Azura Quilalea Private Island
Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique
The perfect Crusoe fantasy: just nine thoroughly romantic seafront villas on a baobab-studded island in a remote archipelago, with pathways through shady forests to crescent beaches on which turtles heave up to lay their eggs, and a reef so close you can snorkel back to your room after breakfast.
Remote, wild and extraordinarily beautiful, Quilalea is part of the Quirimbas archipelago in northern Mozambique, and lies within a protected marine reserve. The only 'developed' island for miles, it's reached via helicopter from Pemba airport (30 nautical miles south). The coastline and islands are untouched and support a diversity of flora and fauna, including more than 140 bird species. The proximity of a house reef spanning the main beach is the final clincher.
Beach-chic Quilalea sits unobtrusively in its forest surrounds, with sandy pathways leading through dappled shade to the villas and beaches, and a simple building style – adobe-style walls topped with traditional palm and simple timber shuttered windows – that taps into castaway fantasy. It's enchanting and relaxing; the kind of place where you never bother to lock your room, and spend your days barefoot in a sarong, circumnavigating the uninhabited island, counting baobabs, identifying birds, moving turtle eggs, snorkelling, swimming and feasting on fresh seafood.
This won’t suit those looking for a resort-style list of facilities, but for a nature- and beach-lover it’s perfect. There are four beaches, a house reef that spans the main beach and is deep enough to dive, a swimming pool built into an elevated promontory overlooking the ocean, a well-equipped Padi Dive and Watersports Centre to explore pristine reefs, SUP boards, kayaks, and a small clifftop spa. Only the bar area has Wi-Fi; there’s also a small lounge with computer and television.
Management couple Claudia and Leon Pellarini-Joubert are faultless hosts: unobtrusive, warm, watchful. The only caveat is that the English-speaking skills of some of the staff may require patience but their warmth is authentic as the sun.
These are rooms you can happily call home for a week or more: at 75sqm, the size of a small cottage, with a shady terrace and loungers overlooking the ocean, and very private.
Oversized beds are swathed in mosquito netting and there are huge shuttered windows and doors for views and ventilation – marvellous to sleep with doors and windows open, in sync with the sun. The showers have sea views and there's a separate loo (no tubs). Fans, air-conditioning, minibars and tea- and coffee-making facilities come as standard, but there are no telephones, docking stations or Wi-Fi – nothing to distract from the ocean's lullaby. It's worth shelling out a bit more for the slightly pricier sunset-facing ‘Kusi’ villas, set around a boulder-strewn beach.
The culinary focus – not surprisingly – is on fresh seafood; crayfish in particular is prepared to succulent perfection, and served with fresh salads and vegetables. Vegetarians and vegans are well catered to with prior notice. Every meal sees a new menu with a selection of two to three starters, mains and desserts; breakfast and lunch are served in your room or the dining room while dinner tables are set up in different areas under the stars. Starters could be a chilled soup such as avocado and lime, or ceviche, or seared-beef salad; followed by tuna steak, grilled lobster tail, or grilled Mozambican Piri Piri chicken. The baobab fruits are used in smoothies, curries and sauces. With prior warning any dietary restrictions can be accommodated in wonderfully inventive ways. Meals and drinks, including the daily sunset cocktail, are all included in the rate, and – bar the wine, which is average – of a very high standard.
Double rooms from $825 (£638) per person. All meals, house drinks and snorkelling/ kayak/ paddling equipment included. Free Wi-Fi in main lodge area. Helicopter transfer $350 per person.
It may be pricey but this is one of the top three island experiences on the East African coast; the combination of wilderness with this level of luxury is worth every penny.