An island of dreams
It might only be a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean but Mauritius is no lightweight when it comes to having fun. Lying between Africa and India with its nearest significant neighbour Madagascar some 2000 km away it is fair to say it has it’s own identity albeit made up of a kaleidoscope of influences. You could find yourself kite surfing, scuba diving or maybe just having a massage in one of the islands more pamper based hotels. It really has a lot to offer including brilliant activities for children.
With direct flights from the UK at 12 hours might seem a long time but it is worth the wait. You will be rewarded with a sparsely populated tropical island with glorious weather and sublime food. The island is not very large so getting anywhere doesn’t take very long. I was in my hotel within an hour of the plane touching down.
Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort is a Zen sort of place where everything is ordered and beautiful including the guests. Families find this resort hotel a relaxing environment for children and adults alike. The ocean was just a few steps from the double doors of my ground floor room, as I swung open the French windows to let the fresh air in I couldn’t believe the view. For miles it was just sea and sand and sun. My room was equipped with a giant walk in shower, enormous bath and dressing area. The bed was about seven ft wide and very comfortable. I tested it out for an hour or two.
Lunch was at Edgewater Beach Restaurant within the grounds of the hotel. I choose a trio of sliders (mini burgers). Lamb, wagyu beef and chicken. All the food was cooked in theatrical style in the open kitchen on a hot plate with lots of fire. My Parmesan fries are also worth a mention as they were crisp with generous shavings of cheese. During lunch we were treated to a torrential rainstorm (it clears the air so it’s good thing). It lasted only 15 min’s but the deluge was vast. Half an hour later it had brightened up and the rain all evaporated.
The view from the restaurant is what you’d expect, sand, sea and the odd boat drifting by. After lunch I found a quiet spot even nearer the beach and closed my eyes on a sun lounger. The distant thunder of the breakers crashing down on the coral reef the surrounds this idyllic island. The reef is up to a quarter of a mile off shore and the waves enormous.
The notion of water sports usually sends me running inland but I thought for the purposes of research I would participate and have a go at kaiaking. I fully expected to do this for three minutes and then return to the shore. But I soon discovered that this gentle form of transport is a wonderful way of seeing the fish through the crystal clear water. It was liberating and surprisingly easy to navigate the near shore waters. I was out for 45 minutes in the end. I saw St. Major fish aplenty and parrotfish with a generous serving of the odd-looking cucumber fish (they look like a giant black caterpillar).
The philosophy of Outrigger is one of family inclusion. The rooms are vast and over thirty have a little annex or snug en-suite with bunk beds and bean bags for the youngsters to hang out (and sleep if you’re lucky!). There’s even a TV to keep them quiet with lots of kids channels available. There is a kids club where you can deposit your little ones while you enjoy a bit of R & R on your own.
The evening comes fast in this part of the world. You’ll have to be quick to catch the beautiful sunsets. Dinner was at The Plantation Restaurant, which was lit by candles and decked in a cool marble chequered floor. There is a semi private area with bar and pool for those who are staying in a sea view room or suites. The food was a reflection of the melting pot of cultures, Indian, Chinese, African and a touch of Thai as well.
The service is dedicated and professional with good wines and a few local drinks worth checking out. Try rum mixed with ice and herbs, strangely moreish. The evening was given an injection of local culture with the appearance of a Sega band playing live. The island’s answer to reggae it is colourful and ours came with four incredible dancers swirling their skirts and bodies in rhythm with the music in an almost trance like display.
One of my favourite dishes was a simple salad of octopus. Soft and delicate this dish zinged with freshness. Another treat was beef cooked with cloves. This was deep and rewarding with a kind of winter warmth. The five courses just kept on coming with pancake type rolls and a desserts selection that was delicious.
