Club Med Mauritius has perfected the recipe for a visa-free mom-cation
Elizabeth Sleith visits a pair of island resorts that have all the ingredients for a no-flop relaxation fest. Just mix and enjoy
Timeouts for children are awful things - for everyone concerned.
While the littlies wail off to the naughty chair/step/corner to think about what they've done, the sentencing parent will inevitably spend the time angsting. Does a kid who smacks their brother/paints the dog/smears mashed potatoes on the wall make you a bad mom?
Timeouts just for moms, though, are an entirely different story. From lurking a bit too long in the Woolies to dinner in a restaurant with friends, a stolen moment for mother gives everyone a chance to regroup. And the holy grail of temporary parental reneging is the full-blown getaway, aka the mom-cation.
The term has become de rigeuer in these days of self-care, with all sorts of experts weighing in on the benefits. And rightly so. Moms are people too, after all, and the occasional escape from the multi-tasking mayhem of family/work life can have exponential benefits.
That was my excuse anyway when I took one recently, leaving Father and Son to bond while I tested this recipe for the perfect me, me, me moment. Recommended served up with a group of friends, your bestie or even solo.
THE INGREDIENTS FOR A PERFECT MOM-CATION
THE RIGHT SPOT
Laid-back Mauritius has a long history of luring South Africans to its shores. With its mild tropical climate, shimmering seas and small but untrammelled forests, its rejuvenating properties are abundant.
It's far away enough to be exotic but, with four hours' flying time, not too arduous to get there. And SA passport-holders don't need a visa - so less admin and expense for you.
AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
Since the primary mission is a break from juggling timetables and pick-ups and meal plans and budgets, an all-inclusive resort is your obvious passport to chilled-out pleasure. I visited a pair of Club Med resorts in Mauritius; La Plantation d'Albion on the west coast, and La Pointe aux Canonniers in the northwest.
Club Med's founder Gérard Blitz, a French Resistance fighter in WW2, in fact pioneered the concept of an all-inclusive holiday in 1945 when he was tasked with organising the convalescence of his countrymen returning from the front.
He converted two hotels in the Alps, offering accommodation, food, and activities designed to boost their sense of wellbeing. That idea led, in 1950, to his registering Club Méditerranée, a place where people from all walks of life could come together and find happiness in the harsh post-war era.
Almost 70 years later, the company has close to 80 resorts across the world, all of which are so well practised in the art of the easy escape that your tasks entail no more than choosing a date, and making a booking. Then simply arrive and let each day unfold as it will.
Not that I'd compare parenting to a war, but well, suffice it to say that when it comes to letting someone else do all the heavy lifting, they got this.
LASHINGS OF SPORT OR LEISURE, TO TASTE
Blitz's rejuvenation concept was built on five pillars: accommodation, relaxation, sunshine, seaside and sports, and both Club Meds I visited offer those in spades.
Before the war, Blitz had been a champion swimmer, and put great stock in the revitalising properties of physical activity.
Hence, today, Club Med also calls itself "the biggest sports school in the world", where teams of affable staff members (called GOs, Gracious Organisers) are on hand to guide you through activities including tennis, archery, yoga, pilates, snorkelling, kayaking, sailing, and scuba diving.
There are excursions to places like Port Louis, the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens, the Chamarel rum factory, and even to 35m under the sea (in a submarine).
Do make time for some extreme lazing alongside the adults-only zen pool, on the beach, in the bar, at the various intimate seaside restaurants or lounges, or at the spa. However much or little you do is totally up to you.
FOOD FOR THE BODY - AND SOUL
You may just hear a chorus of angels singing as you confront the main restaurants.
Both are buffets that will blow the calorie budget, with a mind-boggling array of stations laying out a seemingly endless supply of dishes - pizzas and steaks and seafoods and pastas, oh my - all of which have been cooked by someone else (oh yes).
You may clean your plate several times going back for more, but - oh, angels sing again - someone else will wash it.
Each resort also has smaller restaurants, where you can book a table and have your food brought to you.
THE PIECE DE RESISTANCE: A PARTY
Blitz coined a motto when founding Club Med that endures to this day: "The aim of life is to be happy. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now."
They certainly cultivate a convivial atmosphere that's conducive to letting loose.
I've been to several island resorts that offer evening shows and late-night discos, but thumping parties rarely materialise as satiated couples slip away to bed when the stage lights dim.
