The Indian Ocean’s superstar, Mauritius, has more to it than coconut cocktails and a long-extinct flightless bird. Our island insiders dip into their address books.
Best nature blast
To get face to fin with damselfish, parrotfish and other crazy-coloured creatures, take a snorkelling or glass-bottom boat trip over labyrinths of coral to Blue Bay Marine Park. On Ile aux Aigrettes there are giant tortoises and pink pigeons – saved from extinction by captive breeding – plus life-size bronzes of other natives, including the dodo, that weren’t so lucky. For lunch, there’s the private Île des Deux Cocos, which has a Moorish-style villa for overnight stays.
Overly long, intimidating wine lists and fiddly food have no place at the Kelly Hoppen-designed Lux Belle Mare hotel on the east coast. Sip Chinese baijiu spirit under the lanterns at Duck Laundry, order a bottle of chilled Provençal rosé at the groovy Beach Rouge and experiment with flavoured Mauritian rums at Mari Kontan. And track down the blink-and- you’ll-miss-it pop-up bar, an antique drinks cabinet stocked with help-yourself Champagne on ice, chilled Phoenix beers and the makings of a classic Martini.
Read more luxresorts.com
For hand-embroidered linens and palm-print napkins, make a beeline for French designer Michel Abad’s store in Grand Baie. There’s a highly skilled atelier, so simple monograms can be added to pillowcases and hand towels. Over in Terre Rouge, the Patrick Mavros studio makes gorgeous silver jewellery, candlesticks and sculptures. If you want to swop flip-flops for heels, the Neo boutique at the One&Only Le Saint Géran stocks Christian Louboutin, Missoni and Matthew Williamson.
The much-loved Le Touessrok hotel has been spruced up by Shangri-La and is looking incredibly sleek. The rooms are now an exercise in easy-breezy restraint, with pale recycled timber, white coral motifs and pops of ikat fabric. Families can kayak through the mangroves, and learn to paddleboard and sail. Or zoom across the bay’s turquoise waters in a speedboat to discover the east coast’s tiny islands and shipwrecks, and tuck into a seafood barbecue in a sheltered cove. After supper, while kids go on a night treasure hunt or kick back in front of a Pixar film at the well-run kids’ club, parents can slip away to the boho-chic Republik Beach Club with its chill-out soundtrack and tequila cocktails.
Off the coast of Le Morne is a wind-lashed swathe of Indian Ocean with excellent conditions for both learners and pros. Kite-surfing was born in Maui in the 1990s but many consider these Mauritian coordinates to be up there with Hawaii. Professional kiteboarder Evgeny Novozheev runs Pryde Club, and his team can teach anyone how to master a kite before braving One-Eye, a steep, hollow, fast-paced wave that crashes into a coral reef.
Adventure here prydeclub.com
Best time out
The Chamarel mountains overlooking the Black River Gorges National Park and the south-west coast are Jurassic Park-dramatic, with extraordinary coloured earth, waterfalls and thick forests. Hole up at the peaceful Lakaz Chamarel eco-lodge for yoga sessions, meditation in the silent space and large terraces with far-reaching views. For lunch, there’s Varangue Sur Morne, set in a former hunting lodge nearby.
Book now lakazchamarel.com, varangue-sur-morne.restaurant.mu
Best room to book
At the St Regis on Le Morne Peninsula, the airy first-floor beachfront suites are the ones to bag. The pared-back style – rattan trunks, seagrass rugs, linen sofas, the palest sage green walls – doesn’t detract from the view. Kick back on the enormous daybed on the deep, west-facing balcony to watch the sun slip into the Indian Ocean at the end of the afternoon.
