Here’s one for the bucket list: a flight to a French-flavoured island with pristine beaches and more than a hint of Indian spice! Mauritius has all this and more, as VERNE MAREE discovers.
Revisiting the island
Though this wasn’t strictly our first time in Mauritius, that’s how it felt. On a cruise last year, our ship had docked at Port Louis for just one day – just about enough time to spot a few colonial buildings, buy a dodo-decorated beach bag at a market and visit the island’s world-famous botanical gardens.
Mauritius has numerous other attractions, too, such as scenic gorges and hiking trails, cultural activities and historic landmarks. It also has wonderful Chamerel, the best rum distillery I’ve ever visited. (OK, the only rum distillery I’ve ever visited.)
That said, Mauritius is a tropical island with 170 kilometres of coral-reefed coastline, powder-white beaches and turquoise waters that teem with marine life. Visitors like us come here for these legendary beaches, to soak up the sun, to bathe in the pearlescent shallows, to snorkel, to dive, to fish, to kayak and to sail, and to sip fresh green coconut juice and cocktails on resort loungers.
That begs the question: which beach and which resort? With around 150 to choose from, it can be a daunting decision. Some prefer the West Coast’s Flic en Flac, Tamarin and Le Morne beaches; others recommend the North’s famous Trou aux Biches; others the dramatic scenery of the South Coast. You’d be lucky to get an unbiased opinion – and you won’t find one here either!
The Residence Mauritius
The Residence – or La Résidence, its sexier-sounding French name – is beautifully positioned on the East Coast’s idyllic Belle Mare, a long, long stretch of pristine white sand. It’s perfect for a pre-breakfast stroll or a salty dip in the Indian Ocean. At high tide, waves lap at the steps up to the resort.
An interesting feature of this coastline is the juxtaposition of black volcanic rock and soft powdery sand – a colourway that is harmoniously reflected in the hotel’s stunning architecture. Designed to evoke the grand colonial villas of Mauritius, public spaces are lofty, light-filled and welcoming.
Elegance is a theme that carries through to the décor, the service and even the dress code. It’s strictly smart casual, so we girls can enjoy putting on a swish frock, hurrah! And, come cocktail hour, even the blokes are forced to swap their bathers and flipflops for garments more fit for purpose.
The Residence attracts mainly British and northern European guests: I heard a lot of French, plus Spanish and German. In mid-October, occupancy was about 50 percent, but that was set to rise sharply in the approach to Christmas and the peak season.
Children three years and older are welcome, and well catered for by the kids’ club. “We don’t just keep them in there,” says guest relations officer Fiona. “They go out and do all sorts of activities, from pizza bakes to pool volleyball.”
8 THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT THE RESIDENCE
#1 The Accommodation…
… is ultra-spacious and superbly comfortable. The very sight of our magnificent Colonial Senior Garden Suite (106 square metres) instantly cheered up Roy, my grumpy yet magnificent colonial senior husband. Though it’s slightly set back in a U-shaped wing that surrounds a palmy garden, you still have a fine view of the ocean from the loungers on your own big terrace. For once, I actually made good use of this private outdoor space. I should also confess to feeding walnuts and bits of dried mango to the visiting red-whiskered bulbuls – though the noisy mynahs, being less cute, got short shrift.
However, you won’t go wrong with one of the 135 standard rooms. They’re generously sized (at least 54 square metres), they all have terraces and they’re just as luxuriously furnished.
#2 The Service…
… is outstanding. Let’s just say I’m not yet quite ready to have a butler unpack my suitcase for me – but I’m working on it. Butler service is included in every category of room. Apart from the packing-unpacking business, he’ll also see to your laundry and ironing, if you like, draw your bath for you and so on.
Overall, we found the staff delightful. From the guest services managers to the chefs, from the cleaners to the gardeners to the entertainment team, everyone had a look-you-in-the-eyes smile and a genuine desire to please.
#3 The Dining Room…
… overlooks both the pools and the beach, and is where you’ll have your breakfast and most dinners. A buffet is not usually my first choice, but it can be a great way to try a little – or even a lot – of a huge range of deliciousness. Breakfast here offers an outstanding selection of fresh fruit, smoothies and customisable juices, the usual cereals, eggs, pastries, waffles and so on, plus a variety of Asian fare. Fancy a bowl of tarka dahl with a fresh paratha? No problem! What’s more, breakfast is served until 10.30am, making the half-board option a good one.
I’d asked our airport transfer driver what Mauritian dish was the most famous, and he’d emphatically replied “Seafood!” Well, Mauritian cuisine was the theme of our first night’s buffet, and it proved him right. Highlights were the piles of tiny local oysters, seafood salads, kebabs grilled à la minute, the local prawn vindye curry, and a fiery and instantly addictive green chilli paste.
Every night featured a different buffet theme: Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese and a memorably hedonistic European spread where I didn’t get much further than the pan-seared foie gras.
#4 The Bar…
… is presided over by barmen who know their stuff, shaking up some of the best margaritas and Manhattans that we’ve had for ages – not to mention a local rum and tonic that became my new favourite. After dinner, a variety of different musicians and singers entertained us from the baby grand – new voices every night, and all very good.
#5 The Sanctuary…
… is the hotel’s superb subterranean spa, with at least nine treatment rooms, a big steam room and a smaller sauna, both kept at just the temperatures I like. We’d arrived from Paris at silly o’clock in the morning, but a fabulous massage that first afternoon rubbed away most of the travel-weariness and some of the jetlag.
#6 Free Water Activities…
… can be booked at the concierge each morning. These include snorkelling and glass-bottomed boat expeditions, sailing lessons on a hobie cat or laser, plus windsurfing, SUP-boarding, pedal boats and aqua-bikes. It’s all free for guests. You pay extra only for scuba diving from the resort’s PADI-certified dive team.
#7 Yoga with Mala…
… took place under palm trees on a secluded grassy lawn next to the beach. Every day should start this way.
#8 The Plantation…
… is the resort’s fine-dining à la carte restaurant, housed in a colonial plantation style dwelling a couple of hundred metres down the beach. This was also where I came for a cooking lesson – local fish curry with fresh parathas, which got the Roy-al seal of approval when we had it for lunch.
Mauritius is nine and a half hours by plane from Hong Kong.
See more in our Travel section