Club Med actually delivers on the raucousness. Every night, like clockwork, at every resort around the world (so I'm told), guests take in post-prandial shows - from breakdancing to Bollywood dancing to Beyoncé tributes - then linger at the bar for cocktails, then post-cocktail cocktails.
It might be a while since you've hit a dance floor, but you're almost sure to, at least on one or two nights
Gradually the day's sun-kissed serenity gives way to wild abandon.
Beats rise up, drinks are washed down, smiling GOs mingle with the crowd, and even the most uptight attendee will find it hard to resist as toe-tapping turns to hip wiggling turns to singing and dancing and tequila shots.
It might be a while since you've hit a dance floor, but you're almost sure to, at least on one or two nights, let your head hit the pillow much later than you planned - not because of midnight calls for "Moooom!" but because of the call of a younger, freer you that you may just have forgot.
She's very likely still in there, and, as it turns out, she really, really likes doing the YMCA.
WHICH CLUB MED IN MAURITIUS SHOULD YOU PICK?
So you've settled on Mauritius, but aren't sure which Club Med is right for you? Here's a shortcut to help you pick, based on your priorities.
If you want ...
For long walks on the sand, La Pointe has the longer stretch of seaside perfection. In fact, the resort - which recently underwent a massive renovation - sits on a wedge of land between two postcard-worthy (remember those?) beaches.
Albion is on a more rugged part of the coast, and so while there are fine pockets, and a perfectly respectable swathe at the edge of the resort (complete with sun loungers and a beach bar), the coast does have some boulder-strewn patches, which make long strolls out of the question (unless you double back).
A walk in the 21ha of tropical garden, with the sea still within view, is a happy alternative.
AN UPMARKET EXPERIENCE
Albion is a five-trident (that's Club Med speak for five stars); La Pointe a four.
Realistically, the difference is in small touches. Champagne is available after 6pm as part of the all-inclusive at Albion (one of its bars, pictured right); and waiters hover around the adults-only zen pool.
Bubbles are extra at La Pointe and, though there is a bar right by the zen pool, you have to actually get up from your lounger and go to the counter to order. Generally, I found the service more attentive at Albion. La Pointe is friendly, but laid-back.
A PARTY VIBE/PEACE AND QUIET
Everything feels closer together at La Pointe, which also has more rooms (390 vs 260) and thus more people, altogether making a more festive air. Things are more spread out at Albion, which means better odds of quiet and a greater sense of solitude.
At La Pointe, you might feel like the DJ is in your bedroom if you try to retire early, or that those kids in the pool outside your window got up too damn early. If you're hoping for some early nights or late sleep-ins, try to get a room furthest from the main area, or go to Albion. They have golf carts to carry you when you don't feel like a long walk.
WATER OR WINGS
Most of the activities on offer (see main story) can be done at both. If it matters, know that only Albion offers lessons in golf and the flying trapeze. Only La Pointe offers water-skiing.
OH GO ON, TAKE THE KIDS
If you can't quite manage a total escape, take the little ones with you and carve out some daily solo time instead. Club Med is famous for its kids' clubs. Both Albion and La Pointe do childcare for ages four to 17, which is included at no extra charge.
If happy children are a priority, then, for me, La Pointe is the hands-down winner.
Actually, it's got the nicest kids' club I have seen anywhere - a massive building set apart from the village's central hub, with an interior painted to create the feeling that you're inside a giant aquarium.
There are different rooms for different age groups, each decorated to an age-appropriate theme and kitted out with age-appropriate toys.
It's truly delightful: well staffed, well organised and equipped to handle even babies (though there is an extra charge for kids under four).
La Pointe has also recently opened a new area for families with a lagoon-inspired pool with games and lovely big loungers.
Ambling around the resort in the day, you'll spot children frequently, either with their parents or in little herds, being led in a game - like digging for treasure - by a GO. Mysteriously, they vanish at night when the parties are brewing.
Albion's clubhouse gets happy reviews online, but children seemed thin on the ground, and it does not have a baby club (it does cater for kids aged two to four, again at extra cost).
ROUGH RATES GUIDE
Albion is from around R22,000, La Pointe from R19,000, for seven nights, all-inclusive, but without flights. Kids under 12 stay and fly for free with Air Mauritius (conditions apply). See clubmed.co.za
• Elizabeth Sleith was a guest of Club Med and Air Mauritius.
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