New developments in Mauritius are helping this indian ocean gem cement its place at the luxury end of the market, says KARL CUSHING

Mauritius has a long history of catering to the well-heeled traveller. Elder statesmen of the island such as Le Touessrok and the One&Only Le St Géran have been wooing them for more than 30 years. But in the last few years a new breed has emerged, adding strength and depth to the island’s luxury tourism offering

When Harvin Kaumaya, founder of Sunset Faraway Holidays, invited Aspire to join his family and a group of top-selling agents to the island last December, he didn’t need to ask twice. We were there to help celebrate his company selling the destination for 30 years. Before you could say ‘mine’s a Champagne cocktail’ we were being spirited off our Air Mauritius flight via the new private Yu Lounge for a true five-star arrival experience away from the masses in the main airport.

 
FIRST IMPRESSIONS
While many visitors choose not to venture further than the perimeter of their resort, a wealth of fascinating sights and experiences await those who do. As I was whisked to my suite at Le St Géran, the first of many luxury resorts I’d see on my trip, my transfer car glided silently past fields of sugar cane, as the island’s lush green mountainous interior hovered tantalisingly in the distance.

Passing through towns and villages reveals examples of the rich culture that fuses strong French colonial influences (the mark left by the British who followed the French is slight by comparison) with signs of its modern multi-theistic, multi-cultural population, such as colourful Hindu temples.
A major selling point of the island’s increasing portfolio of luxury hotels and resorts is they straddle a refreshing range of architectural styles. Some will love the colonial overtures and manicured grounds of Heritage Le Telfair and Sugar Beach; others will go gaga for the thatched, faux ‘local style’ of luxury stalwarts such as the Oberoi and wedding and honeymoon hotspot Le Touessrok, a short boat ride from the paradisical Ile aux Cerfs with its picture-perfect beach and golf course.

Then there are the more design-led options such as Beachcomber’s Trou aux Biches Resort & Spa, recently emerged beautified from a comprehensive refurbishment, and the ‘luxury lite’ of the soon-to-open Long Beach, with its impressive seven-acre spa village. And when five stars just won’t do, clients can always plump for Beachcomber’s six-star Royal Palm, which has a Clarins spa.

CHOICES, CHOICES…
Traditionally, developments in Mauritius have tended to cluster together. Some recent openings have continued the trend, like Starwood’s Grand Mauritian on the northern coast – despite the fact that its established neighbours the Oberoi and Maritim, the latter fresh from a very welcome refurbishment, had already bagged the spots with the best beachfronts. However, others have chosen to flower in new locations such as the south coast, traditionally less favoured due to its reputation for being wilder and windier.

Recent developments on the south coast include Villas Valriche, a collection of 25 luxurious villas from the same stable as the nearby Heritage Awali and Heritage Le Telfair. The latter is fresh from last year’s makeover, which gave it a brush with a lighter palate of colours to make it more female friendly, as evidenced in the public areas like the lobby and restaurants.

Guests at all three properties, set within the 25,000 hectare Domaine de Bel Ombre (domainedebelombre.mu), can use the 18-hole golf course and the new C Beach Club, a casual chill-out and water sports zone, while the Château de Bel Ombre, an elegant 19th-century manor house restored last year, offers a delightful setting in manicured grounds for fine dining.

Over in the east, the sprawling Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, with its 123 villas eschewing a heady mix of strong design values and resort-style wood and thatch, rubs shoulders with Le Touessrok and is flanked by an Ernie Els-designed golf course, backed by a golf academy. Loved up couples will love the Lagoon Pool villas and Presidential Suite on the private 11-acre island, Ile aux Chats.

MOVING ON UP
Personally, I was a big fan of the Shanti Maurice – a bonafide spa property and a great bet for wellness fans. Having initially opened as a rather austere bootcamp-style spa and wellness resort a few years ago, low occupancy figures sent the owners back to the drawing board. Following a refurb and a rethink it relaunched last year. The strict Ayurvedic diet plans and no-booze policy have been replaced by a more fun and relaxed approach to wellbeing, as evidenced in the casual seafood dining concept on the beach, complete with driftwood furniture.

I dabbled with the extensive collection of local rums and grazed upon a wonderful spread of freshly grilled fish served with herbs and salad grown on the property.
Whereas some of the treatment rooms at the other spas on the island can be underwhelming, the spa at the Shanti is central to the whole concept and combined with the mellow ambience created by the design of the hotel and the relaxing, atmospheric grounds full of shrubs and trees, it makes for a relaxingly romantic stay.

And still they come. June sees the official opening of the opulent St Regis Mauritius, on the former site of the Berjaya Hotel – a dramatic spot on the southwest coast with a stunning backdrop of the volcanic outcrop of Le Morne. As long as resorts like this keep opening, the prospects for the island look very bright indeed.