Jewel of Africa; We All Dream of Discovering One of the World's Last Unspoiled Paradises. This Is One of Them. All You Have to Do Is Get There Soon

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW EAMES

SOMEWHERE south of Zanzibar and equidistant from the Seychelles and Mauritius lie a magical pair of islands.

Pocketsized, low-lying, and surrounded by the same translucent bath of a sea, one plays host to a crumbling relic of colonialism, a sort of Angkor Wat of Africa, and the other is home to one of the most exclusive new barefoot hideaways in the Pacific.

These two islands, two of the 27 which make up the Quirimbas archipelago, are called Ibo and Quilalea. The names probably won't ring a bell. Why should they? The only people who come here at present are fishermen in sailing dhows and dugout canoes, the occasional doughty backpacker prepared to wait for the wind and the tide, and the jetset few flying into Quilalea. This is, after all, Mozambique.

For many years this long, undeveloped streak of Pacific shoreline was the scene of fierce civil war. But the last bullet was fired on the mainland 12 years ago and today Mozambique is a serene, smiley slice of southern Africa, steadily moving away from its nadir as the poorest nation in the world.

It sees tourism as a big player on the path to prosperity, and its main attraction is its 2,500km coastline, together with those undeveloped islands.

The transit to Quilalea is particularly exotic. An English pilot called Neil flew us into nearby Quirimba island in an aircraft made on the Isle of Wight.

There we were met by a German plantation owner, transferred to a speedboat skippered by a South African, and shipped across to the Quilalea beach to be greeted by Mahat, a dainty Mozambican bushbuck with a nose for petit fours.

The resort is the creation of a Belgian resident in Mozambique, Marjolaine Hewletts, and it is upliftingly well done. Shell-lined pathways lead off to nine Makuti-thatched villas with teak decks and carved mahogany doors, each with its own private outlook over the sea - which can be viewed either from an outside hammock, from chairs on the deck or from the elegantly draped four-poster beds through open doors.

There's a decanter of Madeira in every room, a basin of fresh water by the deck for the songbirds at dawn and dusk, and wonderful diving straight from the beach, with lionfish, sweetlips, huge parrotfish and giant clams in the shallows. The dugong, marlin and whales are a touch further out.

The Hewletts are pioneers here.

Prior to their arrival the island was uninhabited and it has yet to be discovered even by mosquitos. They have created a marine reserve around their property and persuaded the fishermen to come onshore and learn how to sashay across the restaurant bearing trays of champagne glasses.

They have also purchased the next island to ensure that no development can take place; not before time.

Wherever I moved in northern Mozambique, hotel scouts were just ahead of me.

Those hoteliers will be particularly interested in Ibo, next island but one to Quilalea. In the early years of Portuguese navigation - the era of Vasco da Gama - this was a major trading and administrative hub in Portuguese East Africa. …

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