IS EN­CHANTED BY MAU­RI­TIUS

The BBC star casts her­self of to Mau­ri­tius and doesn’t want to come back...

Scottish Daily Mail - - Escape - by SUE LAW­LEY

Have you ever had floor envy? I didn’t even know there was such a thing un­til I walked into our room at the One&Only Le Saint Géran in Mau­ri­tius.

I was greeted by a beau­ti­ful, lime­washed par­quet floor. ex­cept that it wasn’t made of wood, but of stone. I loved it. But then I also loved ev­ery­thing else about the room, the re­sult of a £41mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment two years ago.

Once dec­o­rated in Dutch colo­nial style, the ho­tel has been trans­formed to cool mod­ern. The grand old lady of Mau­ri­tius re­sorts has re­gained her youth.

The ho­tel was es­tab­lished 44 years ago on the east coast of the is­land. It oc­cu­pies a small penin­sula wrapped around by 1.5 miles of white sandy beach that stretches from a calm la­goon (per­fect for wa­ter ski­ing) to the main wa­ters of the In­dian Ocean. even here, the wa­ter is quite gen­tle. a coral reef (ex­cel­lent for snorkellin­g) acts as its pro­tec­tor.

Mau­ri­tius has al­ways been a euro­pean play­ground. No one lived on it when the Por­tuguese landed in the early 16th cen­tury. The Dutch colonised it and laid out its su­gar plan­ta­tions, the French took over when they left, and then the Bri­tish cap­tured it dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars and ran it un­til in­de­pen­dence in 1968. The re­sult is a won­der­ful eth­nic and lin­guis­tic hodge­podge of mainly Hindu and african de­scen­dants of work­ers and slaves.

They speak French, english and their na­tive Cre­ole. Many of them have never left the is­land — hardly sur­pris­ing when you re­alise how re­mote it is. Fly­ing non-stop, it’s 12 hours from Lon­don or Paris and five from Cape Town, but much longer if, as on many flights, you have to break the jour­ney.

So why bother? at Le Saint Géran, the an­swer’s not hard to find. Not only are all its rooms within a hop or a skip to the sea, but ev­ery­thing else you could pos­si­bly want is laid on.

Like wa­ter ski­ing? It’s un­lim­ited. Snorkellin­g? There’s a trip twice a day. Ten­nis? The court awaits. Dance? Live en­ter­tain­ment ev­ery night. Chil­dren need amus­ing? There’s a club for lit­tle ones, for tweens and for teens.

all these ac­tiv­i­ties are free and run by staff for whom noth­ing is too much trou­ble. They pride them­selves on re­mem­ber­ing your name from the moment you set foot in the place, and they look af­ter you as­sid­u­ously.

‘I re­lax as soon as I get here,’ Char­lie, a hard-work­ing ac­coun­tant from Wor­thing, West Sus­sex, told me.

He was stay­ing for a fort­night with his wife, Mar­tine, and tenyear-old daugh­ter, Erin. They came for the first time last year and couldn’t wait to re­turn.

Mar­tine said she’d never seen her hus­band so re­laxed as he is at Le Saint Géran.

Watch­ing this fam­ily en­joy their break­fast in the sun­shine, it was easy to un­der­stand the ap­peal. A wait­ress brought Erin pan­cakes pre­pared just as she liked them, with fresh berries on the side.

Mean­while, at our ta­ble, my hus­band was be­ing given salted but­ter, which the waiter had re­mem­bered he pre­ferred.

There’s no real rea­son to leave the re­sort, other than to pick up a bot­tle of booze from the lo­cal shop (the cost of al­co­hol at the ho­tel is high) or to play golf.

Le Saint Géran used to have its own nine-hole course, but this has re­cently been dug up to make way for vil­las (start­ing price £2.5 mil­lion free­hold), which are be­ing sold — suc­cess­fully, I was told — off-plan.

There are sev­eral golf cour­ses nearby, but a round is ex­pen­sive. We were in­vited to play at Ile aux Cerfs (ileaux­cerf­s­golf­club.com), de­signed by Bern­hard Langer. It’s a short drive from the ho­tel and a ten-minute cruise across a la­goon to the club’s wooden jetty, where a cart awaits to whisk you to the club­house. It’s a glo­ri­ous place to play, with ocean views on nearly ev­ery hole.

The other trip we made was fur­ther afield to an­other is­land, Ile aux Ai­grettes, where the Mau­ri­tian Wildlife Foun­da­tion is help­ing to bring back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion en­dan­gered lo­cal species.

MAU­RI­TIUS knows all about ex­tinc­tion. It was once home to that icon of nat­u­ral mis­for­tune, the dodo, the flight­less bird last seen in the mid­dle of the 17th cen­tury be­fore it was an­ni­hi­lated by rats and man — both killed it for food.

To­day, the strug­gle is to pre­serve the gi­ant tor­toise (orig­i­nally trans­ported to Mau­ri­tius by Charles Dar­win in the hope that it could sur­vive there), the pink pi­geon and a large, slow lizard called a skink.

We were in­tro­duced to all these crea­tures in a two-hour ram­ble through the is­land for­est. Back at the re­sort, one shower had merged into an­other to cre­ate a steady trop­i­cal down­pour. We lay be­tween warm tow­els un­der our beach um­brella — it felt like be­ing in an air­ing cup­board — and then were given ad­vice from Al­berto, the beach at­ten­dant: ‘No more sun to­day. Go to your room and drink cham­pagne.’

Re­sist­ing the booze, we went to the spa, where we were pum­melled into bliss­ful sub­mis­sion with hot herbal poul­tices.

‘I feel like I’ve been pre­pared for an Ot­tolenghi salad,’ was my hus­band’s ver­dict, but he looked pretty con­tent on it.

That evening, we had din­ner at Prime, the re­sort’s sig­na­ture res­tau­rant, where the French chef Alain Du­casse was once in charge. The meal was su­perb: wor­thy of the master.

Le Saint Géran en­joys a 35 per cent re­turn rate from its guests.

Alan and Grace from Mat­lock in Der­byshire came here on their hon­ey­moon 30 years ago. Now, they re­turn reg­u­larly with their four uni­ver­sity-age chil­dren.

‘You can’t beat the ser­vice and the stan­dards,’ they told me — and the fact the wa­ter ski­ing, which all of them love, is free.

The main res­tau­rant buf­fet is also a big draw: a huge break­fast se­lec­tion served un­til 11am and an­other vast range of dishes of­fered in the evening mean that not even the most vo­ra­cious teenager need go hun­gry.

‘We’ve costed it,’ said Grace, a so­lic­i­tor, ‘and even with the long-haul flights, a hol­i­day here is bet­ter value for us than Spain or the West Indies.’

A long jour­ney needs a spe­cial des­ti­na­tion to jus­tify it. We flew Emi­rates via Dubai, and were supremely com­fort­able all the way.

And, once there, with a beau­ti­ful room, seem­ingly end­less beach and staff aching to make you happy, the ex­er­tions of travel were soothed away with ease.

Grace from Mat­lock begged me not to tell too many peo­ple about the One&Only Le Saint Géran. Sorry.

Au­then­tic: Pool­side four-poster sunbeds at the re­vamped One&Only Le Saint Géran. Left: En­joy­ing is­land life

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