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Pampering resorts plus local exploring make a heavenly Mauritius holiday

Do you want five-star coddling at luxury resorts or to get out and explore local life and customs? In Mauritius, you can have it all

29 May 2022 - 00:02
The writer explores Flaque village near SALT of Palmar.
The writer explores Flaque village near SALT of Palmar.
Image: Tekla Severin

The ease of island life is a guilty pleasure. Depending on your upbringing, you either embrace the luxury of icing-sugar beaches fringed with palms leaning at precarious angles on one side and temperate, turquoise waters on the other, or you feel a little agitated by the opulence afforded by the self-indulgence of moneyed tourists, even if you are one yourself.

I confess, I fall into the former category, though not without a twinge of conscience here and there — like when on early morning runs during a recent trip to Mauritius, I encountered hotel staff painstakingly sweeping beach sand and arranging deckchairs in perfect symmetry; or when trying out the settings on my toilet's sprinkler system (one can choose between “female” and “rear” for the direction of spray and select the water temperature) I couldn’t find the off switch; or when pressing the button beside my Carpe Diem* bed (handcrafted in Sweden in collaboration with physiotherapists) to raise the blinds in my hotel room.

These, and many others, are the glorious, glamorous trappings of five-star resort life, where your every whim is the hotel staff’s command. It’s easy to experience a place like Mauritius only through the taxi window en route from the airport to the hotel, where, once comfortably ensconced behind resort walls, you’re served the glossy delights promised in winter travel brochures. And there’s nothing wrong with that, except instead of the people, lifestyle, tastes, textures, sounds and history of the island, you get a simulacrum, a Google-Images-curated, suspended-in-a-daydream vision of a place that has plenty more to offer.

Of course, it’s easy to think all of this in retrospect.


The airy lobby at LUX Grand Baie, one of the newest and swankiest hotels on the island.
The airy lobby at LUX Grand Baie, one of the newest and swankiest hotels on the island.
Image: Tom Fallon
An aerial shot of Beach Rouge at LUX Grand Baie.
An aerial shot of Beach Rouge at LUX Grand Baie.
Image: Eric Lee

When we arrived in the sultry, humid, pampering paradise of Mauritius’ newest hotel, The LUX Grand Baie, which opened in November with its triple-volume entrance leading to an architecturally curated, palm-fringed seascape, we cursed the elaborate itinerary of the next few days. Wouldn’t those days be better spent admiring the hotel’s sailboat architecture interspersed with doing a lot of five-star nothing?

I mean, you could spend a few days trying out each of the four swimming pools, four bars and three restaurants, not to mention the pamper session and exercise classes at the three-storey spa and gym.

This feeling was amplified over a sunset cocktail at one of the restaurants, Beach Rouge, around a pool deck lined with red umbrellas and stripy deckchairs. From there it was just a step onto the beach, freshly laundered by the incoming tide and turned peachy pink by the setting sun, where our resolve to cancel all plans besides eating, swimming and basking in the sun gained traction.


The next day, though, when the minibus arrived to take us to Escale Creole, a restaurant run by mother-and-daughter Majo and Marie-Christine Forget, we were keen to hop in to experience some local flavours.

The restaurant is set in a tropical garden in a village called Moka, slightly inland on the western side of the island. Its goal, we learnt as we sat down at the brightly decked table on an open veranda, is to allow visitors to experience how Mauritians eat at home.

WATCH | A visit to Escale Créole, a top-rated restaurant specialising in traditional Creole meals.

Along with the homemade rhum made with sugar cane and boiled pineapple syrup, we sampled a series of gajack (traditional Mauritian snacks), including breadfruit fritters and coconut, chickpea and banana chips dipped in coconut chutney or chilli sauce.

The Mauritian eating style is to share different meals, such as rougaille saucisses (a sausage dish), cangraillé de chou et poisson salé (cabbage and salted fish), cari volaille (chicken curry), salmi créole de cerf sauvage (a deer-meat dish) and cari ourite à la papaya (octopus curry with papaya).

Leaving space for dessert is mandatory even if you have to water down your mains with a little more rhum

A table laden with local dishes at Escale Creole.
A table laden with local dishes at Escale Creole.
Image: Escale Creole

Marire-Christine explained that all Creole people on the island prepare the rhum by adding herbs, spices (such as vanilla and lemon grass) and fruit (sultanas or oranges) to ordinary rum bought from the market. The local sweets like coconut cake, banana tart and papaya cooked with vanilla and orange rind make a fine accompaniment to the sweet digestive drink.

To walk off lunch, we headed to the heart of Mauritius, the capital, Port Louis. Named after the French king, Louis XV, the city is sheltered from winds by the Moka mountains, including the iconic Pieter Both peak with a gigantic, unusually shaped rock at its summit.

Legend has it that a milkman from the village of Crève Coeur once took a shortcut over the peak and, exhausted at the top, took a nap. He awoke to find fairies singing and dancing. Later, he couldn’t resist telling the other villagers what he’d seen and the next time he went to visit the fairies, they were so angry that he'd betrayed their secret they took his head and turned it to stone — which stands atop the mountain today.

We found no milkmen in bustling Port Louis with its vibrant mix of rundown, ramshackle buildings and modern skyscrapers. At the Central Market or Grand Bazaar, pale, watery cucumbers abound in neat piles alongside stinky durian fruit and gourd-like pods called chouchou. You can hone your haggling skills, except when buying vanilla pods which are inordinately expensive. On the other side are cheap Chinese clothing and lovely straw baskets.

