Lake Poelela Resort, Mozambique

Lake Poelela Resort, Mozambique

Lush Lake Poelela

One thing no one told me before I came to Mozambique was how lush it is going to be. I felt my preconceived notions melt away, as we drove through the dense foliage towards Lake Poelela Resort, in Inharrime province. Cows with beautiful hides stand on the open spaces, calmly chewing on the grass. Coconut trees rise above the dense vegetation, with bunches of green fruit hanging just below the bellowing leaves, promising abundance and refreshment.

Lake Poelela Resort

The resort sits on the eastern shore of Lake Poelela and is separated from the Indian Ocean, and the famous diving resort Zavora, by a 2.5 km stretch of sand dunes and indigenous vegetation. While being close enough to the diving, it offers a completely different experience and seems to be one of Mozambique’s best-kept secrets. I got lucky to be friends with one of those in-the-know.

It is a family run business, and the owners seem to have acquired a loyal customer base made of locals and visitors from neighbouring countries. Their TripAdvisor page is full of reviews from returning guests.

It is impossible to prepare for the surprise of arriving at the lodge. Through dense greenery on a dirt road, a quick walk up a small wooden path and onto an expanse of a private, sandy beach and the crystal-clear lake that stretches to the horizon.

When we arrive, we receive a warm welcome of hugs and solid handshakes from the owners – Arthur and his son Riaan. Arthur, who is originally from South Africa, has been an entrepreneur his whole life. Real estate has always been his passion. Lake Poelela Resort is one of his many ventures, as well as a home to his family in Mozambique for the past ten years. “When we arrived here, there was no electricity. We eventually convinced the local authorities to extend the power line up to the lake.” Now the lodge offers the tranquillity of a remote village in the comforts of civilization, including a fully equipped kitchen, and a private barbecue area.

Riaan shows us around the main house and the cottages, which serve as private, satellite rooms. One of the lodges each sleep eight people in four double rooms with en-suite bathrooms, and the second lodge sleeps six people in three double en-suite rooms. “Everything here was made my hand.” The roof made of reeds. The furniture of solid wood. The shell-encrusted shower. They all attest to the skills of the craftsmanship and the love that Jenny, Arthur’s wife put into designing the lodge.

We head to the terrace to watch the post-card sunset. The water reflects a sky of dreamy peach and gold. The rustling of the palm trees is the only sound that interrupts the gentle swishing of the waves. Riaan points out their tilapia farm some 50 metres away from the shoreline “It’s another one of Arthur’s businesses. You can watch our guys going out in the canoes three times a day to feed. Feel free to join them and have a look.”

We spend the next few days enjoying the tranquillity of the lodge – cooking, swimming, canoeing, reading, brainstorming and sharing stories. The beauty of spending time with travellers is that you never run out of things to talk about.

Beach Bummin’ in Zavora

On our last day, we ventured out to Zavora. As we are in a low-season, it felt like we came to a wild beach; miles and miles of shoreline stretching in both directions, with only us and a few local fishermen to plant our footsteps in the sand.

Equally wild, but slightly more perilous, was the ocean – roaring and foaming as it crashed over the rocks in the seabed.

There was a natural Jacuzzi in the rock formations. Sheltered just enough for you to plunge into, and still allowing the waves to leap in and create a whirlpool.

Another, much larger pool, had a tremendous current running through it. We tried to swim against it, for fun and exercise, but gave up when we began to drift too quickly in the wrong direction. In the end, we jumped in the ocean and enjoyed frolicking of the waves. I don’t know if it was the wilderness of the beach, or the complete relaxation after spending a few days at Lake Poelela, but I got the sudden urge to skinny-dip. There was something so liberating about this getaway. I understand why many guests return here time and again. But don’t take my word for it – try for yourself.

To stay at Lake Poelela Resort, call Riaan on + 258 87 289 2853 or email poelela@gmail.com for reservations.

Lake Poelela sleeps up to eight, from €25 per person per night.

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Matapa Cooking Class from Local Women

Matapa Cooking Class from Local Women

A Humble but Important Dish

 

Matapa is a mozambican staple, served in every household, restaurant and market stall in the land. It’s virtually impossible to go out to eat, and not find Matapa on the menu. In fact, you can compare, and judge the cook, by the quality of their Matapa.

