Laid-back luxury: Rio Azul in Mozambique.
Laid-back luxury: Rio Azul in Mozambique.
Image: Dook

Far up north in Mozambique, guests are taken by car for anywhere between 1.5 and 2 hours north of Vilanculos to the southern point of the Govuro estuary system. The journey there offers a taste of what visitors to Rio Azul seek out: solitude.

Built about 10 years ago as a holiday getaway by John and Jane van der Bijl, it was that remoteness that originally drew them there; that and the fishing for John and friends. Backed by the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago and fronted by the estuary, the lodge’s location at the water’s edge offers a host of options for guests, from day trips down the river, to fishing and snorkeling at nearby Paradise Island and picnics on the beach.

A recent upgrade, at the hands of interior architect and friend of the van der Bijl's, Julia Day has seen the small lodge up its ante, offering guests an experience that’s on par with the area’s exceptional natural surrounds. In keeping with Day’s knack for understated interiors with an emotional connection, the aesthetic is clean-lined, pared back and simple. “It was important that the décor shouldn’t interfere with the scenery, so Julia kept it extremely minimal,” explains Jane.

Since the lodge has become more popular with honeymooners and foreign guests, John and Jane wanted to take the aesthetic up a notch while retaining the lodge’s laid-back feel. Subtle nods to the ocean appear in splashes of blue, but overall, the palette at Rio Azul is restrained with generous use of white, paired with natural tones and textures in the form of timber and thatch.

Julia Day stressed the simplicity of the look and feel so as to not interfere with the natural surrounds.
Julia Day stressed the simplicity of the look and feel so as to not interfere with the natural surrounds.
Image: Dook

“I wanted to turn the existing look and feel into something that would provide a narrative, involving a more sensorial and responsive reaction from clients,” Day explains. Prior to the refurb, the lodge was a little more rugged and called for an experiential connection.

Due to Rio Azul’s intimate scale (six chalets and two luxury villas) as well as the relaxed atmosphere that John and Jane have created there, a sense of homeliness was key. To achieve this, Day stressed the simplicity of the look and feel, steering away from any overtly decorative or busy references and playing on tactility and subtlety. Towels for example are high quality cotton in a fine weave from Mungo and the crockery is clean lined, but tactile and earthy.

Rio Azul chalet.
Rio Azul chalet.
Image: Dook
Restrained palette at Rio Azul: generous use of white, paired with natural tones and textures.
Restrained palette at Rio Azul: generous use of white, paired with natural tones and textures.
Image: Dook

Day had existing furniture and new pieces slipcovered in white canvas with a very soft handle. The look is crisp but subtle. In her own words, Day explains that she was after an experience that was sensory, rather than visual; that sensory experience undoubtedly adds to the familiar home-away-from-home feeling. “The aim was to shift the design into a more sensorial environment and in so doing, make the environment quieter. That way, there’s a physical and emotional connection to the surrounding location,” Day says.

Day also worked on changing the spatial layout of the lodge, eager to celebrate its natural beauty rather than filling space, which could potentially distract from what’s on offer. She custom designed sofas and chairs that are flexible, offering a host of configurations for guests who may either want to come together or retain their privacy. An assortment of small coffee tables, arranged in groups, offer the same flexibility as well as a lending a relaxed, layered vibe.

Custom designed sofas and chairs and an assortment of small coffee tables.
Custom designed sofas and chairs and an assortment of small coffee tables.
Image: Dook

“It has a very natural beauty and we wanted to play on that authenticity, Day comments. Diners are treated to fresh fish, caught daily, prepared by three in-house chefs and the lodge has its own vegetable gardens, owing to its remoteness, while those at the bar enjoy spectacular sundowner views over the estuary. This is laid-back luxury at its finest, a stylish, yet restful waterside escape on some of the best coastline that Africa has to offer. 

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