/ 3 May 2013

Weekend getaway: Hotel Cardoso, Maputo

Take a seat for sundowners: The city of Maputo spread out below the terrace of the Hotel Cardoso.
Take a seat for sundowners: The city of Maputo spread out below the terrace of the Hotel Cardoso.

I’ve spent many happy hours on the Hotel Cardoso terrace. The view from here is a fabulous combination of beauty and history. You can watch the Indian Ocean’s blue eternity, see the city of Maputo spread out like a toy town before you and sense the growing change. I recommend a caipirinha, Mozambique’s signature cane and lime cocktail, and a toast to peace.

Modern Maputo is a heady mix of African and Portuguese along with French, Arab and Oriental influences, and has been dubbed “Little Havana” because of its retro charm and tropical attitude. The streets are still named after revolutionaries. The city’s many Art Deco, Victorian and Marxist buildings are faded but glorious, and there has been an explosion of galleries, bars, bistros, restaurants, clubs, coffee shops and street culture.

The Cardoso is a fabulous base from which to explore Maputo, if you can leave the terrace. It’s a friendly, lively hotel — said terrace being a very popular meet-and-greet spot for locals and travellers, and has its own special history.

The Cardoso was the headquarters of rebel movement Renamo in the run-up to the 1994 elections, and their fourth floor famously suffered damage from a rocket-propelled grenade when talks between Frelimo and Renamo broke down.

Today peace prevails, along with food, drink and good cheer. The Cardoso has undergone extensive renovations in the past few years, and a fab new addition is Fiamma, a sexy glass-walled, open-plan restaurant that does good breakfasts (don’t forget your sunglasses; it can be very bright on the patio) and a buffet-style lunch and dinner menu with influences of the Mediterranean, Asia and the East.

Get yourself a map from the hotel reception and head out to discover the assorted spicy delights of Maputo. The best way to do the city is a combination of on foot and hopping in and out of taxis or tuk-tuks, both of which you can get right outside the hotel.

If you’re not the adventurous sort, take a customised city tour, day or night, or try the hop-on, hop-off option — a brightly coloured tourist bus that circulates the city.

Round the corner from the Cardoso is the Natural History Museum, a pretty 1933 Neo-Manueline building with embellished arches and turrets. The museum has a surreal stuffed wildlife tableau that includes roaring lions and bloodied zebras, and also a series of bottled elephant foetuses. Downright weird.

You may need a cup of coffee after that, so head across the road to Parques Acacia, which does light meals and good views. You can watch enormous ships heading in and out of the Port of Maputo, which is also undergoing massive redevelopment.

Or head down the road to the lovely Dhow shop, which has a trendy bistro and sells gorgeous décor, objets d’art and furniture.

The perfect city break: Maputo is a great long-weekend getaway for groups of friends wanting an urban escape with good nightlife and culture.

Accessibility: It’s a 50-minute flight from Jo’burg to Maputo on either SAA or BA/Comair, and a seven-hour road trip using the N4 Maputo Corridor. This includes time at the border.

Cost: The current rates are from R1 500 a double room (sharing).

Contact: AfricaStay do bookings for Hotel Cardoso on 011 791 0519; or call the hotel directly on +258 21 491 071 or check out hotelcardoso.co.za for frequent special deals.

Bridget Hilton-Barber is the author of The Travel Guide to Maputo and Southern Mozambique (Penguin). She stayed at Hotel Cardoso on a complimentary basis