Port Louis at night.
Port Louis at night.
Image: Paul Choy

After a heady dose of reality with all Port Louis' gutter-drenched grime and public-toilet grittiness, the sunset-infused beach back at LUX Grand Baie called to us like a siren. The hotel maintenance staff were again busily at work on the beach with some contraption that chased away mosquitoes. I suspected there were a few of them with diving kit under the mirror-like water because, when I went for a long swim at dusk, enormous eagle rays repeatedly leapt into the air for my viewing pleasure.


On the northeast of Mauritius is an islet called d’Ambre, the last remaining mangrove forest in this part of the world and the site of the following day's off-the-beaten track adventure. The mangrove roots form labyrinthian waterways through which our kayaking guide, Patrick Haberland from Yemaya Adventures, could steer us in the shadow of the lush leaves overhead.

Launching from the mainland, we paddled across the still, milky-blue waters of the bay to the islet, named d’Ambre by Dutch settlers who found ambergris, the waxy substance from the intestine of sperm whales used to stabilise expensive perfumes, on its shores. Now the little sanctuary is home to a variety of wetland birds and was the last place on Earth the extinct Dodo was seen alive.

Kayaking in the midday sun is not for sissies — and a cooling swim went some way to keeping us fresh for the road trip to L’Aventure du Sucre, an old sugar factory converted into a museum dedicated to the 250-year history of sugar production on the island.

If, like many visitors to Mauritius, you can’t name the island’s capital (Port Louis) or its currency (the Mauritian rupee), you’re unaware of the languages spoken (Creole, French, English) or the continent it belongs to (now there's a Trivial Pursuit question), much less its major industries (sugarcane and tourism), tainted colonial history or the demographics of its cosmopolitan population, the sugar museum is a great place to start your education... and be rewarded with a rum-tasting at the end of the tour.

By the way, Mauritius is part of the shrapnel left behind after the slow collapse of the supercontinent Gondwana and is now considered part of the African continent. Three extra points on quiz night.

SALT of Palmar from the air.
SALT of Palmar from the air.
Image: SAR Production

But I presume most people who visit are more interested in their hotel amenities, the weather and the temperature of the ocean than any of that — incidentally, all of those are top-notch at SALT of Palmar, the adults-only boutique hotel on the east coast, where we spent the last two nights.

Here, instead of hotel staff on hand to administer to your every whim, they've tried a different approach — waiters, cleaners, therapist and managers who, over the course of your stay, become friends. Service is personal at SALT, with staff encouraged to get to know guests under the guise of a unique skills-swap concept that encourages staff and guests to share their talents through a platform on the hotel's app.

They also encourage a programme called Salt Shakers Around Mauritius, where guests are invited to take short courses with the island's best cheesemakers, fishermen, bag weavers and ceramicists. Of course, there's also the gorgeous rooftop bar, magnificent swimming, excellent cocktails and food, and beautifully decorated rooms and communal spaces to make your holiday complete.

A view to the ocean from the lobby of SALT Palmar.
A view to the ocean from the lobby of SALT Palmar.
Image: Lar Glutz

We happened to be in Mauritius over Diwali and took a special trip to the Hindu temple, Ganga Talao or Grand Bassin on the bank of a lake on which ornate statues of Lord Shiva, Lord Hanuman, Goddess Ganga and Lord Ganesh stand proud in a magical-realism fantasy straight out of a Fellini film. Leaving the temple, we were ambushed, much to our delight, by some Hindi revellers and covered in red, purple and yellow powder.

If that doesn't sound like your cup of cultural tea, there are always the palm-fringed beaches, sand sweepers and the gently lapping oceans of a multitude of resorts to turn your mind into a castaway.


GETTING THERE: Flysafair has two weekly flights to Mauritius from Johannesburg, priced from R2,4350. See flysafair.co.za.

GETTING AROUND: Hello Islands DMC organises transfers and activities around the island. See helloislands.mu.

TRANSPORT: Klik Moris is a reliable airport=hotel transfers. See klikmoris.mu.


LUX* Grand Baie

Where it is: At the northern tip of the island, a short walk from the bustling town of Grand Baie and about 50km from the airport.
Accommodation: 116 suites, villas and residences including 86 junior suites, 20 pool villas, one grand beach pool villa and two pool villas.
Activities: Gym, yoga, spa, windsurfing, pedal boat, kayak, mini sails, snorkelling, stand-up paddle, hobie cat.
Rates: R36,165 per person sharing, includes five nights' accommodation on a half-board basis (breakfast & dinner daily) in a junior suite; return airport-hotel transfers;  return economy-class flights and estimated airport taxes. Available for stays between June 1 and July 23 2022.
Contact: See luxresorts.com.

SALT of Palmar

Where it is: On the east of the island, 13km from Bras D'Eau National Park and 48km from the airport.
Accommodation: 12 garden-view rooms, 14 sea-view rooms, 28 bang-on beach rooms, two pool plus rooms and three best-on-beach rooms.
Activities: Cultural immersion activities, skills-swap activities, watersports, gym, spa.
Rates: R21,540.00 per person sharing for five nights' accommodation (half-board) in a garden-view room; return airport-hotel transfers; return economy flights and estimated airport taxes. Valid for stays between June 1 — July 23 2022.
Contact: saltresorts.com.

Nagel was a guest of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority. See mauritiusnow.com or ratherbeinmauritius.co.za.