En­joy­ing an is­land fling En­joy an is­land fling

Travel ed­i­tor Jan Shure re­ports on two ho­tels on the is­land of Mau­ri­tius

The Jewish Chronicle - - Travel -

Mea­sur­ing just 65 km by 45 km, Mau­ri­tius is a mere pin-dot on a map of the world. It has, in Port Louis, a pleas­ant cap­i­tal that is a charm­ing blend of Colo­nial el­e­gance and high rise moder­nity, with palm-lined boule­vards and a new wa­ter­front de­vel­op­ment of­fer­ing end­less re­tail op­por­tu­ni­ties (lots of cash­mere), lively cafés and bars. There is a small but per­fectly formed botan­i­cal gar­den at Pam­ple­mousse in the north, a pic­turesque moun­tain range and even a Jewish ceme­tery at St Martin.

But none of th­ese are what lure around 1 mil­lion tourists an­nu­ally to this ver­dant lit­tle patch of land oc­cu­pied, first by the Dutch, then by the French and fi­nally by the Bri­tish be­fore Mau­ri­tius gained in­de­pen­dence in 1968. What brings them to this In­dian Ocean par­adise lo­cated 2,000 miles off the East Coast of Africa is its 93 miles of white, sandy beaches, a year-round cli­mate that is per­fect for sun­bathing, swim­ming and din­ing by moon­light, and a col­lec­tion of al­lur­ing beach­side re­sort ho­tels which vie to pro­vide the ul­ti­mate in lux­u­ri­ous re­lax­ation for their guests.

On a re­cent trip, we sam­pled two of the ho­tels: the sprawl­ing, glam­orous, very rock-and-roll Le Touess­rok, whose name has be­come al­most syn­ony­mous with lux­ury Mau­ri­tian va­ca­tions; and, in the north, the qui­etly lux­u­ri­ous Royal Palm which is barely known ex­cept to the cognoscenti of fine ho­tels (in­clud­ing Michael Schu­macher who de­scribes it as his favourite ho­tel in the world).

An hour’s drive from the in­ter­na­tional air­port on two-lane mo­tor­way flanked by fields of sugar cane and flam­boy­ant, scar­let trees, the Royal Palm is per­fectly perched be­side an ex­panse of sil­ver sand within the em­brace of Grand Baie on Mau­ri­tius’s north-west coast.

From an im­mac­u­lately man­i­cured drive­way flanked by palms, hibis­cus and bougainvil­lea, you ar­rive at the en­trance, roofed in African thatch and emerge into the jaw-drop­pingly gor­geous main ho­tel area, ar­ranged be­neath a se­ries of vault­ing, Afroglam thatched roofs sup­ported on soar­ing pil­lars.

Be­yond — un­in­ter­rupted by win­dows or walls — are views to the white-sand beach, the sear­ingly turquoise In­dian Ocean and bright blue sky.

Ar­ranged around a mag­nif­i­cent pool art­fully lit at night, are el­e­gant lounge ar­eas (per­fect for re­lax­ing af­ter din­ner), a stylish bar which juts ro­man­ti­cally over the beach (the per­fect spot for a pre-din­ner mar­garita), the ho­tel’s two su­perb, gourmet restau­rants and a trio of luxe lit­tle shops (se­ri­ous jew­els; In­dian car­pets and furniture; and Boss, Ville­bre­quin, cash­mere and em­bel­lished bags).

The Royal Palm ac­com­mo­dates its guests in 84 über- lux­u­ri­ous suites con­structed in just two storeys and set in lush trop­i­cal gar­dens that run par­al­lel to the beach.