After a substantial breakfast at Le Mercado Restaurant in the hotel of freshly cooked omelette and tasty chicken sausages we headed down to the pier just on the beach by the hotel and set off for an hour of sea exploration in a glass bottomed boat. Going out as far as the coral reef and it’s smashing waves the fish quota increased. I spotted Sergeant Major fish, Sea Cucumber, Sea Eels and a few Angel Fish. An exciting excursion and well worth the time. It’s also included in your stay so what’s to lose. All the water sports are free at Outrigger. Children just love the idea of a glass bottomed boat, it brings nature so much closer.
The rest of my morning was spent on a sun lounger in the shade of swaying palms with the warm breeze caressing my face. The omnipresent crashing of breakers working their hypnotic effect and I quite quickly fell asleep.
A light lunch was in the beachside Edgewater Restaurant and followed by an interesting afternoon of tea tasting. Fruit teas are big out here with mango being my favourite but they also have a rich selection of traditional teas. It’s a fun tutorial with plenty of tea tasting and guessing of flavours.
The evening gave me a chance to chat to the hotel’s sommelier Jean, who clearly has a nose for decent drop. We tried cheese matching in the tasting room with five excellent wines. The cheeses were French and are flown in fresh each week supplied by one of France’s most respected affineurs. After a reasonable gap, dinner followed in the Market Restaurant where Indian, Asian and European cuisines collide in any form you care to imagine. This easy dining approach is so good for families as you can take any culinary road any of you wish and reunite at the table.
I checked out of Outrigger’s calm and tranquil hotel. I was going to miss the view and the serenity of this special spot. Paradise would not be a bad way to describe this chic hotel that caters for families and honeymooners with the same dedication to pleasure.
The day took us to Chamarel, a small village with a few big attractions, a pair of waterfalls that are as tall as The Statue of Liberty that crash down and make a tremendous cacophony. Not far from the waterfalls I found coloured earths shrouding the rocks, a phenomenon peculiar to this region. The undulating landscape covering over a hectare was predominantly red but changes as the day progresses. Our visit coincided with a short tropical downpour. Afterwards the rocks looked blue, red, yellow and shimmer with many other colours, quite a remarkable natural occurrence.
Keeping the rock company were a handful of tortoises that ranged in age from 80 – 200 years. These mighty giants initially from The Seychelles munch through massive amounts of foliage. It’s their memory that I’d like to tap into. Just think in 1814 Lord Byron was writing, Napoleon was raging through Europe and the first cricket match at Lord’s current ground took place. Imagine what they could tell us if only we could understand.
En route to our next hotel The Hilton we passed by Rhumerie de Chamarel. A short tour and tasting explained how the sugar cane is processed to create the sweet syrup that is the basis of their fine rums. The tasting at the end is an education in rum and the new generation of flavour options such as vanilla or mandarin that are now more popular with new generation of ‘rummers’. The best reason to visit this place is the restaurant though.
The food is startlingly good and fresh. With clear references to classical French cuisine it meanders through modern presentation. How about palm hearts or pineapple foie gras with gingerbread? It was superb. The venison stew was rich and was kept company with unusual companions of dyed gnocchi in red, green and blue the colours of the island. To complete this brilliant feast I rounded up with what else but a perfect rum baba. This was a soft and smooth sponge with some gentle rum syrup bringing it all together. Perfect.
The Hilton hotels rightly have a reputation for high standards and excellent facilities. This intimate hotel that announces new guests with a bash of a loud gong in reception is full of character. The rooms have recently been refurbished are very stylish. Cream walls augment clean lines of dark wood furniture and lovely sliding plantation blinds that cut out the bright light completely.
A large ceiling fan completes the picture of this up to the minute accommodation. The hotel has over 190 rooms and over 300 staff to look after the guests. A great ratio that shows in the level of polished service you receive. The spa here is one its strengths. Ten treatment rooms, which are elegant and plush with an Eastern feel. I had one of the most enjoyable massages I have ever had (though it was pain inducing at the time!). Corrine Vellin is in charge of the spa performed this minor miracle on my back. If you go ask for her to tend to your needs, she has magic fingers I felt a foot taller afterwards and totally relaxed.
