Mauritius

 

Mauritius is one of those places where the rich go to remind themselves of
the simple life - at luxury prices. Cradled in the sheltering arm of a coral
reef that makes the inner lagoons and beaches as tranquil and as unruffled
as botoxed brow, you can lie on the icing sugar sands, listening to the
thunder of the waves pounding the reef in the distance, and relax in a
carefree universe where every whim is catered for.
Mauritius is a volcanic island 1600km east of Madagascar and is a thriving,
bustling community of which well over half are Hindus. The rest of the
population are Muslim, Creole or Chinese, making it a truly vibrant
multicultural society with a cuisine that reflects the ethnic mix.
Most visitors, however, will merely skim the surface of the real Mauritius,
as their taxi sweeps them from the airport to their luxury hotel, venturing
forth only for sightseeing, or perhaps for a trip to the market in the
capital, Port Louis. However, deluxe resorts, with their miles of pristine
white beaches, are often the real destination for most tourists.
The coast is ringed by superior five star resort hotels, each a haven from
every day stresses and strains, and a self-contained microcosm of lavish
living. All mentioned here have their own gyms, hair and beauty salons,
spas and a range of land and water sports on offer, free of charge. Each
hotel has its own special flavour, some more suitable for honeymooners,
others for families. Some can feel a little claustrophobic while others
will leave you feeling as though you've been castaway in hotel heaven, with
24 hour room service.
Honeymooners might enjoy the privacy a tad more than the couple who've been
married for twenty years - and though Mauritius is custom made for those
wanting to get away from it all - it is not the best place for the solitary
holidaymaker. All the conjugal canoodling of the newlywed romantics can
give singletons a real pain in the neck. Take it from me. I went with my
teenage daughter and gave thanks for her company every day, which, believe
me - is not my default setting.
Generally, the southern part of the island is more rugged and wild. On the
West Coast, the hotel Paradis on the Le Morne Peninsula is a good choice for
those who get stir crazy in a small space. Teenagers, and their grateful
parents, might especially benefit from their ability to wander off on their
own - and the hotel is convenient for sightseeing and surfing. The Waterfall
at Chamarel and the Black River Gorges National Park are nearby, as is the
islands most famous beach - flic en flac. The hotel also has several
restaurants and an 18-hole championship golf course.
Most recently opened on this part of the coast is the Taj Exotica Resort &
Spa, spread over 27 acres overlooking the blue waters of Tamarin Bay at
Wolmar Beach and consists of 65 villas, each with its own private pool.
The majority of the other hotels are clustered along the East Coast. Here
the twin resorts of Le Tousserok and Saint Géran offer two quite different
atmospheres.
Le Tousserok is hot, hot, hot in every way (especially the dining room in
the warm humid, evenings when we sweated it out in a decidedly unchic
canteen-like free for all). This is the achingly hip place to see the
beautiful people ignoring popular advice about the ageing properties of sun
and best for couples.
The Hotel is on dotted on a series of small islands linked together by high
bridges and walkways - for that authentic Ewok experience. There are many
individual coves and beaches - but the hotel does have a high-density feel
and if you truly want to escape people you need to head off to the resort's
exclusive, completely private, island. Take a pre-prepared picnic or eat at
one of the Island restaurants.
Bedrooms can be comparatively small in the way that, say, Vanessa Feltz
looks skinny next to Pavarotti, but all have a range of glitzy extras, not
least of which is the Philip Starck egg bath that dominates the bathroom.
Get in and you might never get out again, not only because you keep slipping
down the sides but because it's like floating in a bubble filled womb. Each
room has a plasma screen television and tea and expresso facilities though
beware the fistful of dollars they charge you for the pleasure of making
your own coffee or dunking a teabag.
Each guest has a butler who will do anything for you short of fathering your
children and on the beach they really do offer to polish your sunglasses.
However, if you have a sandwich brought to you on the beach or in the room
beware the tray charge per person (around a whacking $8 while I was there)
that can take the edge off your appetite. The pop stars and glamourati who
stay here probably don't worry about little cash-flow problems like this,
but ordinary mortals might want to do their sums.
The resort has a Givenchy Spa, a high end Indian restaurant - Safran - and
at night they turn down the lights and sprinkle flower petals on your bed.
So romantic you want to cry though you'll be picking them out of your hair
for days afterwards.

The Saint Géran, but a short flip-flop away is plush, posh and pricey. It
has miles of private beaches and a beautiful tropical garden complete with
flamingos and swans. However, the run of the mill layout of the hotel
fronts the beach and despite being recently revamped doesn't offer the same
aesthetic beauty as many of the other resorts. A better choice for
families, rooms, again are on the Vanessa Feltz, post-diet, size and are
decorated in warm apricot tones, with balconies or terraces and, rattan
loungers.
Staff, as everywhere on Mauritius are overwhelmingly friendly, charming and
highly efficient. The Butler allocated to you on your arrival will offer to
do a free pressing for you, but sadly it's only your clothes he's talking
about. Like Le Tousserok, Saint Géran has a Givenchy Spa with a sauna and
swimming pool, free water sports including, snorkelling and a glass bottom
boat and both French Film Star and rocker, Johnny Halliday and Chris de
Burgh have stayed there, which, depending on your musical tastes, may be a
good reason for you not to.