There are six grades of suite, from the mod­est, 55 sq m Ju­nior Suites, with huge bath­room and spa­cious dress­ing room, one of which was our supremely cosy home from home all the way up to the 300 sq m Royal Suite. In be­tween, the op­tions in­clude a 178 sq m Pres­i­den­tial Suite, a 122 sq m Pen­t­house, and the fab­u­lously fam­ily-friendly, 115 sq m

Gar­den Suites. All of them over­look the sea and each one has ei­ther a gar­den pa­tio or bal­cony (or in the case of the Pres­i­den­tial and Royal Suites, a ter­race big enough to hold a bar­mitz­vah), all ap­pro­pri­ately equipped with comfy day-beds, loungers and table­and-chairs. The Royal Suite even fea­tures its own hori­zon pool.

The de­sign means that wher­ever your suite is lo­cated, you need only walk a dozen or so yards to the 500yd private beach where loungers, beach-tow­els and huge thatched um­brel­las wait just yards from the clean, tepid, translu­cent sea. As you lounge, beach boys bring chilled flan­nels or a de­li­cious mid-morn­ing slice of melon, mango or pineap­ple. And then there are the beach ameni­ties, like the ex­cel­lent Le Bar Plage, serv­ing ev­ery­thing from a glass of cham­pagne to a salad or gourmet burger, and the com­pli­men­tary wa­ter sports — in­clud­ing wa­ter ski­ing, ped­aloes, kayaks, wind­surf­ing, snorkelling and a glass-bot­tom boat — all just a minute’s stroll from your beach lounger.

It be­comes quickly ap­par­ent that the Royal Palm has cracked the whole Dorch­ester-level-lux­ury-in- the-trop­ics trick, man­ag­ing to en­fold its guests in a co­coon of pam­per­ing while still keep­ing the at­mos­phere de­li­ciously ca­sual and avoid­ing any cor­po­rate feel. This is partly achieved be­cause the ho­tel never has more than 170 to 180 guests and 250 ef­fi­cient and at­ten­tive mem­bers of staff, who know guests’ names within hours of ar­rival — and not just those of re­turn­ing guests, the most fre­quent of whom have vis­ited 57 times since the ho­tel opened in 1985. And as well as know­ing your name, they know your likes and dis­likes. When we de­clined an amuse bouche of prawns on our first night in the splen­did La Goelette Restau­rant, our waiter whisked it away and pro­duced an ex­quis­ite veg­gie al­ter­na­tive. From then on, whether we ate there, seated at a white linen-clad ta­ble over­look­ing the beach and moon­lit sea, or in the coolly el­e­gant, Ja­panese-in­flu­enced (but oddly named) Na­ture­aty, built on tiers ris­ing from the beach, they un­fail­ingly brought us a veg­gie al­ter­na­tive to seafood.

And in both restau­rants — half­board guests may eat in ei­ther — the cui­sine and ser­vice were flaw­less. The slightly more tra­di­tional menu in La Goelette in­vari­ably fea­tured tuna, a Mau­ri­tian spe­cial­ity, and usu­ally one other per­mit­ted fish and a veg­gie dish, too, as well as — for non-ob­ser­vant din­ers — per­fectly pre­pared clas­sics like rack of lamb, steak and chicken.

But more than the at­ten­tive ser­vice, the smart din­ing, all the ameni­ties (Clar­ins spa, kids’ club, and an ar­ray of sports, in­clud­ing flood­lit ten­nis, squash, petanque and gym) and the fact that they will fly in kosher meat from South Africa for kashrut-ob­serv­ing guests, the Royal Palm pos­sesses that in­de­fin­able ex­tra some­thing that makes you feel cos­seted, cared for, ut­terly pam­pered

and as if you could hap­pily stay for six months.

It was in­struc­tive, there­fore, to head to the south of the is­land to visit Le Touess­rok, Sol Kerzner’s One&Only ho­tel which has re­ceived a $53 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment. Cer­tainly bet­ter known than the Royal Palm, it is also con­sid­er­ably big­ger, with 200 rooms and suites, dis­trib­uted in three sprawl­ing ar­eas. The pub­lic ar­eas are im­pres­sively spa­cious, with a large creamy stone lobby, stud­ded with jewel-coloured so­fas. Moat-like, swimmable pools en­com­pass Safran, the gourmet In­dian restau­rant, and the ho­tel’s main bar, as well as an area where a cabaret and band per­form each evening.

