Mauritius – an escape to an island paradise
By Fiona Sanderson & Isabel Donnelly
Mauritius has recently secured its position as the leading Indian Ocean destination, with the tropical paradise scooping up three prestigious prizes for the region at the 2022 World Travel Awards. Mauritius is well-known for its long white beaches, lagoons, and reefs, but lesser known is the mountainous interior with its fascinating Black River Gorges National Park, rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and abundant wildlife.
Heritage Le Telfair
Being our first trip to the island, my fellow journalist and I wanted to see the full range of what Mauritius has to offer. Our trip, organised by Susie Freeman Travel, covered much of the 65 km long island. Our first destination, in the southwest, was to Heritage Le Telfair, a former sugar estate covering over 2,500 acres, nestled amidst nature and history in the tranquillity of the Bel Ombre sanctuary. The hotel is one of a few colonial-style hotels on the island and has a charming and intimate “French village” feel to it. The rooms and suites offer a combination of understated luxury and comfort. For a special stay, you can book the unique Le Château de Bel Ombre, the home of the former plantation’s owner. This unique Château offers the refined grandeur of a French plantation; the historic house has been tastefully restored and combines the feel of a bygone era with breath-taking views and gardens.
For those with a luxury budget, you can stay in the Château’s Presidential Suite, a unique experience. The antique four-poster canopy bed, long ivory-draped curtains, mesmerising paintings and beautiful antiques combine to give a sense that you might be in a scene from South Pacific. Dinner at the Château is a gastronomic feast of fresh and seasonal ingredients, and flavours born of Mauritian Creole cuisine. Try the tuna carpaccio, crab with palm crust, wild boar, and beef ribs. All bursting with zest and utterly delicious.
Another memorable experience, and something not to miss, is watching the sunset before dinner overlooking the beautiful lagoon with the sounds of fruit bats swooping high above you. We followed this with dinner at the Gin’ja Restaurant, which offers a teppanyaki experience with Asian street food. If you love sushi and sashimi, this is the place to have the freshest of fish. Delicious!
Away from your room, there are a host of activities to enjoy, including an 18-hole championship golf course, which was clearly popular at our time of visiting in early December, the temperature perfectly contrasted with light winds. There is a wide variety of complementary water sports, as well as dolphin-watching and water skiing. The Seven Colour Spa, housed in the impressive wellness pavilion, is surrounded by nature – a tranquil sanctuary – and offers well-being classes as well as excellent treatments.
Thanks to conservation efforts, the vast domain of the 1,300-hectare Bel Ombre Nature Reserve has preserved the environment in its original state and it is now a renowned sanctuary for endemic plants and birds such as the Pink Pigeon, but also wild boars and Java deer. Adventurous travellers can immerse themselves in nature with unique flora and fauna, or explore the reserve’s trails, rivers and hidden waterfalls by 4×4, as we did.
Every aspect of Heritage Le Telfair is elegantly understated. It is a great hotel not only for golf lovers but also families and couples seeking nature, spices, gastronomic flavours, and relaxation – a step back in time of sugar plantations, white beaches and the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean.
JW Marriott Mauritius Resort
We then travelled further up the West Coast to the JW Marriott Mauritius Resort. This former sugar baron’s plantation house is set beneath the striking backdrop of Le Morne, a giant basaltic mountain which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site set at the extreme southwestern tip of the island (be warned: it’s a heady climb to the top!). A long white beach stretches far into the distance and the Black River Gorges National Park and a dolphin safari are nearby attractions.
We stayed in one of the two-storey residences, facing the beach, which reflect a comfortable, understated old-school elegance, with natural tones and dark wood. You are made to feel like a house guest, with your own butler on standby 24-hours a day – a unique feature. The Beachfront Grand Suites overlook the famous “One Eye” kite-surfing spot (Le Morne is the island’s top area for kitesurfing) and have the wow factor, while the Manor House Suites, with soaring ceilings, vast terraces, four-poster beds and couple’s spa beds in the bathroom, are impressively luxurious. The Iridium spa is spectacularly contemporary and offers all the treatments you might want, and we particularly enjoyed the resort’s private cinema and library, where you can while away the hours after dark.
There are five tempting restaurants around the Manor House, from exotic Asian cuisine in the Floating Market and Japanese fine dining in Atsuko, to a culinary journey across India at the Boathouse Bar and Grill. We lunched overlooking the pool at the Manor House which offers excellent French-Mauritian cuisine with exotic flavour. Our favourite, however, was the striking Floating Market, where we indulged in the many Asian dishes on offer. Try the pla yang bai tong (grilled fish in banana leaves with lemon grass) – it is delicious.
Timeless luxury in a place of utter relaxation, an escape to picture perfect white sand and crystal water sitting under the stars, this is JW Marriott as we know it; elegant, family-friendly and with a butler service for those who need to be thoroughly spoilt.
LUX* Grand Baie
Next on our trip was LUX* Grande Baie, the first new-build hotel on the island for 15 years, located on one of Mauritius’s finest beaches – Grand Baie in the North. Opened last December, it is unquestionably unique. No expense has been spared on the design elements and the hotel is an Instagrammer’s dream photo opportunity. The dramatic architecture, with its thatched roofing, is offset against the crystal-clear water and white sandy beaches of Grand Baie. Kelly Hoppen, one of Europe’s foremost interior designers, was invited to create something special that didn’t already exist in Mauritius and her signature interior style of natural hues contrasts with the drama of bright red and white loungers. With modern art and contemporary finishes, the impact is striking. Local architect Jean-François Adam collaborated with Hoppen on the design. I particularly liked the triple height avant-garde atrium, designed like a cathedral with concrete flooring, fine local woods and polished steel.