Kaiaking again lured me to the sea after lunch along with snorkelling, as with most of the hotels on the island these water sports are free, as is water skiing and glass bottomed boat trips. The hotel has a great pool and bar that can knock up anything you care to ask for. As night falls (about 7pm) they have a ‘lighting’ ceremony. Members of staff walk around the grounds lighting oil lamps and candles to loud choral music. A bit of theatre, yes, but very atmospheric and rather spectacular to watch, it only lasts a few minutes so be sure to be there on time.
Dinner was just yards from the lapping waters of the Indian Ocean. A fine meal of scallops and beef was consumed; all washed down with some excellent drinks. Mauritius has no shortage of quality food and wines.
Later in the evening I was invited by Dr. Karl Mootoosamy, the director of Mauritian Tourism Promotion Authority to the ‘International Festival Creole’ a celebration of the language, culture and of course music of Mauritius. It was a rip roaring night with fantastic music from the likes of Yannick Noah, a singer renowned for his songs ‘Métisse’, ‘Saga Africa’, ‘Les Lionnes’ and ‘Simon Papa Tara’, among others. It was a brilliant performance charged with energy and the pulsating rhythms in front of over 300,000 people.
The recently upgraded safari style zoo at Casela Park is a great day out for the family and not far from The Hilton. Set within acres of tropical forest it really feels natural and special. It is large enough to actually seem like you are in the bush. As well as a host of animals you can zip wire, dry toboggan or quad bike around. If you feel brave enough you could walk with lions, yes actual lions that have been bred in captivity. If this sounds a bit too close to a realistic jungle for comfort then what about driving through a section of the park in an open sided truck and watching zebra and ostriches?
What’s even better is the zebra are friendly and curious. On my visit the zebra came to the safari vehicle and were happy to be stroked and patted just like a friendly horse would. The children in the party were thrilled with this; it’s not something you can experience in a petting zoo at home. A young foal joined in under the watchful eye of its mother and seemed to have as much fun as we did.
Ostriches are very funny birds to watch, aloof, daft and just a bit impish and scatty. Yet they seem to display many human characteristics with that half smile permanently on their beaks. If the Hollywood film star Goldie Hawn were an animal she would definitely be an ostrich. It’s hot during the afternoon and the crowds begin to swell, so go in the morning if you can, to get the most out of it.
Lunch back at the hotel proved that this could be a home from home. My burger was really good and the mango mousse that followed it was light and very fresh. You will have no bother finding food to suit all tastes not least your children. Every restaurant I went to had options that any European would welcome. It seemed a fitting end to a brilliant stay on a very special island.
Hopping into the ‘Emotions’ minibus that had looked after my group while on the island, sorting out all our transfer needs and always parking close to where we needed to be. I was running through the last five days on the island. What was the glue during this lovely stay? Well one important element was our driver David, a Mauritian who tirelessly looked after us, pointed out the best spots to see the countryside and take photographs from and he knew the answers to all our questions. He even kept this up on the way to the airport giving us facts and figures about the areas we drove through (the Beckham’s have a house here for example).
The other ‘glue’ is the island itself. With a superb mixture of sun, powder white sand, amazing food and charming people I felt quite glued to the spot. I shall miss not being able to open my bedroom window and be able to step onto the soft sand and wander into the warm sea. Until next time I return to this island of dreams I guess!
Concierge ground handler & transport
The Hilton Hotel
Rates start from £150 per room per night for a King deluxe room
with a balcony and views
7 nights Half Board basis
Room: Deluxe Family Sea View Room
Travel Dates: June 2015
from £899 per adult
from £725 per child
Based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing
Flights included but not trasfers
Stay 7 nights pay for 4 offer, plus Early Booking offer save up to 25%
With Kenwood Travel
Flights from £807
For general information about Mauritius