What to see and where to stay in marvellous Mauritius

The Indian Ocean paradise is firmly on British travellers' wish lists, says Nigel Tisdall

As scenic wonders go, Morne Brabant is up there with the best. Rising in the southwest corner of Mauritius like a giant and stubborn molar, its steep, forested flanks are the Indian Ocean’s answer to Saint Lucia’s iconic Pitons. There’s no doubting that aerial shots of this World Heritage-listed landmark, ringed with shimmering turquoise waters and a lacy reef, inspire British travellers to visit the balmy tropical isle. Even though it’s a longer flight than the Caribbean (12 hours rather than nine), we instantly warm to its friendly and diverse culture – the rolling fields of sugar cane and craggy volcanic peaks, the splendid beaches and apricot sunsets.

With English the official language and driving on the left, it’s easy to feel at home here. Throw in the fact Mauritians love a cup of tea and it’s almost a home-from-home – only with much better weather. Conveniently, Morne Brabant is fringed with fine white-sand beaches and winds robust enough to make it a top spot for kitesurfing between April and October.

When I take my first dip in the sea beside JW Marriott Mauritius Resort – in my view the best stop on this peninsula – I am amazed to find the horizon filled with a colourful aerial ballet of watersports-lovers leaping and soaring above the waves. While the adventurous can climb to the 1,820ft summit of Morne Brabant, a tough four-hour round trip, I opt for a leisurely circumnavigation by e-bike. My young guide, Matthew Jonas, is from the nearby fishing village of Le Morne.

He points out a memorial to the runaway slaves who took refuge in its heights in the 18th century, before we freewheel along a palm-lined coast where migrating humpback whales pass by between June and October. Then the modern world returns in the shape of a massive construction site for an all-inclusive Riu resort due to open in the summer with more than 300 rooms. It’s no surprise hoteliers want to be in this cherished spot. “Morne Brabant is like a country within a country,” explains Mathieu de Tonnac, who manages three Marriott resorts along the west coast.

This side of the island is arguably the most attractive as it has more sun, less rain and catches the sunset. With most guests coming from the UK and Europe, there’s a healthy competition between high-end properties that leads to a steady stream of improvements, with owners seemingly happy to make costly, transformational changes. “It’s ongoing,” says de Tonnac. “For example, at JW Marriott Mauritius we recently launched a modern Indian restaurant, installed new lighting in the rooms and are introducing Asprey amenities.”

With its dazzling beach, bright pink golf carts and palatial spa, it’s easy to see why the resort enjoys high occupancy levels. There’s a similar striving for perfection at Paradis Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa, a short drive north. This reopened in October after a £10 million refurbishment, with 120 rooms redesigned and three dining venues added. Most British travellers come here for a fortnight generally spent in-resort, enjoying the golf course, entertainment and free snorkelling trips.

Private spaces

For clients seeking an ultra-luxurious escape, all-villa Maradiva reopened in November after a six-month upgrade that ushered in a lighter design, heated pools and units designed for families. Set beside the expansive sands of Wolmar Beach, the resort specialises in “deep privacy” with 300 well-drilled staff, a high-class spa and culinary options that include Indian and Japanese restaurants plus a pastry chef who previously worked for Pierre Hermé. An art gallery, a wine and cigar cellar and a boutique stocking luxury brands such as Missoni are in the pipeline.

This refined sanctuary is a hit with jet-setters and celebrities. Some, such as US actors Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey, have planted trees in the gardens to commemorate their visit. Another new five-star enclave, this one adult-only, is Nirvana. Completed in November, it forms a privileged wing of Le Méridien Ile Maurice resort in Pointe aux Piments. Here guests are ferried around in fancy white golf carts and plenty of perks are included in the rate. “This is a space for sophisticated indulgence,” says general manager Rudy Periatamby, “aimed at guests who like to be taken care of.”

Check in here and you can look forward to a dedicated reception, butler service, an exclusive breakfast venue, poolside snacks and free sundowners. Sixteen of the 51 suites come with a heated private pool, with stays of five nights attracting further treats such as excursions and a couples spa treatment.

