AFRICA SPECIAL

24-Hour Room Service: Azura, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

There's time, there's African time and then there's Azura time. The lodge, on Benguerra Island, sets its clocks later than the mainland to allow guests an extra hour of sunshine. You even get your own host to cater to your every whim.

After almost two decades of civil war and over a decade of peace, Mozambique is once again Africa's hottest beach destination. Benguerra is one of five tropical idylls that make up the Bazaruto Archipelago, and enterprising British couple, Christopher and Stella Bettany – along with their Mozambican partner, Gabriel – have turned the site of a backpacker's hostel into a luxurious environmentally sensitive haven.

A pebble's throw from the startling blues of the Indian Ocean, on powder-fine sand, Azura is perfect for a post-safari wind down. The rustic beach-chic lounge, Star Bar, Gecko Deck and dining room were all constructed by locals from fallen trees, with bushy jekka-thatched roofs open to the sea breeze.

Guests can spend their days in blissful indolence, flitting from day bed to lounger, pool to ocean or picnic on a shell-strewn sand spit then sail into the sunset on a creaky dhow. For the more energetic there is snorkelling and scuba diving on the pristine reefs or fly-fishing in the shallows.

In the evenings, guests gather for cocktails and relaxed chat to the strains of ambient marrabenta – a blend of pop, Mozambican and Portuguese folk music – accompanied by the freshest sushi, before feasting on the catch of the day. It doesn't get more romantic than dining with your feet in the sand under the star-studded sky, surrounded by a multitude of twinkling candles.

Azura does its bit to preserve the idyllic surroundings. It was built from sustainable materials, uses solar-powered showers and boasts environmentally friendly bathroom products. As well as implementing a recycling scheme, the lodge provides employment for the local population, while its Rainbow Fund offsets your hedonism with a variety of community and environmental projects, including the island's only school.



Location

Azura at Gabriel's, Benguerra Island, Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique (00 27 11 258 0180, www.azura-retreats.com). Situated in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Benguerra Island lies 14km north east of Vilanculos, the nearest mainland town.

Time to international airport: There's a daily two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Vilanculos. From there, you can hop into Azura's private helicopter or speedboat; 15 minutes later you'll be sipping your welcome drink and booking your complimentary de-stress massage.



Comfortable?

The 14 spacious villas are cool, calm and contemporary. A huge bed clad in sea-coloured linens sits within a netting cocoon, while shell-encrusted lampshades and driftwood-framed mirrors complement the marine theme. In the equally large bathroom, the mosaic-tiled shower and tub are large enough to share, or opt for the twin al fresco showers.

Sliding glass doors open on to a wooden veranda, artfully uniting inside and outside space. The veranda itself overlooks a luxuriant private garden and infinity pool, just footsteps from the beach. If you're feeling sun-frazzled, head to the spa for a soothing treatment using traditional African ingredients: the aloe and tamarind wrap, perhaps, or a warm marula oil massage.

Freebies: Mini-bar, Molton Brown lotions, laundry service, internet access, de-stress massage, island drive, sunset dhow cruise.

Keeping in touch: Direct-dial telephones in every villa; TV, DVDs, Wi-Fi and free internet access in the library.



The Bottom Line

Villas start at $900 (£514), full board; minimum two-night stay. A helicopter transfer from Vilanculos costs $150 (£86) per person each way.

I'm not paying that: Casa Rex (00 258 293 82048, www.casa-rex.com) in Vilanculos has doubles from $190 (£109) per night.

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