Mauritius is never far from my heart; not least because the country is where my mother hails from. But, in my opinion – which is only slightly tinged with bias – this little gem in the glistening Indian Ocean is the quintessential tropical escape.
As the plane makes its descent, the island seems to dance below in technicolour. The shimmering cobalt blues and aquamarines of the sea in juxtaposition to porcelain white crescents of sand and fizzing icing-sugar-splashes of white as the waves break on the reefs that cradle the lagoon. This is a picture etched onto my memory ever since I was a young child flying in to visit family on the island.
The balmy heat welcomes us to the tropics as we walk to the car. We decide against the air-conditioning and opt to be driven to our hotel with the windows down and the island breeze brushing against our travel-weary faces. We are heading first to the Belle Mare Peninsula to One&Only Le Saint Géran - often considered the grande dame of Mauritian hotels. Our journey takes us past swaying sugar cane fields, criss-crossed with irrigation lines and dotted with crooked pyramids of black, porous volcanic rocks.
A palm tree-lined drive delivers us at the impressive entrance to the hotel. A gigantic carved wooden door swings open to reveal a spectacular double-height marble hallway leading down to the crystalline lagoon. We are greeted with a refreshing ginger and lemon drink to revive us after our journey before being shown to our spacious Ocean Suite. A delicious island rum is waiting for us to enjoy and we take it out onto our private terrace, to drink in the magnificent ocean vistas - a taste of Mauritius in every sense.
The next day we make the most of the complimentary watersports on offer. As the hotel lies on the sweeping curve of the peninsula, it benefits from a sheltered lagoon which is perfect for learning to water-ski, sail or even just to kayak around the mangroves. There is no maximum limit as to how many activities you can try or how many times you can try them - perfect for keeping teenagers entertained! With a water-skiing-induced appetite, we settled down at the Le Terrasse poolside restaurant to enjoy a sumptuous lunch. A delicacy of Mauritius, we indulged in salad of palm heart in a zingy lemon vinaigrette and catch of the day freshly grilled in front of us. Satisfied, we settled down on our loungers to enjoy the afternoon sun on the pristine beach.
From here we moved on to Le Touessrok further down the East Coast. Our room, nestled on Frangipani Island, reached through the hotel gardens and across a wooden bridge. With windows on two sides of the room, there is a real sense of being surrounded by the sparkling blue sea, and you can hear the sound of the waves breaking on the reef through the open balcony doors. A huge statement bath stands proudly in the centre of the bathroom, there are his and hers washbasins at either side of the room and individual wardrobe and dressing areas too. There are two menus on the bed - a pillow menu and an aromatherapy menu so you can choose the scent you would like at evening turn-down service. I am convinced that this, combined with the gentle murmur of the ocean and an incredibly comfortable bed, contributed to one of the best sleeps I have ever enjoyed in my life!
A unique and special feature of this resort is the two private islands that guests have access to - both very different in their own right yet both equally as beautiful. Ile aux Cerfs is reached by private boat and is home to a Bernhard Langer designed golf course, restaurants, craft stalls and a watersports centre. Ilot Mangenie channels a more castaway-chic vibe with hammocks suspended between palm trees and is for the exclusive use of guests of Le Touessrok.
The cuisine at the hotel is truly exceptional. As the sun sets, the light from flame torches dances over the decking at Barlen's - situated next to the white sand beach. The bar here is a great place to enjoy sundowner cocktails and the amuse bouche of homemade onion bhajis and vegetable pakoras truly served to whet the appetite! We chose to eat at Safran - where an Indian menu is served infused with continental influences - and the traditional greeting at the doors to the restaurant, complete with Hindu blessing, gave the occasion a true sense of ceremony. The service at this hotel was exemplary, and throughout our meal we were looked after with discreet, personable and attentive service. There is a friendly and welcoming ambience, none more so than in the evenings at the poolside bar, where a Mauritian band play classics that people can sing and dance along to, helped along by a rum cocktail.
Our next stop was the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, and my personal favourite. An open-air lobby looks out across an expanse of whispering mangroves surrounded by the bluest of seas; sculptures rise out of pools cascading down to the water's edge and serve to add an exotic air to the scene. This very much sets the tone for this exceptional resort. Built sympathetically to augment the beauty of the surroundings, not detract from them, the buildings are all built on one level which means that they appear hidden away amongst swaying palm trees and tropical foliage. There is a real sense of space here too - wide wooden walkways link across the mangroves and guests can choose to get around by foot, by golf buggy or by bike - each villa comes complete with pushbikes.
The way that the resort is built also means that guests can be as private or as sociable as they wish. All of the villas have their own private plunge pools, outdoor salas and large outdoor living areas; make the most of this and order room service from the full menus of any of the resort's restaurants, and a waiter will come to set up your outside dining table. Some of the larger villas also boast barbeques and it is possible to arrange for a chef to come to tend to the grill for you whilst you relax by your pool.
There are an array of beaches and coves dotted around, and we were able to pick a different beach each day - my personal favourite being the livelier beach near the pool area, where the watersports are situated and close to the pool bar and restaurant. This beach also looks out across the water to Ile aux Cerfs - a beautiful setting to relax and watch the boats putter across the bay.
Whichever of the hotels you choose to stay at, you can be assured of one thing - the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Mauritian people. They are justly proud of their island home and they want guests to admire it too. Bias or no bias, should you visit Mauritius, I challenge you to not fall a little bit in love with this beautiful island.