Matapa is made from freshly picked leaves of the cassava plant, coconut milk and peanut powder. Often it is cooked with fresh crab, which adds a nice layer of complexity with its delicate texture. It is not a sophisticated dish, but it has a lovely sweetness and heartiness to it.

The ingredients used to make Matapa are easy to find – they grow in every back yard. This is why Matapa is so prevalent here – it is an easy way to feed the family, no matter what your economic situation is. Cassava, as I have discovered, is a plant that will happily grow in the sand and doesn’t require any maintenance.

Last week, I was fortunate to spend a day with a family in a village of the Inhambane district and learn from the local women to plant cassava and cook Matapa.

Clearning the Land to Plant Cassava, dressed in Capulana

 

Here we are, clearing the land to plant cassava, which should produce plants within 3 months. Costanza, who welcomed us to her house, is to my left. As you can see, we are wearing matching skirts. In fact, this is a traditional textile, called Capulana. She kindly swaddled me up in this gorgeous Capulana so I could feel like a member of the community, and look the part during my visit to the village!

Farming cassava
Farming cassava
Farming cassava
Farming cassava

We made fresh coconut milk. From scratch!

I learnt the art of pounding.

poudning cassava for matapa
poudning cassava for matapa

Matapa Recipe

 

Want to try making Matapa in your own kitchen? It doesn’t require complicated ingredients and is almost impossible to mess up! Here’s a recipe for you, directly from the local women in Mozambique!

In case you can’t find fresh cassava leaves, use kale or spinach as a substitute.

Ingredients

1 large bunch cassava leaves (substitute with kale, or spinach,)

2 cloves garlic

1 3/4 cups unsalted peanuts

3/4 cup coconut milk

salt to taste

Method

Grind the cassava leaves with the cloves of garlic. Add to a large stockpot pot with a small quantity of water, just enough to submerge all of the ground greens. Bring this to a boil and allow it to continue bubbling on medium-high heat for about twenty minutes or until paste-like.

Meanwhile, blend the peanuts in a food processor to a fine powder. This should get you about 1 1/2 cups of ground peanuts. Mix the peanut powder with coconut milk. Pour this into the boiling greens and mix well.

Allow to simmer over low heat for 1-2 hours until you get a consistent, thick sauce.

Add sautéed prawns for extra flavour (optional).

Serve with generous portion of rice and a big smile!

 

Bom apetite!

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Weekend in Barra, Mozambique

Weekend in Barra, Mozambique

To Barra in the Back of a Pick-up

Since coming to Mozambique, I started wearing less and going out more. Much more. Why not? The weather is beautiful, the beer is cold and eating out costs as much as cooking at home (and requires none of the effort). To take a break from the hectic social life of Tofo, we headed to Barra for a weekend of chill.

We drove there in the back of a pick-up truck, as locals do, watching the sun set behind the tall, coconut trees.

Farol de Barra Lodge

We stayed at the Farol de Barra lodge, which sits right on the beach and offers incredible views of the ocean. The lodges are built of solid wood and are decorated in a nautical style à la Mozambique – white wooden furniture, white-washed floors, white curtains, and a pop of blue on cushion covers made of Capulana.

We arrived just before sunset, just in time for Sundowners (alcoholic beverages consumed looking at the sunset).  Having them in Barra is something really special.

Ernest Hemingway once said: “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” It’s not hard to see why.

Chill in Barra

We spent the following day at the hotel restaurant, Chill Bar. It’s the perfect place to kick back under a straw cabana, drink cocktails and watch the ocean roll onto the white sandy beach.

There is also a pool where you can cool off if you’re too lazy to walk down to the ocean.

The chef cooked us clams for lunch, which we enjoyed them while sitting on the sand around the low table.

When the sun started making it’s way down towards the edge of the bay, we ventured into the waters to play in the waves.

The Sun Sets over Barra

Thanks to the late check out time, we stayed for sunset and went for another long walk along the beach. The sky turns rose pink and slowly grows fiery orange.

As dusk falls on Barra, all that’s left of the day’s sun is the soft glow in the sky, the ocean and the heart.

