anantara Bazaruto resort.
Bazaruto is the name of both the six-island archipelago off the country's southern coast and its largest island, just 35km long and 7km wide, where the resort lies. The surrounding waters are part of the eponymous national park, so a sanctuary for dolphins, whales, manta rays, turtles and dugongs, the latter now threatened with extinction in many other parts of the world.
Decamped from the mainland in these happy waters, the island is perfect for a human sanctuary too. While its wild side is all dramatic sand dunes and crocs lurking in freshwater lakes, within the resort you'll find a Crusoe-esque hideout, but with epicurean touches the castaway could not have dreamed.
Exhibit A is the soft landing on the airstrip to a welcome dance and a cool towel.
Exhibit B is the golf cart to whisk us off to the resort's HQ, where there wait hushed lounges, inviting couches, ceiling fans and a cool bar.
Through the building and out the other side, a terrace falls away to a tropical garden, and just beyond that is the splendid sea. Blue and warm and quiet as bathwater, it will turn out to be a constant backdrop to the stay, visible from practically everywhere, including the resort's two infinity pools, its three restaurants and their various bars, and even my own villa's bath and my bed.
All in all, the resort has 44 villas, several of which play hide and seek among the palms and casuarina trees just behind the beach line. Several were refurbished late last year.
In this sublime setting, lazy times are non-negotiable and for me there is much dozing on a daybed on my deck, sipping a local 2M beer straight out of the can, and contemplating a swim. The only agony is deciding: will it be the splash pool or the ocean? Perhaps just an outdoor shower to cool off, or a cocktail by one of the large infinity pools, both a pleasant stroll away through the trees.
There are other important decisions to be made. What to pick from the pillow menu - actually the standard pillow on the four-poster bed is perfectly dreamy. Plus there is a soap menu, offering a choice of handmade bars — vetiver, cedarwood, patchouli and ginger - and describing their various healing properties. Who knew patchouli eases muscle tension but pick vetiver for an aphrodisiac?
Tempting though it may be, it would be a waste to spend the entire time comatose on a sun lounger or excessively testing the soaps. Such extraordinary surrounds do deserve to be made the most of, and that means activity. Here, you'll likely have to make choices too. Horse-riding, sailing, snorkelling, diving, deep-sea fishing and dune boarding are just some of what's possible.
We choose a 4x4 tour of the rugged island, and have a gin-tasting on a windswept dune.
My favourite, though, is probably the boat excursion to Pansy Island, actually a sandbank on Bazaruto's southern tip, where we find ourselves entirely alone.
Here, our all-women group snorkels shamelessly for hours between responsible reapplications of sunblock, while the boat crew painstakingly sets up a gazebo and lays a table for our lunch. To dine entirely alone on a blip of sand in the Indian Ocean is a beyond blissful way to spend an afternoon.
In truth, though, every meal here is memorable. Anantara has luxury properties all over the world, and all aim to immerse their guests in the local culture through cuisine.
Thus, the eating at Bazaruto is often based on an inspired blend of African, Middle Eastern and Portuguese influences. Seafood, naturally, appears in many incarnations. It's locally sourced and the cooking is done with herbs and spices grown in the resort's own veggie garden.
For a special occasion, their "Dine by Design" concept allows guests to make up their own meal in consultation with a chef, and even have it served in a unique spot, such as in your villa or on the beach.
The fine-dining experience titled "Sea. Fire. Salt" is also something rare, its piéce de résistance a portion of Wagyu beef, cooked on a slab made from Himalayan salt that's been heated to 200°C. Incredibly, this is accompanied by a reckless selection of salts: pink Himalayan, black Himalayan, citrus and truffle. With apologies to my doctor, I confess I tried them all.
Cooking enthusiasts may also enjoy the option to learn — the Spice Spoons cooking school emphasises the flavours and techniques of Mozambique, and has various packages.
The whole enchilada includes a chef-accompanied fishing trip and a visit to the vegetable garden, leading to a private lesson and finally the eating of what you've helped create — Mozambican island chicken with mango, for example (get the recipe here) — with wine pairing. In Portuguese, it's Bom apetite.
We skip the full day and cut to a demo in the garden from the executive chef, whose hands dance between rainbow bowls of pre-diced and -ground ingredients to simultaneously whip up some prawns on a braai and a sumptuous chicken curry.
A WORLD OF WELLNESS
Perhaps the most important wish for anyone heading to a place like this is wellness - whether that's in swimming or dozing or eating or drinking, or all of the above.
If you want an active reset, there is of course a menu for that too: morning yoga, personal trainers and meditation lessons. Or get your sweat on with stand-up paddleboarding, or running and hiking on the dunes.
The spa, to me, is a hands-down contender for the world's most beautiful, thanks to its location high on a hill (go by golf cart), and its magnificent main area, with vertiginous views.
We probably broke the wellness rules by following our treatments (Anantara was named this year's Best Hotel Spa Brand by the World Spa Awards) with gins-and-tonics instead of the recommended detoxifying water, but spectacular island sunsets have their own rules. As I keep saying, choices must be made.
On the morning of our leaving, I take a last walk on the beach. No-one knows yet about the tidal wave that's coming. Or that it will soon seem pointless to even talk about this place until late 2020, once the borders have re-opened and the mandatory quarantines have gone. Now I think of it as something even more special than it undeniably is - my last resort.
And so we go again back over the blue. And the island recedes until it's just a dot, and then a memory. And that's travel for you: the wheelie bags roll in and out, like the tides, but a little bit of the peace in your heart stays forever. Thank heaven for that.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
ABOUT THE RESORT
Anantara Bazaruto is all-inclusive and has 44 luxury villas, some on the beachfront and some perched over the bay with spectacular views. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the resort.
Airlink is operating two return flights a week — on Tuesdays and Saturdays — between Joburg and Vilanculos. Fares are from R6,620 all-inclusive return.
From Vilanculos, it is a 45-minute boat ride (included in your rate) or a 15-minute flight (extra) to Bazaruto Island.
South African passport-holders do not need a visa to enter Mozambique. All arrivals, however, must have a negative PCR test conducted no more than 72 hours before departure.
Anantara Bazaruto has made some changes in the wake of Covid-19, ramping up the "private" keyword in all aspects. Expect private transfers from Vilanculos, private check-in, and a villa host, who will be the guests' only point of contact with the resort for the duration of their stay.
In-villa dining is included in the rate, though the restaurants are spacious and mostly open-air and so suitable for social distancing. Only à la carte menus will be on offer for now.
To return to SA, you'll also need a negative Covid test done within the 72-hour window. Tests can be taken at the Netcare Nhamacunda Clinic in Vilanculos.
Guests staying for three nights or fewer will be taken to the clinic on arrival, before transfer to the island, and receive the results on the day of departure. For guests staying longer, a boat transfer can be arranged for the tests.
EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR AFRICAN RESIDENTS
The Anantara Bazaruto resort has a special offer for African residents, who'll pay from R10,314 per villa per night - a saving up to 40%. This includes:
- Return boat transfers between Vilanculos and Bazaruto;
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily;
- Cooldrinks, coffee, tea, plus house wines and spirits and local beer;
- In-room mini bar;
- One dhow cruise per stay; and
- A host of non-motorised watersport activities.
Ts & Cs apply. See anantara.com
• Sleith was a guest of Anantara Bazaruto.