Book your stay stregismauritius.com
The Port Louis market, held daily in an old colonial storeroom with vast beamed ceilings and original stonework, would put the Harrods food hall to shame. Shopkeepers, constantly polishing their pawpaws and pomegranates, compete for the most beautiful displays. Central Market, Port Louis, on Queen and Corderie Streets
The Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean opened its doors in Port Louis last year. It’s an extraordinary collection in an unexpected spot. One of the committee members, Kerryn Greenberg, is the curator of African
Art at Tate Modern so has access to renowned artists such as South African gritty-realism photographer Pieter Hugo, and London-based painter Lynette Yiadom Boakye.
Mahébourg was the first port on the island so it has a colourful history. It’s a gorgeous melting pot with its African ancestry and great Indian pooja shops – homeware stores selling incense holders, curios made from seashells and wildly colourful sari fabrics. The waterfront promenade boasts some fantastic Creole restaurants including La Colombe (order the octopus curry with a side of okra). Despite the town’s Indian roots, the curries here are not Madras-hot, just gently spicy.
Find it at 5 rue Hollandais, Mahébourg
All the beaches in Mauritius are public and the loveliest get busy at weekends with both visitors and locals. The sweeping stretch of Belle Mare is one of the longest on the island, with lagoon-calm water, leaning palms for shade and squeaky white sand. Come for an early swim and have it all to yourself. In the north, Trou aux Biches and Mont Choisy are great for water sports. The combination of the lush mountain backdrop and the kite- and windsurfers riding the reef make Le Morne in the south-west one of the most dramatic beaches. Pointe d’Esny is an enchanting small bay reminiscent of New Zealand or even the west coast of Scotland, but with coconut trees, and it’s much more tranquil than its neighbour, Blue Bay. The Shangri-La Le Touessrok buries other hotels in the sand with its 14 hectares of beachfront and boats from the jetty to two islands: Ile aux Cerfs, which has a boathouse for water sports and an 18-hole, pro-designed golf course; and the unspoilt, guests-only Ilot Mangénie for Lost-style solitude, but with cabanas, fresh lobster and butler service.
Best beach bar
There are few friendlier faces than that of Olivier Ramtohul, who, if you’re lucky, will whip up one of his signature rum-fuelled concoctions in a bougainvillea-garnished coconut while you watch at the renovated Le Badamier Bar. Olivier, the bar manager at One&Only Le Saint Géran, started out as a trainee waiter 25 years ago, carrying trays of drinks to guests soaking up the sun on the resort’s pristine beach. Now he’ll impress you with his mixology skills, most notable in the delicious tamarind-infused mojitos that seem to go perfectly with Le Badamier’s palm-fringed views of sea and sky. By day, the bar is a comfortable, casually chic spot to catch a tasty lunch of grilled fish and seafood with a bottle of South African Sauvignon Blanc, while at sunset, flaming lanterns and candlelight transform it into a magical setting for romantic cocktails under a canopy of stars. Further updates are on the cards for the classic island resort, with a major refurbishment programme commencing in February next year – what is being billed as a ‘rebirth’ of the One&Only Le Saint Géran. Watch this space!
Book your seat oneandonlylesaintgeran.com
The quirky, yellow La Cabane du Pêcheur shack sits just above the beach at the far-western side of Trou aux Biches. The Creole menu is scrawled on a blackboard daily, based on what the nets bring in, and includes spicy fish vindaye and prawn curry, or simple grilled catch of the day – often dorade – all served at rickety tables. Bring your own beer or buy it from the shop opposite and watch the locals fishing.
Visit Coastal Road, Trou aux Biches.
The hotel that sets the benchmark for service, One&Only Le Saint Géran lures its endlessly loyal hordes of repeat guests back because of its staff. They are thoughtful and charming, sweet but not saccharine, whether they’re mopping up sticky fruit juice spilt by a toddler or bringing a fourth round of daiquiris to the twinkly, Alice Temperley-designed teepee.
Book now oneandonlyresorts.com
Text Marsha Monro, Jane Broughton, James Litson, Victoria Sheppard, Issy von Simson, Juliet Kinsman, Leigh Robertson; Photography Supplied