Enjoying an island fling Enjoy an island fling
Travel editor Jan Shure reports on two hotels on the island of Mauritius
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