Deep blue sea: Tofo is a village on the Mozambique coast that hosts a vibrant market, bars and restaurants. Picture: SUPPLIED
Deep blue sea: Tofo is a village on the Mozambique coast that hosts a vibrant market, bars and restaurants. Picture: SUPPLIED

Tofo Beach in Mozambique is more than just a place — it’s a mood or, rather, an intoxicating medley of them: sultry and languid, easygoing and serene.

As you arrive, with the sea breeze rustling through the palms, you can almost feel your body’s urban tension melting and unclenching. It’s not for everyone, though. You definitely shouldn’t visit Tofo if you like your luxury hermetically sealed — barricaded from poverty, from dirt, from the ripe exuberance of tropical Africa.

Do you mind sand under your toenails and in your sheets; the blaring pop and fishy smells of the market; the cheerful boys selling coconuts and bracelets on the beach?

If you’re prepared to leave the starched linen and leather sandals at home; to don flip-flops and capulana shorts — you’ll be amply rewarded.

For decades, Tofo has lured a steady stream of backpackers, many of whom make the cramped nine-hour pilgrimage on the rickety chappa that Fatima’s hostel offers between the village and Maputo.

It would be a mistake, though, to think that it only caters to crusty hippies travelling on a shoestring.

In January, I stayed at Baia Sonâmbula (Sleeping Beach). It’s not surprising that this boutique guest house is ranked the number one B&B in Tofo on TripAdvisor: the place is absolutely sublime.

Tropical allure: Boutique guest house Baia Sonâmbula is ranked the number one B&B in Tofo on TripAdvisor. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tropical allure: Boutique guest house Baia Sonâmbula is ranked the number one B&B in Tofo on TripAdvisor. Picture: SUPPLIED

Take 12 steps from its entrance and you’re on the beach, while the vibrant centre of the village — with its market, bars and restaurants — is a handy five-minute amble away, distant enough, however, for the only soundtrack at night-time to be the crash and roar of the waves.

I stayed in Baia’s newest bungalow, one of four sea-facing ones. It also has two garden rooms. The white-walled room with its touches of dark wood combines European minimalist chic with beachy Mozambican warmth, though it wouldn’t be out of place in Ibiza or Capri either.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors frame gobsmacking beach views, opening out on to a private deck and splash pool. There’s no Wi-Fi in the room (only up at the communal lounge), no silly mod-cons and no air-con either – who needs it when you’ve got sea breezes and three fans to cool you down?

Wooden shutters open up to your bathroom; the basins and loo are under cover, while the shower area is open to the elements. The water sluices down a curved wooden furrow, luxuriantly dousing you — and the plants on either side.

Breakfast turned out to be a surprising highlight. When I visited, Charlotte McCormick, a bubbly culinary consultant from the UK, was working with Baia’s team in the tiny kitchen, whipping up marvellous pancakes, good old English breakfasts and tasty omelettes.

Although this establishment officially only offers guests breakfast, there are always complimentary hot drinks available and, come 2pm, McCormick serves up a teatime treat — white choc-studded brownies, scrumptious choc chip cookies or mango puree with homemade yoghurt.

For lunch and dinner you’re not short of options, all a short walk away. Hotel Tofo Mar, referred to locally by everyone as simply "the hotel", does decent sushi and has live music
on Friday nights.

 On the village’s sandy main drag, you’ll find the humble Branko’s, which I visited again and again, braving the expat crowds, for its cheap and incredibly tasty wood-fired pizza starting at about R58, with a bunch of toppings to choose from washed down with quarts of 2m and Manica beer. Branko’s also has great stuffed crab starters and hot rocks upon which you can cook scallops, beef and, very rarely, tuna.

Further up the street, Casa do Comer is a quieter and roomier alternative. From the moment you take the first sip of a petrol-strength caipirinha, you’ll forgive the ponderously slow service, which is, admittedly, pretty rampant throughout Mozambique.

The chalkboard menu is all about nicely done Mozambican classics: crab curry, chicken peri-peri and the national dish, matapa – a silky mix of manioc (cassava), crab, groundnuts and coconut milk.

During the day, Beach Baraka has great sandwiches, but its matapa wrap steals the show: falafel or chicken and fresh vegetables in a bright green tortilla with garlic yoghurt on the side. Its owners have recently opened Dathonga in the old railway lodge opposite, a gallery showcasing contemporary Mozambican art, including work by Gonçalo Mabunda, Butheca and Nelsa Guambe — with a beach bar that sometimes has live
music outside.

For the closest thing to fine dining in the area, you’ve got to head a little further to Barra, a thinly populated neighbouring village half-an-hour away. If you don’t have your own wheels, ask the charming JC who runs the No Food for Lazy Man taxi service to take you.

First head to Flamingo Bay Lodge, (which was being rebuilt following a devastating fire), hire a kayak and paddle lazily among the mangroves as the sun steadily sinks and hundreds of cormorants sweep over you.

Your appetite suitably whetted, it’s time to head across to the Green Turtle restaurant at Bay View Lodge, which lives up to its name: the beach stretches interminably on either side.

First – cocktails! In the interests of thorough investigative research, I tried both the basil and mint mojitos, as well as the frozen strawberry caipirinha. All top-notch. Restaurateurs Joelle and François Chapuis combine French flair with fresh local ingredients to produce consistently excellent dishes, such as calamari and bacon with mayo-doused greens or citrusy ceviche for starters. For mains, classic crab curry, fish fillet with chorizo sauce soaked pasta or crumbed prawns, tartare sauce and chips.

With all this food available, it’s just as well there are plenty of ways in Tofo to burn off the calories. The beach from Tofo to Barra goes on for miles and miles – great for solitary
runs, concluded, of course, with a long soak in the warm seawater.

This stretch of coast is renowned for large marine animals. Peri-Peri, one of four local dive shops, offers "ocean safaris" on which you could spot humpback whales (which visit between June and November), dolphins and turtles. If you spot a whale shark, you’ll be handed a snorkel and goggles and invited to swim with them.

I learnt how to scuba dive with Peri-Peri in a bid to see the enormous manta rays that tend to hang out along deep reefs.

Sadly, I didn’t see any, but the plethora of brightly coloured fish, and the morays and turtles that I did see (almost) made up for it.

If being on water rather than under it is more your thing, then hire a board from The Surf Shack on the beach or bring your own. Pros generally head to Tofinho beach, where the waves are wilder; Tofo’s main beach has easier going swell — ideal for novices.

I had two lessons with the excellent Narciso Nhampossa. His calm, gentle tuition undoubtedly honed during his main job, which is teaching local kids swimming, had me standing by the end of my second lesson.

• Matthews was a guest of Baia Sonâmbula

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