Easy Escapes: Mauritius

Eirwen Oxley Green explores a magnificent Indian Ocean island that delivers the tropical dream

Eirwen Oxley Green explores a magnificent Indian Ocean island that delivers the tropical dream

Why go? Let’s be honest, you’d be hard pushed to find a reason not to visit Mauritius – whether it’s the cobalt seas, white-sand beaches, majestic mountain ranges, lush forests or the welcoming, easy charm of its people. Lesser known, though, are its colourful markets, historic sights and cultural diversity, which are well worth discovering, too – if you can drag yourself away from the daily grind of beach and pool…

Beyond the beach: Mauritius has spectacular mountains to explore

When? Luckily for sun-seeking Brits, the island enjoys a classic tropical climate, meaning year-round sunshine. With a 12-hour flight to consider, though, it’s worth thinking about timing, and a visit during the island’s winter season, from May to October, delivers on several fronts: temperatures tend to hover at a comfortable 25°C, and any showers are usually brief. This time of year also sees fewer tourists, making it much easier to bag a hotel deal. Another low-season bonus is that haggling for taxis and in shops is a much more viable option. Generally speaking, avoid the cyclone season, which runs from January to March.

You really must: Surprising as it may sound, taking a boat away from the island gives a truly jaw-dropping overview of this magnificent corner of the world: the impossibly-clear waters and its teeming wildlife will certainly remind you you’re not in Kansas any more (we saw a large pod of dolphins, who swam just feet away from our boat before showing off like precocious children, arching playfully in the air). And if you’re anything like me, cutting through the Indian Ocean on a sleek speedboat – glass of champagne in hand, warm wind in your hair – is definitely one of life’s finer ‘pinch-me’ moments. Mauritius Attractions (mauritiusattractions.com) can arrange day-long boat excursions, which include snorkelling, a barbecue lunch at Ile Aux Cerfs and a live guitar and jambé show afterwards for around £40.

If you’ve been perfecting the art of sun-lounger slothfulness for several days, the heady buzz of Port Louis, the island’s capital, will shake things up a bit. The market, in particular, is a crazy cacophony of sounds, smells, colours and intriguing sights – from strange-shaped vegetables that would make your granny blush to ‘infusions’ claiming to cure everything from haemorrhoids to cellulite.

And while we’re on the subject of infusions, you can’t fail to notice that this is an island of tea plantations. Head for the hills and the lush surroundings of the Bois Chéri plantation, where you can take a tour of the factory and see the production process in full – from fresh green tips to restorative brew (£10, saintaubin.mu).

Dive in: the main pool at the Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa Mauritius

Stay at: The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa Mauritius (doubles from £140 in June, westinturtlebaymauritius.com) in Balaclava on the north-west coast. An hour’s drive from the airport, this beautiful resort is spread over 24 luxuriant acres – no struggling to find a beach-front lounger here – and faces a protected marine park and coral reef; behind it lie acre upon acre of verdant sugar-cane fields. And yes, it’s just as idyllic as it sounds. Each of the 190 rooms and suites features a Heavenly Bed – which provides the kind of night’s sleep that makes you wonder, just for a moment, whether there’s any way you could prevail upon someone to let you take one home. (If you’re really hooked you can buy them at westinstore.com, along with all those gorgeous sheets and fluffy white bedding).

The hotel’s public areas are modern, spacious and thoughtfully designed, with copious spots to breathe in that intoxicating tropical air. Of course, the Indian Ocean views don’t do it any harm, either. And as if the pace of utter relaxation at the Turtle Bay weren’t enough, the hotel’s Heavenly Spa takes R&R one step further, with a full menu of massages, treatments and mind-clearing rituals.

Suite dreams: stay in style at the Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa Mauritius
 
Dine at: With a choice of six restaurants on site at the Westin Turtle Bay, you don’t have to stray too far for your next meal. Modern Indian? Tick. Pan-Asian more your thing? Another big tick. Or what about a super-food menu that’s low in calories? Tick, tick, tick. Each restaurant has its own vibe – the mellow beach-front Mystique, with its laid-back tunes and low seating right on the sand, being my personal favourite – so you can choose your supper according to your mood. The hotel has numerous all-inclusive deals, which are worth investigating if you don’t fancy a large bill on check-out.

Out and about, the island’s cultural and ethnic mix (comprised of 80 per cent Indian descendants, plus Madagascans, French and others from the east coast of Africa) makes for an eclectic culinary offering. There’s a rich street-food tradition here, and nowhere is this more evident than in the island’s many food markets. Hugely popular is dholl puri, a soft, crêpe-like split-pea-flour flatbread that’s often spread with grois pois (bean curry) and chilli paste. Trust me, you’ll want more than one. To wash it all down, try a sweet alouda, a rose-flavoured, milky drink not dissimilar to an Indian falooda.

Spice island: visit the markets for some gifts to bring home

Bring home: Surprisingly, the supermarket is your best bet here, where you won’t pay the premium of the usual tourist haunts – you’ll want to load up on spices, sugars, huge vanilla pods, tea and locally made Green Island rum. Beach hawkers offer a never-ending supply of pretty sarongs and shell jewellery, too, and haggling is all part of the fun. The island also makes much of its dodo heritage, and it’s easy to pick up sweet and inexpensive cuddly toys, and plentiful homewares (think shell trays and bowls) decorated with this ubiquitous icon.

Book now: Air Mauritius (airmauritius.com) has direct flights from London Heathrow, from £685 return in June, including taxes. Destinology (destinology.co.uk) offers a seven-night all-inclusive package to Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa Mauritius from £1,649 per person, based on two sharing, including transfers. Price valid for travel 1 June-17 July 2015 if booked before 5 July.

Solis Indian Ocean (solis-io.com) can arrange activities throughout your stay in Mauritius. Taxis are plentiful and generally cheap; bear in mind, though, that drivers rarely turn on the meter, so it’s worth agreeing the cost of your ride before you set off.

Info: Marco Polo Mauritius (£5.99; Mairdumont) covers the island and has a handy pull-out map; for more information see tourism-mauritius.mu and mauritius.net.

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