Travel and a bit of shopping
First published in Diversions, Summer 2016
Sipping a Bloody Mary overlooking the Indian Ocean from my striped cane lounger at Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort I contemplate Mozambique’s history. Since AD600 trading has taken place in the Quirimbas Archipelago when Arab traders established trading posts on some of the islands as well as further along the coast all the way down to Ilha do Mocambique. Gold, ivory and slaves were shipped from the trading posts.
When the first Portuguese came to Quirimbas they called it the Maluane Islands because the locals wove cloth called Maluane that they dyed with local indigo. They attacked Qurimba Island in 1522 because the Muslim traders refused to trade with Christians. Dhows were sunk and some of the traders were killed whilst their goods were looted.
Not that one would have an inkling of any of this whilst sitting at the pool – the poolside snacks are tasty and innovative – looking out over the pristine beach of this tiny private island and the azure waters all the way to the horizon. The dhows gliding past is the only reminder of the trade that once took place; these days the dhows deliver fresh fish and seafood – and heavier items that cannot be flown in – to Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort and Spa.
The dhows moor on one end of the island; on the other end the elegant Medjumbe Lighthouse reigns. The lighthouse was built in 1934; it worked for three months, broke down and was never repaired again. The island is roughly one kilometre long and a few hundred metres – depending on the tide – wide.
In the middle of the island there are twelve thatched wooden beachfront villas, each with its own mosaic plunge pool, an outdoor shower and a bath that overlooks the beach and ocean. The villas have recently been revamped – it’s luxurious yet understated, it’s chic but it constantly reminds you that you are on an island that feels a bit like your own whilst you are there. Each plunge pool has a little ‘champagne step’ that comes to good use should you wish to catch up on some reading with a tulip glass in hand.
A thirteenth villa houses the spa. The main building – its facade reminds one of a ship sailing – houses the Bahari Lounge Bar and Jahazi Restaurant, both with an uninterrupted sea view. These Swahili names mean ‘ocean’ and ‘dhow’ respectively.
The breakfast menu at Jahazi includes Mozambican Prego with piri piri marinated chicken, poached egg, caramelised onions and piri piri sauce as well as Island Benedict with an English muffin, lobster, poached egg, bacon, avo and curry hollandaise sauce. The latter rates as the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Away from Home Breakfast Classics tempt you with pancakes with nutella, banana chips and toasted coconut or freshly baked Portuguese custard tarts (pasteis de nata) dusted with cinnamon.
The In Villa Dining Menu features prawn linguine, vegetable and pumpkin or fish curry, Medjumbe salad with grilled prawns, crisp calamari with garlic aioli, and Quirimbas Waters Catch of the Day, served grilled with steamed rice and garlic herb butter.
Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas offer personalised service and experiences that are rooted in Thailand’s culture of hospitality. Traditionally Thai people would leave a jar of water outside their homes to welcome passing travellers and to offer refreshment.
At Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort a bowl of fresh fruit and chunks of fresh coconut await you in your room. An added touch is a woven bag with a sarong, beach sandals and a wide-brimmed sun hat.
Had I felt more active I could have opted for water sports like snorkelling (among coral heads where you spot box fish, rock cod, lion fish, king fish and moray eels), deep sea fishing, scuba diving (where you are likely to encounter dolphins), stand-up paddling (you can even paddle your way around the island), kayaking (single or twin kayaks are available) or a catamaran excursion.
Bird watchers can tick off rare bird species on the island or in the tidal pools. From July to October boat cruises enable you to do some whale watching when the humpback whales from Antarctica come to calve.
Dhows are traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts and lateen sails that are used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. If you have not fallen in love with these romantic vessels yet, you will surely do so on your stay at Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort who has their own locally built dhow.
No-one knows the exact origin of the dhow. Dhows constituted the main method of transport on the Indian Ocean until the Portuguese arrived with large ships in the fifteenth century.
At Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort their experienced skippers take you out on a dhow cruise. As the dhow rocks gently the hand-stitched sail is the color of parchment, the clouds are pure white, and the beach sand looks powdery and soft. The sky is cerulean, the water shades of turquoise and teal. And the day feels perfect.
Alternatively you could opt for a sunset dhow cruise which circles the island whilst canapés and something cool are served. You will search far and wide to find a finer way to enjoy the African sunset.
You can learn how to sail a dhow from unfurling the sails to hauling and knotting the ropes and how to tell the difference between a tiller and a rudder. Once you have done the course, you sail the dhow between two points, your time is recorded and thereafter you will be awarded an official certificate that gives you bragging rights for manoeuvring a dhow across the waters of the Indian Ocean.
Ananatara Medjumbe Island Resort offers personalised gourmet picnics on the nearby Quissanga Island, a small private island 15 minutes away by boat. On arrival a cocktail is handed over as soon as you step on to the wooden deck with its comfy lounge-style chairs and couches. Thereafter you could snorkel in the shallow waters, walk around the tiny island (do not remove any shells from the beach) or choose your next drink from the bar before sitting down to a barbeque lunch prepared especially for you and the rest of those in your party.
You do not want to miss the Dining by Design that Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas have elevated to an art form at their properties all over the world. The Dining by Design concept allows you to choose your own intimate dream setting (on Medjumbe Island a table could be decorated for you on your villa’s pool deck, next to the lighthouse or on the beach) and to create your own menu with a personal butler at your beck and call.
Should you wish to stay in touch with the outside world – though why you would want to do that in such an idyllic setting is questionable – there is complimentary wi-fi in public areas as well as complimentary ‘good morning news’ with online news on international affairs, what’s happening in South Africa, finance and sports.
Lastly I have a confession to make. If you’ve read, or the hotel staff relishes telling the story, about the hotel guest who cried because the vistas from the flight from Pemba to Medjumbe was so beautiful – the different hues of the ocean interspersed with sand banks and islands of different sizes – it was me. The flight alone made it a trip of a lifetime.
Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort won the 2015 World Travel Award for Africa’s Leading Private Island Resort.
Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort is part of Minor Hotels (www.minorhotels.com).
Learn more from or book: www.anantara.com,
or call (010) 003 8977.
Airlink – How to Get There:
Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Pemba, Northern Mozambique.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Flight Bookings: Online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111.