There are two restaurants - the fish and Creole eatery - Paul and Virginie
named after the tedious and slight romantic novel that seems to be
Mauritius's one claim to literary and Alaine Ducasse's Spoon des Iles which
offers his signature tiny tit bits to tired palates in a padded white
leather interior that makes you feel as though you are sitting in a very
large Cadillac. Ah - where's Elvis when you need him?
Nearby, The Residence is a vast, white 1920's Great Gatsby meets Indian,
colonial style filled with sepia photographs, and beautiful Indian and
Balinese antiques. The echoing entrance hall with the backdrop of that
vivid blue sea and azure sky is magnificent. It's Club med with Class and
rooms are amongst the Island's simplest but still sophisticated. Decorated
in white and beige with rattan furniture, all have balconies, with either
sea or garden view - though bear in mind that the garden is really just a
rectangular courtyard of grass and shrubs, eagerly tended by a steady flow
of gardeners who seem to manicure it by hand.
Staff at The Residence glide around in white like obliging ghosts. Friendly,
eager to help and endlessly hospitable - given its size, the hotel is
overall, one of the most efficient and welcoming. Again, a Butler is
allocated on arrival who will unpack for you, so make sure your suitcase is
up to inspection. We declined. That stuff your mother tells you about your
underwear in the event of an accident applies equally to the scrutiny of
luggage.
Facilities include a La Prarie Spa, yoga room, gym and aerobics for the
frankly mad. This is a good resort for those with small children, not least
because JK Rowling is rumoured to have frolicked in the waves. There's a
main restaurant in the hotel with a small, secluded balcony if you long to
dine a deux. The manager very kindly arranged for me to eat there with the
callow youth, and it rained, which must be a metaphor for something, and
there's also a full beach service so you literally do not have to move a
muscle all day.
Le Prince Maurice, also on the East Coast is quite simply bliss on the beach
- with endless acres of private sands, gardens and walkways to explore and
barely a soul to bother you. Set on a beautiful lagoon, completely free of
beach traders, this is one of the most exclusive and relaxing resorts on the
island.
Stress falls off you like a loose sarong when you walk into the cool vanilla
scented, interior of the Prince Maurice. Fountains and swimming pools fill
the air with the gentle sound trickling water, and huge squashy sofas in the
bar encourage easy flopping. Dark wood and energetic polishing, give
the-bedrooms a masculine clubby, feel, but the bathrooms are totally
feminine, complete with Jacuzzis and, in the Ocean suites, small gardens
with an outdoor marble bath and shower which the staff fill with candles and
flowers.
Staff are always discretely available a mere whim away from fulfilling your
every desire. This is a place where everybody knows your name. Walking
through reception is like being a celebrity without the flashbulbs. Extra
touches flock around the resort like groupies round a pop star - the
Guerlaine Spa; the floating restaurant hidden on a volcanic island; the
rooms on stilts on the water of the inner lagoon which are so popular they
can book up years in advance; and the private swimming pools in the ocean
villas which, by themselves, are large enough for a sulking family who don't
want alone time. Great for mothers and teenage daughters, then. The
Picasso family and Prince Albert of Monaco are both regular guests which
give you an idea of the clientele - though presumably, they actually do want
to talk to one another.

Another destination with a difference is the Oberoi Hotel on the North West
tip of the Island. Think the Flintstones meets full on luxury. It's yabba
yabba yes with thatched roof cottages, tucked away amid lush gardens full of
colourful birds and butterflies, and impressive carved animal Sculptures
looming out of the shrubbery.
Modest, by Mauritius standards, standard bedrooms are decorated in a light
airy fashion with headboards made from rolled sugar cane. Bathrooms look
out into small gardens, and have sunken marble baths that take 20 minutes to
fill up and two hours to drag yourself out of, while the staff are the
mother you never had.
Though according to my daughter, Lizzie Borden is the mother she never had.
There's an extraordinary indigo coloured swimming pool with dramatic statues
making you feel like you're swimming in a Mayan temple and at night, when
braziers light up in the grounds for a dramatic ambience, romantics can eat
dinner at the end of the pier or even on the beach, away from the madding
crowd.
There's a his and hers spa with own pool, plunge pool and steam room which
is popular with the honeymooners who can't bear to be parted for even a
moment, and actors such as Isabel Hubbert and Joseph Fiennes have stayed
here. The Oberoi also has a golf course nearby, so it's good for the
well-heeled paisley jumper set as well.

Paradise Cove on the northernmost tip of the island. As the name suggests,
the hotel is set round a small private cove surrounded by colonnades that
are ideal for sunbathing, and faces out to twin islands that lie offshore
like basking whales.
This is a less elaborate resort - the only four-star hotel of those I've
mentioned here, with a traditional, laid back feel. It's also the only
local owned hotel and marketed heavily as a honeymoon heaven for the
smooching brigade. However, depending on your budget, you might expect
something a little more special and secluded. It's nothing like as polished
as the others and decorated throughout in sort of Indian meets Home Front,
with giant beds (hint-hint) draped in muslin, stencilled walls and a bath
festooned like the floating gardens of babylon - it would take you an hour
to fish all the flowers out so that you could get in.
Unfortunately, we spent the night hiding from a little lizard that seemed to
think we were up for a threesome. Needless to say he spent the night in an
upturned water glass until a member of staff returned him to the wild.
Finally, The Royal Palm on the Grand Baie in the north of the island is the
grande dowager of the hotels, with a real sense of old fashioned glamour and
refinement.
Bathrooms are large enough to invite all your friend round for a pool party
and the shower is Rugby team sized. The haunt of French film stars and
European royalty, all immortalised in walls of signed photographs, the hotel
also has an organic restaurant Natureaty - where you can eat outside under
the stars in a pretty garden.
There's an outstanding Moroccan Hammam with a series of private rooms where
you can either steam, sauna and massage, or simply relax - each in own
private garden. We were there during a tropical storm - cyclone watching in
the rainy season is something of an extreme sport for the unwary - and when
it rains, it rains. With no sun to bathe in we steamed, instead, in the
marble hammam, then showered in the warm rain. It was an experience in
itself. They really should put it in the brochure.