Out and about

Le Méridien Ile Maurice is a smart pick for guests who like to explore, as every room receives an Unlock Art pass that grants free admission to L’Aventure du Sucre. Only a 15-minute drive inland, this acclaimed museum in Pamplemousses reveals the importance of sugar to the island’s story and is usually combined with a visit to the nearby 18th-century Botanical Gardens. A trip to the capital, Port Louis, a 30-minute drive south, is the best way to appreciate the vibrant mix of cultures that is Mauritius.

On a short walk through its busy streets I find myself admiring the Jardins de la Compagnie, gardens established by the French in the early 18th century; the wedding cake-like Jummah Masjid mosque, built in the 1850s and covering an entire block; and the hectic streets of Chinatown lined with snack bars selling steaming boulettes (dumplings) and sesame-seed-coated cakes. Find time, too, for the historic Central Market with its fresh tropical fruit juices and stalls piled high with fragrant spices.

Another good base for engaging with the local scene is Flic-en-Flac, also on the west coast, which has a well-kept public beach that Mauritians flock to at weekends. Here the stand-out resort is Sugar Beach Mauritius thanks to its serene rooms and spacious beachfront grounds. New this winter is an enlarged Buddah-Bar Beach restaurant and a kids’ club themed on bees with a free cuddly toy and honeycomb-shaped furniture. Resort activities include ‘crazy croquet’ where straw-hatted guests can learn about the game while sipping an Aperol spritz; a perfume-making workshop; and a beachside Beauty Bubble that opens in the afternoon so guests can get glammed up for a special evening.

Seaside chic

If beaches are the priority, Belle Mare is a six-mile stretch of dazzling white sand on the east coast with a cluster of high-end resorts that includes the 174-suite Lux Belle Mare. Closed for 13 months due to a fire, it reopened in October with a revitalised look that includes one of the largest swimming pools on the island and a food truck towed by a lovingly polished 1933 Rolls-Royce. The rooms here are particularly impressive, with whitewashed woods, woven-rope seating and coral-inspired wallpapers creating a seaside chic vibe.

This uplifting mood continues with staff dressed in white and complimentary activities such as beach tennis and Pilates. About 50% of guests come from the UK and there’s plenty for families to like. The buffet in the main Mondo restaurant has a child[1]height counter and the kids’ club features an art studio, while other delights include pizza-making classes and an ice cream parlour. An interesting touch is that every day five bottles with messages inside are hidden around the resort for guests to discover, containing a prize that could be free cocktails or a spa treatment.

It’s a gesture typical of the way luxury resorts in Mauritius work hard to surprise and impress their guests, and ensures that every visitor who makes the long flight south goes home feeling like a winner.

Drinks for all

“Si c’est beau, c’est bon,” says mixologist David Boodhoo as I sample an elaborate purple cocktail that looks like some magic potion, which is thankfully both handsome and good, as described. Although described as a G&T Violet Noble it is part of a range of 10 non-alcoholic Easy Sips recently created for Sugar Beach’s upscale Buddah-Bar Beach restaurant. “Many of our guests are into healthier holidays,” he explains, so will happily knock back an agave-flavoured Zen Margarita or ginger-infused Tropical Garden knowing there’s no prospect of a hangover.

Freshly made fruit juices and coconut water are also readily available across the island, while clients who prefer something stronger should try the tasty local beer, Phoenix. Fine wines, generally imported from South Africa, are available in luxury resorts and are clearly popular – Le Méridien Ile Maurice employs eight sommeliers. A bottle can be pricey so do as the locals and get into Mauritian rum.

Despite a long history of growing sugar cane, creating high-quality tipples to sip rather than mix is a relatively new development. Two labels to look out for are Bougainville XO and Labourdonnais XO. Meanwhile, for those into kitsch, the airport duty-free sells a litre of Mauritius Dodo rum in a gaudy glass bottle resembling the flightless bird – yours for a mere £85.

Book it: Air Mauritius flies daily from Gatwick, from £677 return. Double rooms at JW Marriott Mauritius start from £450; from £228 at Sugar Beach Mauritius; and from £350 at Nirvana at Le Méridien Ile Maurice – all on a bed-and-breakfast basis.


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