reviewer joseph hammond
The Hotel Polana Serena is a luxury, five star hotel situated in the heart of Maputo, Mozambique, and affectionately called the “Grand Dame of Maputo” by locals and visitors alike. With its historic elevator, animated doorman, classical columns, and semicircular arches, the hotel recalls the splendor of a bygone era. Its revolving door first whirled in 1922, when Maputo (or Lourenço Marques to the Portuguese) was thriving as an important outlet to the sea for the nearby South African mining industry.
Following the country’s independence in 1975, the Grand Dame became popular with journalists who were reporting on Southeast Africa. In the past two decades, the hotel has hosted a number of humanitarians and dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II and, during my stay, Dona Cristina Borbón of Spain, who passed through the lobby one morning during breakfast. Former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Former South African President Nelson Mandela, and current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe have all gazed at the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean from their rooms.
hotel name: Hotel Serena Polana. Originally, the Hotel Polana was named after the exclusive residential Polana Hill neighborhood in Maputo. “Serena” was added when the hotel became part a chain that focuses on providing luxury in frontier markets.
who: Me & my lady
why: Recharging after a safari in Swaziland and before a long journey home
when: March 2015
stay: Nearly every room offers pleasant views of the ocean and has a balcony. Beds are comfortable and are often arranged so that guests can enjoy the ocean view while propped up on pillows. The televisions have HDMI cables and the rooms have large bathrooms and ample closet space. During the week, doorman Luis Nhaca greets guests each morning. He is Mozambique’s first golf champion since the country declared independence, and his jacket contains 500 pins. On my last day, I gave him an Egyptian flag pin, which I picked up in Tahrir Square in 2011.
location: Polana Hill is one of the best neighborhoods in Mozambique and easily one of the most exclusive in Lusophone Africa. A number of chic restaurants are within walking distance, as well as an artisanal craft market that has a café popular with expatriates. For those interested in architecture, there are a number of historic Mediterranean-style villas, Art Deco homes, and buildings designed by renowned architect Pancho Guedes.
pool/gym/beach status: Yes, yes, and no. The Maisha Spa offers a fully stocked spa, gymnasium, and mentholated steam room with a Moroccan theme. In the gym, a helpful trainer provides free tips. A glass of watermelon juice or a bottle of water is always available. The massages are great.
food situation: Doris Friedensohn best described the buffet at the Hotel Polana in her guide, Eating as I Go: Scenes from America and Abroad: “The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Polana is thirty running feet of elegant imports: decadent patés and seductive herring, vegetable salads and classic French cheeses, fruit pastries and croissants, fried eggs, sausages, and, for the cholesterol conscious, granola and yogurt.” This wide selection remains and has even expanded under the direction of executive chef Celestino Graves, who formerly plied his trade at a casino in Macau.
vibes: Definitely hobnobbing with the elite of Maputo and international businessmen here.
kiddie agreeable: Breakfasts and food options are very kid-friendly, and the Polana’s pool includes two wading pools. Kids would enjoy running around in the hotel’s rose garden, which dates back to its original 1922 opening.
price scale: Compared to other accommodations available in the city, it make more sense to pay for the Hotel Polana Serena.