Travel review: Mauritius - totally tropical
Looking for somewhere to really get away from it all? Try the island paradise of Mauritius, says Adam Jacot de Boinod.
This really is a special, unspoilt dream of a holiday island. On my leaving the airport there were none of the garish advertisements promoting casinos or other touristic attractions. Mercifully I was transported straight into a landscape of long avenues of sugarcane 10ft high. The dips in the newly-tarmacked road helped sustain the joyful sense of being immersed. Every part of this sugar is collected and can be put to good use. In one particular village near Belle Mare, the cane is harvested and turned into the sugar we all know, while other parts are used to thatch the roofs and the remainder is turned into enough electricity to sustain almost half the villagers.
Before there were villages, as a settlement, Mauritius was originally known to the Arabs before then being discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Dutch arrived a century later to occupy the island and then the French came in the 18th century to settle. It was only in the next century that the British conquered the island before it became independent in recent times. With the abolition of slavery they relied on the “indenture” of Indians to work the land for the sugarcane industry.
My first place to stay was the wonderful Four Seasons Resort (fourseasons.com/mauritius), positioned halfway up the east coast at Anahita. The view from my villa was of a magnificent panorama as I stared out across the lagoon at the fishermen punting their modest crafts. The ripples barely broke the sheeted calm of the water and the waves on the reefs were several miles out. And behind was the magnificent backdrop of the exotically shaped mountains aptly called cat and mouse, lion’s head and bambou.
For food the choice at breakfast was one of the classiest I have enjoyed with a delicatessen-style set of rooms. There’s even a granary.
As for dining, the three restaurants offer a healthy variety for those staying a week or more. There’s the French Beau Champ that has a refined menu and the Beach Restaurant Bambou. I met with Chef Nicolas Vienne at the hotel’s Italian restaurant Acquapazza which has a superlative view over the lagoon. He ran me through the contemporary menu of homemade ricotta, spinach ravioli and roasted dorado, one of the local fish, along with ombrine, capitaine and the succulent marlin for which I can quite see why anglers are prepared to yank their arms off.
As the writer Bill Bryson says: “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” And this is the joy of staying just a few days at a time at any one place before moving on: you don’t end up confronting the risk of the routine of having the same breakfast, looking out from the same chair.
I spent three great nights at my next hotel, Lux Le Morne (luxresorts.com). Here lay a seemingly endless expanse of white sand beach, making it all feel spacious and deeply liberating. Horses trot up and down, loving the soft sand on their hooves. Boats are everywhere, attached to which some people paraglide and many waterski. Mine took me to the Île aux Benitiers and the famous Bonsai-like Crystal Coral rock.
I understood the benefits of the strict evening dress code too late for my flip-flops to pass the initial entry test. It’s all beautifully lit up at night to lend a romantic and tropical feel. Especially with the sweet fragrance of the frangipani petals.
I stayed next back on the east coast at The Residence (www.cenizaro.com). It’s set on a stretch aptly called Belle Mare (after its beautiful stretch of blue water) through which I saw its white, sandy beach. It’s such a great stretch of sea for swimming. No spiky sand or protruding rocks. Abandoning myself to the sea reminded me of the wonderful words of a Christopher Isherwood character who “staggers out, wide-open armed to receive the stunning baptism of the surf. Giving himself to it utterly, he washes away thought, speech, mood, desire, whole selves, entire lifetimes, again and again he returns, becoming always cleaner, freer, less”.
So on to my final place to stay the Hideaways – Stargazer (thehideawaysclub.com). It’s really all about golf. As a gated community it has a distinctly American vibe, with buggies as transport, a golf course and manicured landscapes. Everything is either a long walk or a circuitous buggy drive away. The route is higgledy-piggledy with underground passes beneath the main road from the villa to the beach and general amenities.
The Stargazer villa is perfect for a golfer. It has a barbecue and an outdoor bar and it’s all safe and functional. It has all you need. The furnishing is modern and simple with a few metal objects as artefacts. The design suggests ease and comfort and the access with sliding doors lends itself well to an indoors-outdoors feel. Dreamy and unspoilt.
Adam Jacot de Boinod had support from Priority Pass and Gatwick Express.
The Holiday Place (020 7644 1770, holidayplace.co.uk) has a wide range of holidays to Mauritius from £1,299 per person. Immerse yourself in boutique luxury right next to the Unesco world heritage site of Morne Brabant Peak, staying seven nights at Lux Le Morne and sharing a Superior room. The price includes flights, accommodation and breakfast.