It’s the perfect getaway from the world, and I look forward to going back soon!

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The Other Side of Lake Lugano

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Lake Lugano – Destination for the Rich and Famous?

What adjectives come to mind when you think of Lake Lugano? Picturesque, serene, luxurious? Yes, yes, and yes. Happily, I’ve discovered that you can have all these, without the pinch of the associated price tag.

Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano

Everyone thinks of Lugano as the holiday destination for the wealthy. However, the town of Lugano itself, is in Switzerland, which means Swiss Franks and Swiss prices. Drive ten minutes down the road, and you are in Valsolda, Italy, where you have the same lake, arguably better food and, as we discovered, a whole lot more fun!

Last summer, we spent a night on Lake Lugano at the delightful Hotel Stella D’Italia. Arriving at the hotel, we found the receptionist having a friendly chat with a neighbour, laughing and smoking as she told him the latest gossip and played with his dog. She waved us to park right next to the hotel entrance. Molto Bene.

Lugano Lost in Time

 

The first impression of the hotel is one of stepping into an era of days bygone. There are heavy curtains, printed upholstery, and carved wooden sculptures in the hallway.

Our key is not a card, but has a big metal key ring with our room number engraved; the kind you leave at the front desk before going out. The room, a superior with its own balcony, has a view of the lake and mountains. It is simple but tasteful.

Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano

Lakeside Luxury

 

Have I already mentioned that the hotel is perched directly on the lakeside?

The hotel restaurant is in the garden, shielded from the summer sun by a roof of vine. There is also a wooden deck with very sleek loungers, where you can soak in all the glory of Lombardian sun.

Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano

I don’t remember ever staying in a hotel where I felt so at home. Perhaps a little too at home. After a 2 am skinny dip, we wrapped ourselves up in towels Mario-Testino style, and walked barefoot through the garden to our room, negotiating a bucket of ice with the night portiere as we went.

Lake Lugano

Lugano By Speedboat

There is a nearby jetty where you can rent a speedboat for as little as 60 EUR per hour. No questions asked, we were given the keys and a friendly piece of advice to stay out of Swiss waters, where they require a license to hire a boat. When we returned from our tour of the sleepy lake, the signore running the shop gave us recommendations on where to eat and go for a drink.

Lake Lugano

We ended up at a beach party, feet in the sand, vodka tonics in hand, dancing to house hits from a few years back.  It felt like a place where La Dolce Vita is still very much alive. However, here it doesn’t mean flash clothes and cars, but that life is beautiful and everything is possible.

All you need to do is ask.

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Nature Healing at Ayii Anargyri

Nature Healing at Ayii Anargyri

Waking up in Ayii Anargyri

 

I awake as the sun rays peak in through the balcony doors. Crisp morning air fills the room. I can smell the mountains. The riverbed. The orange groves in the valley. It’s 7 in the morning. Other than the chirping of birds in the trees outside, I can hear no sound. It’s a beautiful morning at Ayii Anargyri, and it’s time for breakfast.

The Food

I wander to the restaurant, past the stone cottages and the pool, past the olive and the orange trees. The restaurant is empty and the buffet is overflowing with a Mediterranean take on the Continental – fresh dates, yoghurt, a honey comb, grilled vegetables, halloumi cheese, cold cuts, village bread and a selection of freshly squeezed juices. The Ayii Anargyri resort promises to offer locally sourced produce to reveal the best of traditional Cypriot cuisine – and it delivers!
After a three course breakfast – indeed, it was three courses, and delicious – we went for a long walk in the nearby forest. After walking off the feast, we headed to the spa.

Ancient Place of Healing

 

The Ayii Anargyri Spa, which is based on an ancient sulfur spring, was first formally opened in 1649 by two brothers, Cosmas and Damianos. Their generosity in offering treatment often without thought of reward gave rise to the name Ayii Anargyri – Silverless Saints. There is a church on the premises of the resort that holds an ancient icon of the healers.

Modern Spa

Today the spa is equipped with modern technology and three treatment pools – for kinesiotherapy, rheumatology and phlevology. Ayii Anargyri has come a long way from the penniless healers of 17th century. But their legacy remains and the resort stays true to the promise of natural healing, allowing for an all-round immersion and offering a sense of profound calm.