With a background Ibiza beat, you can sit in your sun lounger overlooking the crystal waters of Grand Baie before taking lunch in the Beach Rouge, sampling the sweet lobster, the catch of the day ceviche on ice with brioche rolls, or my choice of a palm heart salad with truffles – the best salad I have ever tasted.
The rooms are spacious, and the bathrooms have elegant black and white speckled tiles offset with black and natural tones. You are given your own personal cotton beach bag and environmentally-friendly bathroom products, reflecting the sustainable ethos of this brand.
A highlight of our stay was dinner in the destination restaurant, Ai KISU. From the moment you walk in, you are embarking upon a theatrical gastronomic journey. The walls are adorned with modern Japanese art and the open kitchen is aflame, chefs preparing dishes inspired by the many cuisines of Asia. We got a front seat view of the action to watch the flaming sugar cane straws in what is known as “waryaki” cooking. “Wara” means rice straw and “yaki” means burning so when the food is held briefly above the flaming straw, you get a slightly burnt aroma. We chose their tasting menu, which included Peking duck with soy sauce made with abalone – delicious!
I can highly recommend a visit to the LUX* Grande Baie three-storey Spa, a temple of calm and relaxation, with limed wood floors, white-domed lamps and taupe-flecked linen sofas. There are many treatments on offer dedicated to your own personal beauty and wellness needs. I had a mood-enhancing facial for 90 minutes, which was heaven and felt wonderfully luxurious. The Spa has a relaxation garden and outdoor pool, and the lower ground floor is reserved entirely for hydrotherapy. We enjoyed the hammam, tepidarium, sauna and steam rooms, along with a water path of mists, jets and waterfalls, which was equal parts soothing and surprising.
On the top floor of the hotel (and the first that I have ever seen in a luxury hotel), is an impressive rooftop Olympic-grade track for running and a 12-station fitness frame for endurance training. This purpose-built gym has the latest Technogym equipment as well as a 21st century spin studio and a yoga room for private or group classes of up to six.
Away from the gym, everything here is about gastronomy; even the afternoon tea with pastries and home-made ice cream is divine. A unique purple sweet potato ice-cream was more than tempting! At sunset the place to be, or be seen, is the rooftop at Bisou, overlooking one the most Instagrammable images on the island – the beautiful infinity pool and the two extraordinary rooftop swings.
LUX* Grande Baie, a new generation boutique-style resort, is aimed at the sophisticated traveller, who wants a cool vibe and great food, where unique design and art meet timeless sophistication.
Constance Prince Maurice
Our final hotel to visit was the Constance Prince Maurice. From the moment I walked into the hotel, I had a sense of peace and tranquillity. Named after the Dutch prince whose name was given to the island, this resort is one of the few in Africa to regularly land in “world’s best hotels” lists. A luxurious hideaway, surrounded by calm waters, nestled between a lake and a lagoon on the northeast of the island, it engenders a sense that the stresses of home will quickly melt away. Set amongst 60 hectares of tropical gardens and natural beauty, the villas on stilts are positioned to look over the turquoise lagoon and secluded beaches of white sand. Although the resort is tailored to couples, there is a large kids’ club for families. For ultimate privacy, the Princely Villa is one of the island’s most secluded havens, with its own beach, two pools, three terraces and a round-the-clock butler.
Constance Prince Maurice is home to the largest wine cellar in the Indian Ocean, with a capacity for 25,000 world wines and the only floating restaurant in Mauritius, reached by a lantern-lit boardwalk through the mangroves. My guest and I had a picture-perfect moment sitting watching another glorious Mauritian sunset, overlooking the natural reserve. Of three hotel restaurants and three bars, Le Barachois Floating Restaurant is the only over-water dining option on the island, and it’s the perfect spot for a sundowner.
On our short visit to Constance Prince Maurice, it was easy to understand why guests return time and time again. It left us in no doubt that the title of being one of the world’s best hotels was well deserved, and we look forward to returning in the near future.
Our conclusion is that Mauritius is an incredibly beautiful island with picture-perfect white sand beaches and crystal waters, offering a variety of luxury options for a mindful and relaxing holiday. With so many activities to choose from, it is a luxury escape for couples and families alike, particularly in December when the weather is perfect.
Our trip was brilliantly organised by Susie Freeman Travel (www.susiefreemantravel.com). Known as the Queen of Mauritius Travel, Susie is a luxury tour operator who has been arranging bespoke, luxurious, and memorable holidays since 1998. She started her business when she visited Mauritius and fell in love with the island and wanted to make it affordable to her friends. She is widely recognised as the UK’s leading Mauritius holiday expert.
We stayed at (and can highly recommend) the following hotels:
- Heritage Le Telfair – click here for further information
- JW Marriott Mauritius Resort – click here for further information
- LUX* Grand Baie – click here for further information
- Constance Prince Maurice – click here for further information
For impeccable service and friendly drivers, we really recommend booking your travels around the island with Coquille Bonheur (www.coquillebonheur.com).