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Issue 17
Africa Travel> Issue 17
UPDATED: July 10, 2015
Swinging from the Chandeliers
Mozambique's Polana Hotel is a slice of historical elegance
Story and photos Jo Kromberg

Restored interior design

"Will passenger Kromberg please board now at Gate (put any gate number here). You are delaying the departure of Flight (any flight number) to (yup, any one of at least six destinations). If you do not report at the gate within the next five minutes we will be forced to offload you."

I have heard variations of this sad refrain many times as I run, bathing in sweat and heavily breathing, constrained by bulky, awkward luggage and bags of various sizes and shapes as bemused passers-by look on.

But NOT today. Today I'm bright eyed and bushy tailed and I discover a whole new world in the form of duty free shopping at OR International Airport in Johannesburg. Yes. I am early!

VIP treatment from South African Airways (SAA) follows in the business lounge before we board business class. The customized Geven "Comoda" on the Boeing A320's business class seats offer large IFE Screens and leg-rests, with 39 inch seat pitch and more importantly, just a 2 x 2 seating configuration, compared to the 2 x 3 currently offered in the rest of its short haul fleet. In economy, there is the standard 31-32 inch seat pitch.

Every seat has a leg rest, and an adjustable headrest, with a recline of about seven inches, allowing the seat to fold out into a cradle position offering super comfort for long regional trips. Seats have loads of stowage on the sides.

All the seats (except for the first row) have a special innovative feature: the back shell has space to stow a PC tablet, with a USB power-point that keeps a tablet powered during the flight, and PC power points in the centre console for additional laptop computer power. The Business Class seats are a customised design for SAA – an airline first.

Our flight from Johannesburg to Maputo in Mozambique lasts only about 45 minutes in which to enjoy this special business class treat. After a quick customs clearance at the beautiful new Maputo airport, we are personally met by three representatives from the iconic Polana Hotel with towels and drinks and whisked off in their air-conditioned modern vehicle.

Preparing the elegant bed

Elegance, luxury and romance

We pull up in front of the hotel after a 15-minute drive through the city, located in a leafy boulevard of one of Maputo's most exclusive residential districts. Now just think New York's Waldorf Astoria. The Savoy in London. The Los Angeles Beverley Hills. Raffles in Singapore. The Mount Nelson in Cape Town.

These places conjure up romance, luxury, elegance and just a tad bit of mystery. And like the legendary names they are associated with, they have history, prestige and influence.

A grand hotel is a landmark as architecturally notable as the city hall or opera house, and very often claims designated historical status.

The Polana is a study in understated elegance. No pomp and ceremony, just sophisticated old world charm, from the marbled lobby with fresh flowers everywhere, lazy fans overhead to the old-fashioned, classic restored lift with iron gate.

We are greeted warmly by the marketing and sales managers and general manager, as well as the food and beverage manager.

After a quick and efficient check-in we are taken to our rooms and the affect is breath-taking. Never have I seen such a palatial, meticulously decorated and stylish room. There is an undercurrent of Indian influence here but the overall impression is of colonial, restored charm. Personified refined elegance, and with lavish references to Mozambique's Indo-Portuguese heritage, the rooms in this historic colonial building feature predominantly exotically carved furniture, juxtaposed with luxurious fabrics in muted tones of cream and off-white. The bed-head is composed of delicate carved spindles, set against a silken backdrop, while the overhead canopy is framed by an exquisitely carved mahogany frieze.

My room looks out over the sea from a huge balcony with red and white tiles. My toes (and my hair) curl at the sight of my sea view.

Hotel pool and the endless Indian Ocean

Stellar services

After stellar buffet lunch consisting of superb morsels such as seafood soup, prawns, beef and duck, we are taken on a tour of the hotel and told it's interesting and larger-than life history. Built in 1922 along sweepingly splendid lines, the Hotel has long been considered one of Africa's finest hotels. The Polana has recently emerged from an extensive renovation program, thanks to the Serena Group's commitment to lovingly restoring the original architecture and ambience of this masterpiece. This has resulted in the presentation of a landmark historic building whose classic charm has been fused with the ultimate in world-class amenities.