 

Complete Relaxation

Lying in the relaxation room, sipping a cocktail of rosemary and lavender teas brewed from herbs grown at the property, I watch the early afternoon sun pour over the hills across the valley. My mind drifts away and I lose sense of time and space. I feel completely relaxed, almost sleepy, and grateful for the sense of peace.

Verdict

This boutique hotel in the midst of the Paphos mountain range is a unique getaway, and a beautiful place to unwind and restore your health and sense of balance.
Here’s a link to a special offer for your stay at Ayii Anargyri. For stays from Sunday to Monday, you will get the full breakfast, complimentary access to the spa and a three-course dinner at the cellar restaurant included in the price of the room!
A very generous gift, not unlike that of the founding Ayii Anargyri brothers!
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South of France Off-Duty

South of France Off-Duty

People travel to the south of France for the sight of the super-yachts, super-cars and super-stars. While it is definitely fun to experience the glamour of Cote D’Azur during high-season, it is without a doubt an overpriced and over-hyped affair.

I personally prefer to visit the south of France off-season. During autumn and spring, the weather is still warm but the tourists are gone and no one will think to charge you 20 EUR for a bottle of sparkling water.

This time we went for a long weekend in mid-November and enjoyed 26 degrees, cool rose and a backdrop of cloudless skies. And not a greasy body turning like a roasting chicken in sight.

A Perfect Day Off-Season

We would start our day with a quick dash to Banette – a bakery in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer that makes the best croissants in the world.

Nearby a farmers market is bustling and across the road old men sit in a café sipping on their morning espressos.

After a few minutes inside the bakery, I walk out with two big bags filled with croissants, pains au chocolat, pissaladières and warm baguettes, already chomping at the end of one.

Lunch in Villefranche

Later in the day, we drive to Villefrache for lunch. We park the Vespa at the end of the bay and stroll the harbour, studying the menus hanging outside. Eventually, we settle down in Oursin Bleu.  The tables stand lining the pavement, about half a meter from the water. Fresh sea bass and turbot are the catch of the day.

Around us, families and couples are occupying the few busy tables. A lady comes with her dog and the waiter brings them a little bowl with water. A fisherman is slowly rowing towards his fishing boat, while the waiter gallantly pours rose into our glasses. The sun is warm and I can smell the sea. No super-yachts, no revving engines, no smell of boat fuel. Just the way God intended.

Monaco To Ourselves

We spend the following day at the Monaco Yacht Club. We get there just after brunch, order a bottle of rose and lay absorbing the November sun amidst white leather and sun-kissed decking.

The afternoon stretches out. The pool area empties completely and I get the sense that we have the whole of Monaco to ourselves. Occasionally, I hear laughter and screams from the funfair down at Port Hercule. Inside, someone is playing the piano and singing opera. “What is the occasion?” I ask. “It’s a beautiful day,” I am told whimsically. On the surface of the pool, sunlight shimmers in agreement.

 

South of France to Italy

On Sunday, we venture out to Ventimiglia, a little coastal town just across the border of Italy, in search of pasta and pizza.

I love going to the family-run La Vecchia Napoli. They serve mouth-watering pasta (my absolute favourite is the seafood and sepia ink linguini). Their pizza dough is so perfectly thin, that the cheese drapes down deliciously as you lift a piece off the plate.

They also grill fresh seafood and offer house wine at 7 EUR for the litre. The service is friendly, if not entirely professional, but there is something homely about the familiarity.

It may not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, if you speak any Italian and feel like some real nopoletana pizza, it is a good one to try.

Dolce Francia

Anyone who says that South of France is pretentious probably has not seen it off-duty. My South of France, my sweet, sweet, South of France is more Bridget Bardot in a loose shirt and slacks than Paris Hilton in a bikini and bling. So don’t be throwing shade at my baby if you haven’t met her.

Every time I come back to the South of France, I know that I could live here. With any luck, I would have a nice house to rent out to the sheiks and oligarchs during high-season. Then, I could retreat into the sleepy villages of les Alpes-Maritimes that keep vigil over the overwhelmed coastline during the summer months.

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