Shouting words of encouragement at our 4x4, we made it up the sand dunes and in between fits of giggles we arrived at our destination – Dunes de Dovela. Tucked away in a secluded part of Mozambique, this stunning eco-lodge is nestled amongst rolling sand dunes and forest. We were greeted on arrival by Thomas the owner and were immediately blown away by the panoramic views. Miles of sand dunes, and deserted golden sandy beaches as far as the eye could see – 50km it turns out.
The dedication and passion that has gone into building the eco-lodge is clear to see, the quality of the buildings and the eco-credentials are top notch. It took Thomas and his childhood friend four years to build from scratch. They even had to build the path to the lodge as there was literally nothing there other than beautiful wilderness. They have stuck to their eco-principles in everything they have done, with minimal compromise. Keen to support the local community they made an agreement with the local Chief that they could lease the land in exchange for building two school rooms for the local village. To show their commitment, they built these first before starting the lodge. All the workmen for the lodge were employed from the village and were trained in the necessary construction skills. The villagers continue to use these skills today both in their own village and further afield. Some have been retrained to work at the lodge as; cooks, waiters, house keepers and walking guides etc.
Practically all the materials for the lodge were sourced locally such as the wood for the building frames and furniture, the straw for the thatched roofs, to the bricks and mud for the walls. Given the lodge is off the grid, one compromise they have made is using a diesel powered generator. However, its use is limited to two hours in the morning and evening each day. In the evening guests are provided with torches and oil lamps which only adds to the sense of tranquillity. Talking to Thomas, being sustainable is not only a principle they have honourably chosen, but has become a necessary way of life. When something breaks, given the remoteness of the lodge, going to buy a replacement is simply not always a viable option. Therefore, every effort is made to fix and reuse everything they have. If it takes him two days to fix something, that is what he does. It’s actually quite inspiring to see how resourceful people can be when the situation demands it.
Accommodation at the lodge consists of three huts and four tents, limiting the number of visitors to just fourteen at any one time. This helps maintain the serenity of the place and there are no plans for expansion. All huts are traditional in design and are round with straw pitched roofs. Ours had a big and comfortable four poster bed complete with mosquito net, from which we could see the view through the French doors. We had a separate bathroom with an impressive corner bath, and two large sinks. However the highlight had to be the outdoor shower that took six months to carve out of a tree. In complete privacy we took hot outdoor showers with stunning views of the Indian Ocean, and at night we showered under a blanket of stars – it really was spectacular. The lodge excels at attention to detail such as this and it really adds to the feeling that you’ve found your own little patch of paradise. Other details included a basket with beach towels and sun hats awaiting us on arrival in the room, soap being completely natural and organic with no packaging and coffee and cake being brought to our veranda each morning at at time of our choosing. With the spectacular view of the dunes and the sea, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. It really is a brilliant and exciting example that eco and luxury can go hand in hand.
The setting of the eco-lodge really is stunning. On our first afternoon we headed down to the beach which we reached via a short walk through the statuesque sand dunes. Our faces split into even wider grins as we reached the beach. Kilometres of deserted golden sandy beach with only the birds and crabs to share it with. A reef lies about 50 meters from the shore and in the mornings the tide creates a shallow swimming pool and the small collection of rocks are teaming with brilliantly colourful fish –snorkelling on your doorstep, no boat trip required. The water was really clear and the never ending shades of blue from deep navy to brilliant turquoise were stunning. During the day it did tend to get very hot. In fact, at times the white sand got so hot we had to road-runner it between the sea and the sun shelter the staff had built for us. One brilliant way we cooled down was sunbathing on the sand bar that became exposed at low tide leaving us surrounded by water with gentle waves lapping at our feet.
Although remote, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Along with swimming and snorkelling, from June through October you can watch the hump back whale migration, and all year round you can visit the local Dovela village or explore the numerous walking paths. On our second afternoon we took the walking path from the lodge to the fresh water lake through the forest. The paths are well sign-posted, pretty easy going and there are several routes to choose from. The second walk we did was a guided sunset tour which I thoroughly recommend. It includes a 360 viewpoint at sunset that takes in the Indian Ocean, sand dunes, forest and the lake. Our guide was clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the local environment and pointed out various species of plants, trees and animals. What was sad to hear is that the population growth of the local villages has taken its toll on the wildlife, with the once numerous crocodiles and hippos all but wiped out. However what was promising to see is that the surrounding forest was thick with trees. Mozambique like other neighbouring countries such as Malawi are suffering from extensive deforestation. This is being driven by a combination of timber export along with firewood and coal for cooking and heating by the local population. Grass root efforts are being made to help establish businesses that generate greater value from, and protect the forest. One example is harvesting oils from flowers, fruits and nuts the trees produce. Bom is one such company and uses these oils in their beautiful cosmetics, you can check them out here: www.biooleos.com. The local wildlife is also facing another man made threat - plastic. Although plastic is hardly used in the surrounding area it does get washed up on the beach particularly during storms. Thomas and the team make a special effort to clear this up, and had he not mentioned it Nick and I would be non the wiser as the beach looked pristine, however we were told that plastic makes it’s way from all over world and as far away as Taiwan. In fact an article by the BBC highlighted that 90% of seabirds are estimated to have eaten plastic and are likely to retain some in their gut.
The evenings at the lodge are very relaxed. Given we were the only guests it mostly consisted of chatting to Thomas over a beer after dinner and hearing the fascinating story about how the lodge was the built and learning more about Mozambique. We would then retreat to the privacy of our veranda and star gaze at what simply has to be one of the most stunning sky of stars I’ve ever seen. We had found a book of constellations on the book shelf and with its help managed to trace a few new ones we hadn’t known before including Centaurus and Gemini and we could clearly see the Milky Way. One evening turned out to be extra special. As we arrived back at our veranda there was a bottle of champagne on ice and some music softly playing in the background. It turns out that my boyfriend Nick had arranged it all as a surprise and proceeded to get down on one knee and pop the question. It really was a magical moment that I’m sure neither of us will ever forget. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!
For you foodies out there, the food we experienced at the lodge from beginning to end really was superb. On arrival we were immediately offered something to eat, “I’ll rustle you up a quick snack”, said Alexandra, which turned out to be freshly caught lobster, it tasted absolutely divine. It proved to be an insight into the quality of food we were to enjoy for the rest of our stay. Practically all the food is sourced from the local village and the menu is created according to what is in season and caught that day. The fishing appears to be as sustainable as it gets consisting of a handful of local fishermen armed only with snorkels, flippers and hand held harpoons. No, boats, nets or trawlers in site. The freshness of the produce, along with Alexandra’s French cooking skills were a match made in heaven, every meal was a three course feast! It was some of the best food we have ever had, even in comparison to the best restaurants in London. It got us thinking…..as a nation what have we come to value in our food? This has inspired us to take a whole new look at what food we buy from where, so keep an eye out for my next blog where we will be taking on an April challenge.
I thoroughly recommend a visit, to find our more visit the Dunes de Dovela
Paradise awaits...what are you waiting for ;)