As warnings go, it was quite understated. "You might get a bit wet going over to Coral," said Alex Otto, co-owner of Coral Lodge 15.41, as we sped by motorboat across the water from Ilha do Mozambique. She wasn't kidding. The 15-minute crossing felt like crashing through a car wash as we bounced over white horses and caught the sea's spray full on.
Visitors don't usually get so wet, Alex assured me, as she pointed to the lodge's 10 villas in the distance, perched on dunes with uninterrupted views of the sea. Coral Lodge 15.41 – the numbers represents its latitude and longitude – has been a challenging labour of love for Dutch couple Alex and Bart, involving bringing electricity to the area, dealing with the logistics of getting supplies in this remote region, and training staff. Their efforts have paid off – the result is true barefoot luxury.
Designed by Dutchman Edward van Vliet, the en-suite villas with macouti (thatched) roofs have eco-friendly "Evening Breeze" beds, with virtually silent cooling systems in the canopy that do away with droning conventional air-conditioners. Furniture is made from beautiful, speckled coconut wood sourced in Zanzibar, and the chic soft furnishings, dominated by eggshell blue, are complemented by African carvings and masks. Spacious terraces are perfect for sundowners overlooking the lagoon and mangrove swamps.
The food and drink
Zimbabwean chef Tessa Bristow would do any upmarket urban restaurant proud. Considering the logistics of getting supplies here, she works miracles, using local ingredients wherever possible. My dinner, served in the breezy Reef restaurant, of deliciously light fish tempura, followed by lobster kebabs and salad with wasabi dressing, then a tangy citrus tart, was excellent. South African house wines are included or you can pay extra to choose from the extensive wine and cocktails list. Tessa's breakfast platter was almost too pretty to eat, with fresh fruit, muffins, pastries and cheeses. She'll even take guests to local food markets and share the secrets of Mozambican cooking.
Local women have been trained to work in the lodge's spa and a half-hour treatment is included – try the traditional Musiro face mask, designed to protect the skin from the sun. Coral also has a dive instructor, but even snorkellers can see the local shipwrecks, which sit in shallow waters. Canoes are available for paddling around the mangroves and there's an infinity pool with views out to sea.
Coral offers tours to the Unesco World Heritage city of Ilha do Mozambique, the capital of the country for 400 years, with a history forged by slave-trading Arab and Portuguese colonialists. Once the most important port on the East African coast, remnants of its former wealth are evident in its coral Stone Town and the 16th-century fortress of Sao Sebastao. The lodge's guide, Marufo, also takes guests to the nearby village of Cabaceira Pequena, home to most of Coral's staff, where traditional mud houses stand alongside a crumbling 13th-Century mosque, and women still collect water from a well said to have been used by Vasco da Gama more than 500 years ago. The community benefits from a fund established by Coral Lodge, so a visit here helps to bridge the gap between luxury tourism and the locals who depend on it.
Children are welcome in the two family rooms and an English-speaking nanny is available for babysitting. Coral Lodge isn't suitable for wheelchair users.
Africa specialist To Escape To (0207- 0606747, toescapeto.co.uk) offers seven nights for the price of six at Coral Lodge for £3,799 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and all-inclusive accommodation.
Caixa Postal 555, Nampula, Mozambique (00258 262 40239; corallodge1541.com).