Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is a fascinating city … noisy, gridlocked,lively, colourful. Emerging from a long civil war, this City of Acacias is a melting pot of Portuguese, Shangaan, Arab and Indian, and increasingly Chinese, influences.
In many places, fine Portuguese buildings remain in decay or are adapted to accommodate a burgeoning population. The historic Polana Hotel, however, has risen from the ashes and is now set in beautiful grounds overlooking Maputo Bay. Designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker, a huge influence in South African public buildings such as the Union Buildings in Pretoria, it opened in 1922 “with very few hotels in Europe to equal its conditions.”
During the Second World War, as part of the Portuguese empire, it became notorious as a neutral meeting place for spies and secret agents from Germany, Italy and the Allied Forces. Sitting under the ceiling fan on the verandah, sipping a g & t, it’s easy to imagine the exchanges taking place, deals and double deals, information bought and sold. All it needs is a pianist and Ingrid Bergman urging him to “Play it once Sam, for old time’s sake”…. but that was another part of Africa, wasn’t it?
The hotel fell into decline, when 250,000 Portuguese left hurriedly in 1975 and a civil war ensued, but happily was rescued by the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development in 2002.
Maputo is famous for its avenues of flowering acacias, which surround the gardens of the Polana. There’s a wide range of colourful hibiscus surrounding the entrance and the steaming heat releases the fragrance of the frangipani trees, whilst fountains drip water languidly.
There are hedges of sky blue Plumbago and drifts of Agapanthus, soft blues always refreshing in temperatures nearing 40C.
Arab and Portugueses influences are seen in the courtyard gardens of the Spa, where water and shade are strong elements, alongside cool blue patterned tiles.
The Art Nouveau style of the formal Delagoa dining room overlooks a structured garden of clipped hedges and fountains, the formality of the former reflected in the garden.
In the searing heat, a welcome wind drifts up from the Indian Ocean, fishing boats return to port with their haul of tiger prawns, for which Mozambique is famous, along with the fiery heat of its peri-peri sauces. Outside the walls there’s the dim hum of rush hour traffic and in the gardens cicadas start up their evening clicking song.
Must be about time for that g&t on the verandah…