The fa­cil­i­ties are un­de­ni­ably su­perb: a Ber­hard Langer-de­signed golf course on the nearby Ile aux Cerfs, of­fer­ing stun­ning sea and moun­tain views as you progress around the 18 holes, plus a great club house. The pub­lic is­land is also the base for the ho­tel’s range of wa­ter sports, again com­pli­men­tary. There is also ten­nis, bowls and a large, ex­cep­tion­ally welle­quipped and well-staffed gym be­side the sen­sa­tional Givenchy spa which of­fers de­li­cious Swiss­care mas­sages and fa­cials and the sub­lime no-var­nish Bastien pedi­cure in which your toes are pol­ished to shim­mer­ing, pink per­fec­tion.

There is a heated pool with shady spots and loungers and five beaches, in­clud­ing one on the ho­tel’s private is­land, Ilot Man­ge­nie, where those with Robin­son Cru­soe ten­den­cies can chill for the day. It is well pro­vided with at­ten­tive beach staff, bar and restau­rant.

The rooms, too, are fab­u­lous. Our stylish Ju­nior Suite, had an open­plan bath­room and big oval bath, and a small pa­tio that led straight on to the beach. It also had a shiny es­presso ma­chine that I got quite ex­cited about, un­til I dis­cov­ered that it was a Ne­spresso ma­chine which (de­spite Ge­orge Clooney’s en­dorse­ment) is merely a pre­ten­tious way of mak­ing Nescafé — and I found the cost of the sa­chet on our ex­tras bill. When it comes to ac­com­mo­da­tion, the ho­tel also has deluxe rooms and larger even more glam­orous suites, plus four sen­sa­tional vil­las, one of which, had been taken over by an Amer­i­can fam­ily for Pe­sach. Kosher food was flown in from South Africa and the ho­tel pro­vided all kosher uten­sils for the villa’s kitchen.

Where things take a dip are in get­ting around and the cost of eat­ing. There are three din­ing op­tions — the su­perb Safran, where the mod­ern In­dian cui­sine is over­seen by the Miche­lin-starred, Lon­don­based chef Vi­neet Bha­tia; the ex­cel­lent beach­side restau­rant, Barlen’s (which also has its own very fun and funky bar); and 398, the ho­tel’s main restau­rant, where guests on half-board may eat with­out pay­ing a sup­ple­ment. Named for its three floors, nine cuisines and eight kitchens, it is a buf­fet-style restau­rant, which is ok at break­fast but does not pro­vide the kind of din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence which I con­sider ac­cept­able at a ‘trop­i­cal de luxe’ re­sort.

One could, of course, dine at Safran or at Barlen’s — both of which were ex­cel­lent — but prices are steep and even guests on half-board would pay a hefty sup­ple­ment — we paid an ex­tra £48 for a very mod­est two-anda half cour­ses with­out wine.

There is also the fact that you have to trek so far to en­joy all the fa­cil­i­ties — a boat (and then a buggy) to the golf course, a dif­fer­ent boat to the wa­ter sports on Ile aux Cerfs, and an­other to Ilot Man­ge­nie, all from the jetty which is, it­self, a five- or six-minute walk from re­cep­tion and twice as far from Frangi­pani is­land where our suite was lo­cated.

Mau­ri­tius may be small, but it of­fers the per­fect les­son in hotel­keep­ing — that a re­ally fine ho­tel is al­ways much more than its phys­i­cal build­ing and its ameni­ties.

The Royal Palm’s beach and, be­yond, Grand Baie on the north-west of the In­dian Ocean is­land

Par­adise re­vis­ited: the gar­dens and beach of Mau­ri­tius’s Royal Palm

The pool at Le Touess­rok and (be­low) a quiet cor­ner of the One&Only ho­tel

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