Offering 142 rooms, many of which are spacious suites, the 'Grande Dame' of Maputo now also offers a choice of three restaurants: the all-day dining Varanda Restaurant, the Delagoa fine-dining experience in the French style; the Aquarius Sushi Bar (which features blue marble from Brazil), and the Polana Bar.

The hotel also offers the 'Maisha' Mind Body and Spirit Health Club and Spa, a stunning swimming pool, extensive gardens, an exclusive residents' lounge, a business centre, a beauty salon and three gift shops.

At the forefront of Maputo's business venues, the hotel also offers its own conference and social events suite, which features a majestic opulent ballroom.

The outside gardens are beautifully manicured, hugging the massive art-deco pool and the hedges look like they have been trimmed by nail-clippers…

We are wined and dined at the Delagoa restaurant that evening in fine style, feasting on a 5-star menu with dishes including amouse bouche (small appetizers) and the finest fish, meat and seafood dishes. The service is impeccable and a wonderful and memorable evening passes in the blink of an eye.

The next morning the heat bites as we pile into our vehicle for a tour of the city and markets after a decadent breakfast.

Maputo Museum of Natural History

Maputo sights

Our first stop is the Maputo Railway Station, built in front of the "Praça dos Trabalhadores" (workers square), the former Mac-Mahon Square. The construction of the "Department of Railway of Lourenço Marques" as it was called in the colonial era, started in 1908 and ended two years later in 1910. The remarkable bronze dome, founded specially for the building, was constructed in South Africa and its assembly was an innovation for that time.  Our next stop is The Fortress or "Nossa Senhora da Conceição" which is located next to the Maputo Fishing Harbour. The Fortress is one of the most important and historical monuments in Maputo. The history for the Fort stems from around 1721 when Dutch settlers established Lagoa Fortress on the right bank of the Espírito Santo River, (The Maputo River) at the Ponta Mahone, (Catembe). This was abandoned in 1730 and then re-established by Austrian settlers in 1777 and used for the slave trade. In 1796 the Fortress was attacked by French pirates who, although unsuccessful in holding on to it due to illness from Malaria and other diseases, severely damaged its infrastructure. It was rebuilt by Tenant Luis José and inaugurated on the 25th August 1799. It is an inspiring an amazing place and well worth a visit.

There are many other attractions in Maputo but we only have time for one last stop – the market. Built between 1901 and 1903. The building has got a "U" form design and it was built in the neoclassic style of Anglo-Saxon architecture. The roof is made of iron and is typical of many commercial houses existing in the same area. The building is believed to be a replica of Aster Hall, a building in the German Town of Hamburg. It's a hive of activity on a Saturday morning, with a wide variety and diversity of commodities sold such as fruits, cashew nuts, fish, meat, aromatic herbs and spices as well as handcraft and souvenirs. A definite must-do! And of course you can haggle with the locals and pick up a bargain or two.

We enjoy high-tea in the afternoon – as is want here every afternoon – and yet again the array and quality of food and selection of teas and coffees is world class. We then head off in our directions to loll by the pool like royalty or just enjoy the beautiful gardens or sun terraces – or simply read in your room as the tropical breeze blows the sea air softly into your sanctuary, making the curtains billow.

That evening – sadly our last – the Polana pulls out all the stops and present to us their amazing seafood buffet. Grilled barbecue fish of all shapes and sizes, salads, vegetables, beef, more fish, calamari, prawns, crayfish, with about 20 different variety of sauces and condiments… it just doesn't stop, and each mouthful more delicious than the last…

Portuguese-Indo architecture

I go to sleep and sweet dreams of paradise surround my sweet slumber. The following morning we are again surprised by a very special treat. The executive chef does a food demonstration in his very own hallowed kitchen where we don our own chefs' hats and aprons and are encouraged to participate. How special, educational and interesting – and fun!

It is with a sad heart that we depart that afternoon but I can now officially say I have lived the legend….


Serena Hotels, The Polana:


Getting there:

There are currently no flights between China and Mozambique but there are many multi-stop flights available to South Africa such as Emirates and Cathay Pacific. South African Airways flies to Maputo on a daily basis. Go to https://www.flysaa.com/za/en/

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