In keeping with much of what Mozambique has to offer by way of an experience that is as important as it is luxurious, and fairly newly located off the southern coast, on Bengeurra Island, in Bazaruto Marine National Park, Mozambique Azura – or Azura Benguerra – is an eco-luxury lodge of the highest order.
Built with just a cement mixer, a truck and with materials either locally sourced or imported by the island’s small fleet of dhows, Azura is a hand built lodge, and it is a lodge built by the people who live here. A stone, thatch and wood build, the lodge consists of a main shared area and 14 villas.
The shared area includes a lounge, multiple dining zones, bar, library, TV and internet room, outdoor decking, spa and shop. With a heavily thatched – jekka – roof, low ragged overhangs, open sides, modern wooden flooring, walls that in places lose their line to wave-like buttresses and a huge range of comfortable seating, the shared zones are beautifully thought through, welcoming and offer guests fantastic respite from the midday sun.
The food – overseen by an international chef – makes the very best of locally grown or caught produce, and the dining – indoors, out or in the privacy of one’s villa – is wonderful. Look out for the tasting sessions, and for the Fruits De Mer and the Dhow barbeque.
The service at Azura is exceptional. With the majority of employees having some sort of a stake in the lodge (some more than others), and with the lodge’s strict positive discrimination policy firmly in place (everyone is Mozambican, and in the main from disadvantaged communities), the incentive to produce the best possible service is an essential component of the local community’s efforts to prosper by its own hand.
The sleeping accommodation is divided into 2 classes: luxury and infinity. Both are beach villas, built in the local tradition. Each luxury beach villa has a king-size double or twin bed, a comfortable seating area, separate bathroom, sun and undercover decking, a beachside sala, plunge pool, fan and air-con, mini-bar and a coffee and tea station. Minimalist, the style of the room limits itself to quality functional objects, white walls and to beautiful wooden floor. The bathroom – enormous bath, mirrors, twin sinks, flush toilet – is equally fine, and the complimentary toiletries are a welcome throw in.
The infinity beach rooms are exactly the same, save the fact that they are slightly more privately positioned, and that their pools are larger. Please note that Azura also offers Villa Amizade, a 2 bedroom affair, and the Presidential Villa, which, as you can imagine, is palatial, has 2 en-suite bathrooms, a staff bedroom, wine bar and functions almost as a lodge within a lodge – for more details see Azura Presidential Villa). All sleeping rooms come with their own butler service.
Activities include Red Dune and Crocodile Lake and South Beach excursions (both of which include visits to local community initiatives as well as making the most of the marine’s flora / fauna), island hopping, snorkelling, dhow trips, island picnics, diving, fishing, helicopter trips and star gazing.
Economic and Social Development
As much as style and luxury define Azura, so too do its ethical business practices. Every effort is made to involve the local community and ensure that every impact on their island is positive. While this commitment sometimes increases the costs and effort involved in running the retreat, it is repaid tenfold by the way it enhances the whole Azura experience.
The owners have ensured that every phase of the lodge’s construction promoted the local community’s social and economic prospects.
They also came up with the idea of using the construction of Azura as a hands-on method of training the locals in the necessary skills, and as a result, both the hotel and the community gradually emerged together, each growing out of each other’s hard work. An environmental expert and a community specialist were on the ground before the first hand-made brick was even laid, and such effort was made to use local materials that the sea was scoured for coconut trees blown over by the recent cyclone for use as beams and frames. The local women were set up in business to provide the Jekka that forms Azura’s iconic thatched roofs, and local dhows were used to bring in anything that did have to be imported, such as the water treatment plant, which ensures the surrounding seawater remains as pristine as it always was.
Around half of the staff are locals, learning on the job from other trained staff. As a result, the Azura employs 100 staff for just 16 villas, but service levels are impeccable and the staff are one of Azura’s proudest assets.
Engaging with the community in this grassroots manner, Azura has set off a virtuous circle of education, economic growth, and higher standards of living that will enhance the locals’ prospects not only within Benguerra, but within the whole of a newly-emerging Mozambique.
Conservation and Eco-Tourism
Azura’s biggest asset is its pristine location, and it is something which must be safeguarded at all costs. As such, to keep from contaminating seawater, all ‘grey water’ from sinks and showers is used to water the retreat’s indigenous gardens, saving precious water as well as keeping the sea free of pollutants. All other waste water goes through the state-of-the-art treatment plant, and all washing is done with eco-friendly chemicals.
In-shore fish stocks and dolphin populations have been revived through Azura’s No-Fish Zone – an area of water where locals have agreed not to fish, in return for financial compensation.