There’s no better way of connecting with Maputo’s glamorous past than by staying at the Polana Serena Hotel, the city’s most famous hotel and one of its most significant historic buildings.
Nearly a century old, the Polana was designed by world-famous English architect Sir Herbert Baker in the grand “palace style”, with neo-classical pillars and a European sense of symmetry. The hotel was lavishly renovated over the last decade and has now been restored to its former glory. It’s magical to step off the busy streets of Maputo into a bygone era of gleaming marble, wrought iron elevators, gently whirring ceiling fans, quiet manicured gardens, a magnificent pool, and elegant bars that seemed perfectly designed for drinking sundowner cocktails.
Now run by an East African hotel chain, the Polana Serena Hotel offers all the amenities and services of a five-star international city hotel – including everything from an on-site hairdresser, a fully-equipped gym, conference facilities and two swimming pools – and attracts smart-looking business people and big-shot African politicians (once I stayed on the same floor as former South African president Thabo Mbeki). The 142 rooms have sea views and feature dark-wood furniture, four-poster beds, golden drapes and cavernous bathrooms. Dining options are varied: choose from the Aquarius Sushi Bar, the Varanda Restaurant, which serves buffets for lunch and dinner (the Saturday night seafood buffet is a fabulous feast), and the eye-wateringly expensive fine-dining restaurant, Delagoa, which offers gourmet French cuisine.
The Polana is undoubtedly Maputo’s best hotel – and its priciest. What you pay for here is the fantastic location on the seafront in the city’s most exclusive area overlooking the Indian Ocean, impeccable service, refined elegance, and a tangible sense of history that you don’t get anywhere else in town – you can almost imagine the millionaires of the 1920s having parties on the lawn, or World War Two spies swopping secrets over clinking gin and tonics on the terrace.