Women Who Go the Distance

At Her Gorgeous Hotel in Mozambique, Luxury, Design, and Sustainability Are in Harmony

by Carolina Ramirez Herrera
Sussurro All photos courtesy of Sussurro.

To say we've been crushing on Sussurro and its sustainability-driven ethos is an understatement. (We named it one of the best new hotels of 2021.) Located on a secluded peninsula in Southern Mozambique, the new hotel is a prime example of how luxury, design, and responsible, sustainable travel can co-exist when done properly from the start. Carolina Ramirez Herrera visited the Mozambican gem and chatted with Zimbabwean-born Sarah Birkett, one half of the couple behind the project, about all the things — the artistry, the community, the highs, the lows, and her favorite things.

How was Sussurro born?

Adam and I met in our home country, Zimbabwe, in the capital city Harare. He had moved back to Africa from Europe — a return to conservation and the bush. I had come back to Zimbabwe from London on a short trip to visit family and to write an article on traveling through the country. We fell in love and both wanted to make a home where we could reconcile our respective work while creating something together. Sussurro naturally took form around our combined backgrounds: Adam’s in hospitality and wildlife conservation, mine in African material culture and design. But more that this, Sussurro was born through the contribution of our team: a small rural community of fishermen-turned-carpenters-turned-builders-turned-hospitality professionals. Their work in creating Sussurro and welcoming guests into the spaces that they personally created is what makes Sussurro what it is.

Sarah at the pool house with her pooch, Luca.

What were your biggest challenges when building the hotel, especially on the sustainability front?

Definitely the logistics of getting everything here, because Sussurro is only accessible at low tide. In this way it also makes perfect sense to source everything as close by as possible. Also, never underestimate the value of fresh water!

Everything on the property is 100 percent African-sourced and -made. What are some of your favorite items on the property?

Our Kenyan loomed kikoys — East African cotton beach wraps. The textile industry in Africa is constantly marginalized by machine-made factory imports. Traditional, breathable, and chic, unisex kikoys are the perfect utilitarian item. We’re sampling seasonal weights and colorways in Nairobi next. Woven Mozambican esteiras are the traditional mats for sleeping, communal eating, and portable shade. We use them across the property and on excursions with guests. They’re brilliant. The local coconut fiber hand brooms used by housekeeping are wonderful. Architecturally, we lie in wonder every night looking up at the palm-woven makuti roof lining. It’s deeply beautiful Mozambican craftsmanship.

No conversation in travel in recent years is complete without mentioning Covid. Were there any (dare I say it?) positive takeaways from the pandemic?

We were able to open slowly, which is one of our values.

What was your dream job growing up?

Actress. My mother is a thespian, and I like to think I inherited this, as well as her sense of humour.

How do you define great hospitality?

Great hospitality is about authenticity, because people feel the truth and it automatically makes them feel comfortable.

We certainly have a long list of frames we want to break up in the African travelscape in creating and developing Sussurro further. The portrayal of Africa through the Colonial lens isn’t meaningful for us as young Africans. We already feel the ripples Sussurro has created in the industry reverberating back, and that’s ultimately a very good thing.

How have your travels influenced your work?

Tremendously. In particular, traveling to places that are a little less accessible. The most impressive and inspiring craftwork we’ve encountered has always been in rural places where sustainable communities still live very much in harmony with their ecosystems.

One place you always tell people to visit in Mozambique?

Tofo is fantastic if you love big waves. The little surf town has great restaurants, like Branco’s and Sumi, a vibrant market, and lots of small independent makers worth supporting.

Speed Round of Favorites

Favorite dish in Mozambique: Definitely Amandwim (ground nut) butter mangrove crab curry. 

Favorite destination: Outside of Africa, London will always hold a piece of my heart.

Dying to visit: Ethiopia.

Always in carry-on: A kikoy for its supreme adaptability — at once scarf, head wrap, light blanket, shade covering, towel, skirt, and personal space creator.

I dream about my meal at Gavas in my hometown, Harare in Zimbabwe. It's a tent on an old sports field where traditional food is prepared faultlessly. Order sadza ne nyama, and don’t bother with cutlery.

One of my favorite hotels is 28 Kothi in Jaipur. Small, intimate, peaceful, light rooms incorporate local craftsmanship. Superb food and conscientious small team of hospitality staff.

Favorite travel memory: First regional flight with my family to Victoria Falls. We were complete dorks. Faaaar too many group family photos on our middle-of-the-range Kodak film camera at any and every possible photo op.

Best hotel amenity: Bathrobes. Sussurro’s are a custom design by Tensira, Made In Africa.

I always bring home: Dr. Bronner's Lavender Castile liquid soap.

Sarah Birkett.

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