Too readily these days is the barefoot luxury label slapped onto properties looking to make an extra dime by opening a more casual restaurant or a boho beach club. But the term encapsulates more than merely a laidback vibe, and one upcoming resort on the Mozambican island of Benguerra promises to get it right: Kisawa Sanctuary.
When we heard the news of a five-star hideaway opening in Mozambique’s lesser-visited Bazaruto Archipelago later this year, we were intrigued to say the least. The small island chain has long offered an alternative way to experience the Indian Ocean, though only the best travelled have visited, and we swear there’s some sort of pact to keep the place a secret – even we were in the dark until a friend raved about beautiful Benguerra two years ago! With the upcoming launch of Kisawa Sanctuary, our desire to see the island for ourselves has never been stronger.
Spread across some 300 hectares and 5 kilometres of coastal land, the hotel’s 22 bungalows, 12 residences and its centrepiece, the Kisawa Residence, will range from beachside retreats to dwellings on the dunes. While visitors are spoilt for choice when choosing an accommodation option, they needn’t worry about space: each bungalow comes with at least one acre of land and those looking to explore beyond will rejoice in the resort’s eclectic collection of Mini Mokes (get in the car loser, we’re going snorkelling!).
Caught a rainy day? No need to fret. The dwellings themselves promise to make for an inspired surrounding decked with curated artworks and antiques that have been sourced from across Africa, textiles made by the local community and a unique colour scheme throughout each bungalow – not to mention hand-carved stone bathtubs and a 24/7 guest service team to appease your inner diva. But to really experience Kisawa is to experience its environment, and that’s where we think the hotel finds its raison d’être.
Sure, there are private boat charters and other excursions you’ll know from similar destinations, but we can’t quite recall the last time we were invited to join marine scientists on diving expeditions or help tag sharks from the deck of a research vessel. It’s through activities like these that the property attains an experiential tilt, not to mention a barefoot one: for barefoot luxury has always been about exploration and freedom to us. It’s not so much about an artificially laidback vibe, but about waking up in a place where the opportunities for discovery and the chance for a genuine sense of surprise seem boundless. A place where a traveller can find their own trail around nature, observe wildlife in its natural habitat, build sandcastles on a secluded stretch of sand and organise an impromptu picnic on the dunes overlooking the sea – or do none of the above and instead kick back and recharge the batteries at the spa.
To us, going barefoot entails cutting back to the essentials of simply being with nature. When it’s done well, and a hotel succeeds in facilitating room for spontaneity and play, the luxury part automatically falls into place. Kisawa Sanctuary is, of course, predestined for this. With an astounding amount of space (even by African standards) to roam around one of the Indian Ocean’s least explored ecosystems, an island shared with dugongs, Samango monkeys, Nile crocodiles and over 150 bird species, the resort promises to wow guests with a true castaway feel. In fact, the only place safe from cavalier sentiments on Benguerra is the nearby Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies, Africa’s first permanent ocean observatory purposefully built alongside Kisawa to deliver valuable research for years to come. So who’s behind the combined project, you ask? The short answer is Nina Flohr, and the long is Princess Nina of Greece and Denmark, though really, they’re one and the same person.
At first glance, you’d be excused to write Kisawa Sanctuary off as a vanity project: a sprawling resort with infinity pools and five dining venues on an off-the-beaten-track island, not to mention the brainchild of a real-life princess. But that wouldn’t do Flohr’s ‘resort-to-research’ business model justice. If it proves successful, the concept could spark a new era of initiative-driven tourism to a country whose natural beauty is as unrivalled as it is under threat. What’s crucial is for travellers to grow so fond of Mozambique, they’ll want their visit to have a positive impact on the country. And if Kisawa lives up to what it promises – the freedom to explore limitlessly and make lasting memories, barefoot in the sand – we have a feeling it’ll deliver on that, too.
Photography courtesy of Kisawa Sanctuary