I have dreamed of going to Mauritius for many years, I even have friends that live on the nearby island of Reunion and one of my favourite school teachers was from Mauritius, it was her in fact who spent many of her free afternoons trying to improve my French many years ago. So I set off for Mauritius with IX Magazine to find out why the island enjoys such a massive popularity with British, French, Italian, South African and Chinese tourists.
The Air Mauritius flight from Heathrow Terminal 4 takes twelve hours and you fly over night, which means you leave in the evening and sleep till you arrive at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. A mouthful in any language and a solid contender for the best airport name in the world competition. From there it was a speedy ten minute drive to our hotel, the Shandrani Resort and Spa, a lovely hotel occupying a picturesque peninsula jutting out into the sun drenched Indian Ocean.
It is pretty much like your own private island, right by the Blue Bay Marine Park known for its abundant sea life and coral. The Shandrani actually started out as a very small boutique hotel with only a few rooms in the 70’s and was carefully and slowly developed over the intervening decades to the resort it is now. This gradual evolution meant that it has retained the original and natural tropical surroundings that contribute so much to its appeal. The grounds also contain a large putting golf course, multiple immaculate tennis courts and a whole host of sea and land activities with which to keep the whole family happily entertained. The resort is justly proud of its landscaped gardens which are immaculately laid out, with many different areas cascading with wildflowers and blooming bushes of magnificent beauty. The whole resort exudes a feeling of peace and inner contentment.
The welcome at the hotel is flawless, with hot towels and drinks greeting new arrivals. They also have golf carts to escort you to your room, and after a leisurely unpacking of cases we scuttled off for a refreshing swim in the azure sea.
There are beaches for all tastes. There is a calm cove by the main lobby and pool where the Beach is set deep inland, within the bay, so the water is flat and clear with just a cooling breeze as the palm trees deflect the incoming sea winds. Then as you walk further along you come to a secluded sandy cove, rocks either side, with crystal clear water and a view out of the bay towards the rolling breakers further out to sea. Then a long line of gorgeous blossoms lead you to the next Beach, a wide stretch that looks out on the other side of the bay and the private island, with another pool and idyllic bar and restaurant. The sea here changes from emerald to turquoise, then sapphire as the water recedes off into the distance. Thunderous white horses are faintly visible above the coral reefs that protect the island from the surf, almost a mile out where the sea and sky join together in a cerulean line.
Here the tip of the peninsula flows below the waves to the Lilliputian private island a hundred yards away. You could almost walk across, but the currents are impressive and arresting. The calm bay water clashes against the incoming waves from the sea to the right, a natural funnel conjured up by the opposing currents and winds. Beyond this area of outstanding elemental beauty stretches the longest and final Beach that curves away forever, an endless vista of ochre yellow sand with deep waves pounding over the shore. The walk along this Beach is tranquil and inspiring as most people stick to the other more languid coves, and there are some fascinating rock formations at the very end with rock pools and abundant marine life. As the Beach is coral sand I would recommend taking swim shoes to protect your feet.
The hotel apartments and villas stretch discreetly along these beaches with two large pools overlooking the sea. The gardens, golf, tennis court and Spa lie at the epicentre, making everything easily accessible, yet wonderful to stroll around and explore. The restaurants and bars are discreetly located a few paces from the main beaches and overlook the sea. The service is always friendly and helpful as they really go out of their way to be kind and courteous.
For those who wish to luxuriate even further there is a beautiful spa. It is one of the most magnificent and visually stunning gardens I have ever seen. You enter along a tiny path through a small parade of palms into a boutique lobby and lo and behold there is a fabulous paradise. Decorative wooden bridges span a shallow pool meandering around a beautiful island, dominated by a magnificent palm. The edges of the pool curve this way and that revealing wonderful open air huts available for the beauty treatments. Thatched roofs, palms, creepers and glowing lanterns abound, creating a truly mystical scene. It is heavenly. We took numerous massages there, experimenting with the local traditional techniques versus the more usual international. I heartily recommend the local Mauritian massage as it has been created from a fusion of Indian and European so both relaxing and invigorating, especially in such transcendent surroundings. The Spa is worth visiting just for the architecture and decoration alone as it is a masterpiece of design and form.
Mauritius is culturally intoxicating because everyone there speaks three languages fluently, English, French and Creole, often employing words from each in a single sentence. I grew up in France and England speaking both languages as required, so it was a particular pleasure to find a whole country that did the same. The island was originally settled by the Portuguese, followed by the French, until the English took over in 1810. It was a relatively peaceful change of ownership and the English did not much bother the French, pretty much leaving them to trade and operate as they did before. However the English did make slavery illegal, a welcome turnabout, and replaced the Africans there with indentured Indians, further adding to the diverse cultural mix. Today Mauritius is made up of mostly indians, with a smattering of French, English and Africans. A wonderfully successful melting pot that makes it a cultural delight for travellers. Mauritians take great pleasure in helping people get the best from their island and are proud of their history and heritage.