Sitting in a taxi this morning in a very drab and deceptively cold London, the driver (presumably also noticing the traffic and roadworks from every angle) says to me, “The thing is, life is too short to spend in traffic in the cold… I’m just so bored of wearing shoes, you know?”. With one swift glance around the tide of suits walking past in absolute formation, I know exactly.
To reach Azura, you have to get there by Helicopter (Or boat but I hesitate to add this as if you do… BE WARNED. You will miss some of the most incredible views you are ever likely to see. FACT.
Should you be a little scared of helicopters, you should know that I told my partner that we were getting the boat. Yes. I just plain lied. On arriving at Vilankulous airport, Pilot Mario, aka Zorro of the Skies flew in.. I then deliver the news that “our carriage awaits and our carriage is in fact, an Arcipeligo Helicopter”.
Attempting to explain these views from up there is like trying to explain what the colour mauve smells like. Confusing, distracting and not at all accurate.
Suddenly, devoting my time and focus into earning a Pilots licence seems like an exceptional idea.
Azura is the type of place that you see on a coffee table book of “Places to see in your lifetime” or at a “Landscapes of the World” Gallery exhibition… Or in your dreams, if that dream is you, in paradise, with a piña colada. (Feel free to swap out the cocktail for your preference).
It is the type of place that I imagined cocktail with Tom Cruise was set when I was a kid.
Tranquility in vivid colour. It is secluded island paradise, the type of which is mused about on Billboards.
Plus one of the best sunsets and night skies I have ever seen.
20 villas are set privately within secluded indigenous gardens, each containing a personal infinity swimming pool and a 42 second walk to the beach. Yes, I timed it for you.
On arrival, every villa is introduced to their host… “Host” is a shorthand explanation of, “Hero / Organiser / Facilitator of everything that will happen during your stay”. Ours was Hassane (also born on the island). “Any and all big decisions and pressure from this point will be my burden and even where you eat on a meal to meal basis will be decided and I will let you know, just prior” He says. “Just tell me when you want the next meal/activity“.
Hassane is a man of his word and indeed EVERY meal is set somewhere different. including the best lunch viewpoint I have ever had and likely ever will… I’ll return to this later.
As part of their inclusion of the community, every month, children from the island school perform concerts on the beach.
If you are lucky enough to see one, do not miss it. Apart from the fact that the dancing is really impressive, it’s a really fun evening and the kids really enjoy it too.
It is no secret that I am afraid of the sea…. well, the sharks and giant fish that are in it. Therefore, “apprehensive” seems like an under qualified word as I head out towards the boat in a cold sweat chanting the mantra “Fish are Friends, Fish are Friends”. I am assured that in fact the sharks are “vegetarian”, and “Everything will be fine!” which are words that are as much use to me as a chocolate teapot as I internally process the idea of being ingested a la Jonah and the Whale style..
Fast forward 30 minutes…. I am a changed woman. Carlos (aka my knight in shining neoprene) holds my hand, THE ENTIRE time and guides me through the coral, the crystal clear waters and the most incredible fish (not sharks) I have ever seen. Sea Turtles, schools of Parrot Fish, 50+ Angel fish, the kind of marine life that make you say “wow” while underwater. (Not smart).
Well? … Just call me Jaquis Custeau and expect a sequel to Blue Planet 2 by yours truly in the coming months.
An island famous for Pansy Shells (The skeleton of Sea Urchins) and unbelievably beautiful water. Disclaimer: The sand is the temperature of molten lava but it is entirely worth losing a layer of skin on your feet for.
Totally secluded it also has some of the best views from on top of the dunes.
After my underwater awakening, Carlos says, “we have an extra surprise for you” … Frankly, a “surprise” is when you find a £10 note in your coat from winter 2018 or when you find a very big crisp in your packet of Salt n’ Vinegar. This is something extraordinary.
It the realisation that on this small island… you are the ONLY people on it and the only structure is your 2 person cabana that has been built for lunch.
Perhaps one of the most beautifully idyllic islands, on arrival it feels like my feet are treading on powdered cake batter. (If you don’t know, you clearly weren’t a child in the 90s).
Whether your vibe is more Spa, Horse Riding, Watersports or Yoga. They will organise every inch of it for you.
…and if the thought of walking more than 3 metres from your villa is too strenuous, they will set it up in your villa.
Azura however, is more than just a pretty face. Yes it is heavenly idyllic with sunsets that Ed Sheeran would write mushy love songs about. However, the thing that has me genuinely bought in is what they contribute to the island.
Since opening 11 years ago, on an island that had almost zero education, Azura built the only school which has gone from 40-400 pupils and turned out doctors, teachers and 80% of their own staff.
They also built the only hospital on the island which they stock with medicines from the mainland… They are currently extending it to twice the size.
We went to see first hand how Azura invests in the island; initially I was reticent and a little apprehensive to visit the school and the hospital. Sometimes, the idea of a local tour of an underdeveloped area feels like a spectacle. Often, when I see people on “visits”, I feel like it is of no benefit to the children / locals but more for tourists/celebrities own gain… be that publicity or outward/documented philanthropy.
HOWEVER… in this case, the school (and only hospital) were built entirely by the hotel and subsidised by its guests who are encouraged to invest in the growth of education/structure as they are getting the benefits of the island.
There is no fanfare, no performances, no special treatment, no staged photo ops. It is a way to ensure that you know where your money is going and why it is needed to continue.
After seeing it first hand, I am GENUINELY in awe of what they do to support the local island community and cannot convey how important I believe it to be (for myself and others) to contribute.
The kitchen staff (bar one) are all island born and very talented. Sometimes, where you have an island paradise hotel, the food is.. underwhelming. Why? I don’t know, maybe the ocean blues and incredible beach focus means dining is overlooked. Like beach over buffet… Not. Here.
They have a different menu every single day for every single meal. This ranged from Lobster, to lamb, to prawns, to squid, to crab and also stuffed crab which was by the way… a game changer.
Oh, and a villa Breakfast/Brunch… obviously the real way to my heart.
The real winners for me, were the private surprise meals that they had set up for us in various locations.
This started with the the beach…
and then went on to include a secluded jungle…
… and a fire-torch lit, palm leaf dinner at the end of our villa garden which was silently set up.
I don’t want to throw too many spoilers for you but suffice it to say that when you go… the biggest meal decision you will have is “Do I wear shoes or not?”
So, would I go back? The real question is when. Sometimes there is more to a beautiful island than cocktails and perfect pictures. Sometimes you can leave somewhere knowing that something really good has come from your trip and that feeling… is one worth returning for again, and again.
To Jenny, Pete and the wonderful people at Azura… I’ll be back. Maybe this time with my own snorkel. x