Mauritius is a fusion of nationalities; from its ruling by the Portuguese and the Dutch, to its Chinese and African inhabitants, the harmony in the contrast of cultures is what makes it such a distinctive island destination
It was once a sleepy island known almost exclusively to French travellers and those interested in the chronicles of the dodo. But the last twenty years have seen Mauritius’s conspicuous rise in status to one of the world’s premier playgrounds for the rich and famous, giving popular Caribbean islands a good run for their money. What is all the fuss about? Stories of unparalleled service, a coral reef to vie with the Maldives and a collection of the some of the world’s best hotels certainly make it impossible to ignore.
Mauritius has been ruled by many nations including the Portuguese, Dutch, French and most recently the British from 1810 to 1968, but it was the French who had the greatest influence on the island’s culture, language, religion and civil law. Surprisingly, the British agreed to maintain what the French had established, which explains why so much of the island feels French with a distinctive British attitude. The official language is English but French is more frequently used and Creole remains the lingua franca. This is no ‘Little England’.
A melting pot of nationalities including Indian, African, British, French and Chinese ancestry results in a colourful culture that influences daily island life: the cuisine ranges from Indian Mauritius curries to Chinese omelettes, and regular religious festivals, such as Hindu Diwali and Kavadi, are a visual treat for visitors.
The first thing that strikes you as you land on this droplet in the Indian Ocean is the dramatic scenery. Handsome mountain peaks covered in emerald green grasses and swathes of sugar cane drop straight into cerulean blue waters – an everyday view from just about anywhere on the island.
Brochures colourfully illustrate dozens of super-swish hotels, which have sprung up along its 110-mile coastline. Yet despite the development, it doesn’t feel spoilt or built up, and the island’s best natural resource – its beautiful beaches – remain pristine and unspoilt.
Fifty minutes from the airport, the Royal Palm has a subtle entrance, hidden from the roadside via a sweeping drive. The resort is small in comparison, which has its benefits; namely, you’re only ever feet away from your room to the beach, the bar, or the restaurants. Following the recent refurbishment, which saw a dramatic overhaul in accommodation, the 69 sea-facing bedrooms are now palatial, all benefiting from that cerulean ocean backdrop, whose rhythm rocks you to sleep and wakes you gently each morning.
The Clarins Spa adds a sophisticated touch to the resort’s abundance of leisure options. Its eight therapy rooms offer everything from Lomi-Lomi to the Canyon Love Stone Therapy and if top-notch pampering is what you seek, its holistic approach for rebalancing mind and body won’t disappoint. Jocelyn, the Reiki master and meditation teacher, is one of life’s treasures; her gentle spirit and touch is as soft as her voice which caresses you into a state of calm acceptance, stilling the mind. Try her sessions, I promise you’ll learn something about yourself.
For epicureans the hotel is a bit of a gastro paradise offering food from around the globe. I was torn between two choices for my favourite restaurant. Lunch is best taken at the beach terrace – soothing respite from the midday sun with a glass of chilled Saint Tropez rosé, the catch of the day followed by plenty of velvety ice creams and sorbets made by Italian head chef Alexandro.
I can usually pinpoint exactly what I want from a menu within seconds but La Brezza has such an ambrosial menu that it became a balancing game of flavours and local delicacies. The problem was quite simple. I wanted it all. Open in the evening, the trattoria has a decor quite in tune with the wonderful food; two open-air terraces overlooking the lagoon designed to create a sense of comfort. Comfort seating for comfort eating – a perfect place for an unforgettable dinner under the stars.
Working it off is easy too: waterskiing, sailing on one of the new Hobie Cats, kayaking, and windsurfing are all complimentary. Group or private lessons in the spa include yoga, stretching and mediation, or you could just take your daily constitutional barefoot along the sand.
Its proximity to Grand Baie is a big plus – there are few places on the island that give the visitor a better taste of local life, with great shopping for silk Kashmiri kaftans, colourful woven baskets, strings of black pearls and oil paintings of local scenes. And of course a couple of bottles of local Pink Pigeon, an unusually refreshing domaine with an exquisite balance of rum (refined five times) and vanilla. You can buy it at the Duty free shop in Grand Baie for around £12 compared to £30 at home.
The Beach House is the hip hop place to hang out for Sunday lunch (we scoffed on large platters of calamari, grilled mussels, breaded prawns and tender beef carpaccio), with live music attracting locals and tourists quaffing huge glasses of rosé and beer as their kids dip in and out of the sea in front of bobbing fishing boats and yachts.
Mauritius is ringed by the world’s longest unbroken coral reef, a blissful fact for divers and snorkellers. There are sightseeing opportunities inland too, including Grand Bassin lake (a place of Hindu pilgrimage), rafting in Black River Gorges National Park and a picnic in Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden close to capital Port Louis – the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere. You can go zip-wiring, canyoning, sky-diving, deep-sea fishing, or island-hop across to Gabriel for the day on the resort’s spanking new speedboat.
Spend a week on this pleasure isle wandering along the beaches, dining on exotic dishes, dipping periodically into the warm turquoise sea, and you realise why people return to this destination with all its natural majestic qualities. It lives up to expectation as a friendly paradise perfect for relaxation, water sports, golf, fishing and too much good food. The only thing that was missing was the dodo.