Island Fever

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A holiday in Mauritius is a good idea any time of year. 

By: Debbie Hathway 

Returning to Mauritius after a two-year travel freeze was a test. Could the island still weave its magic? Did I imagine the positive impact it had on me so frequently over the past decade? A few steps onto the tarmac of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport and my spirits began to lift.

Knowing that my regular taxi driver was waiting for me in Arrivals was even more exciting. He, like so many people I have met on the island, has become like family. 

June is winter on the island. The locals constantly worry about the weather, the wind and the rain (some of my best memories are dancing under the stars in a brief downpour). “How did you sleep?” “Did you enjoy your meal?” “Are you good (aka happy)?” 

Unsurprisingly, Mauritius is still the happiest country in Africa, according to the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This year, the island gained three more World Travel Awards: Indian Ocean’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination; Indian Ocean’s Leading Wedding Destination; and, for the first time, Indian Ocean’s Leading Sustainable Tourism Destination. 

Lose yourself on almost-deserted white sandy beaches

Don’t worry, be happy

I seldom have a complaint about Mauritian hospitality and service, and I’ve learnt to deal with the weather. On this visit, temperatures were cooler than usual, but there were sunny days, and I was able to get my fix of vitamin sea.  

My advice is to be prepared for anything. Leave the hair straighteners at home. Pack a jacket, scarf and a wrap. Leave the mosquito repellent behind at your peril – these little insects are especially fierce in summer. 

SALT of Palmar was my first stop. It’s one of my homes away from home on the island, where familiarity with the environment and the staff relaxes me immediately. The adults-only boutique hotel is on the unspoiled East Coast, so I’m already biased in favour of the location, but I also love their “support local” and sustainability ethos evident in everything they do and offer. Moreover, it ticks all the boxes for my dietary requirements. It has a Good Kitchen restaurant philosophy, catering with local, seasonal, fresh homegrown ingredients with zero waste. And the view from the rooftop bar is something to behold.  

SALT is about meaningful travel and immersion in the heart of Mauritian life. On my last visit, I stood ankle-deep in the ocean in front of the hotel, watching how a local fisherman extracted sea snails for bait while his basket and bicycle balanced precariously on the black volcanic rocks nearby. Hotel staff will curate experiences for you to enjoy off-site, from visits with rattan artisans and palm-heart farmers to potters, basket weavers, soap makers and cheese makers. You can also dine with family hostess Mirella Armance in her own home.  

By contrast, Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa and the neighbouring Paradis Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa in the west, have a deep sense of place through their proximity to Le Morne Brabant, a shelter for runaway slaves in the colonial area. Its magnificent hulk has a kind of energy that is simultaneously rejuvenating and calming. The Paradis Beachcomber Golf Academy is a boon for amateur and professional golfers – the golf course is spectacular and runs along the lagoon and the sea. The resorts are just a few minutes from the first tee. 

What I love about Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels is that they also lead the way in sustainability practices and responsible behaviour, encouraging guests to do the same. Where to book your stay? It depends on what you like. Dinarobin Beachcomber is quieter, serene, and statelier, while Paradis Beachcomber could appeal more to the younger set.

The beauty of this offering though is that guests have reciprocity – you can move between the two on bright red shuttles to enjoy the eateries (some with toes in the sand practically at the water’s edge), a gorgeous spa, and other facilities.

And then, if you go north where you can easily explore the tourist magnet of Grand Baie, there’s Victoria Beachcomber, which is a favourite for South African families who want to be in this part of the island plus a unique adults-only/child-free wing with swim-up rooms for those who desire an elegant barefoot option with tranquillity.  

Submit to the practiced hands of a Dinarobin Beachcomber artisan of wellness

Going local

It’s important to note that one doesn’t need to travel in luxury to get the best of Mauritius. I have often stayed at the Golden Shell Residence in Trou d’eau Douce, a quaint fishing village in the east. The host greets me with the offer of an ice-cold Phoenix beer, and we sit and chat on the porch before I go up to my suite. The Golden Shell is a five-minute walk from the beach, and close to the jetty where boats leave to take tourists to Ile aux Cerfs.

It’s the place to be to get the whole beach experience – long stretches of powdery white sand, plenty of water sports, the obligatory boat ride to get there or a catamaran cruise if you prefer a more stylish option. Another favourite on the same street is Chez Tino’s, which offers accommodation and a restaurant with a view over rooftops through tall palms to the ocean in the distance. Their local curries are highly recommended! 

On one momentous 10-day visit, I hired a car and drove myself all over the island, even staying at a large villa up a hill in La Gaulette, another fishing village in the west. To give you an idea of scale, it’s not far from some of the top resorts on the island in one direction and Black River in the other. Many expats live in the west, and visitors can enjoy a variety of restaurants and nightlife in addition to mountain hikes, nature reserves, snorkelling, diving, swimming and SUPing options, among others. The outdoor activities are endless.  

La Gaulette has a supermarket with everything you need, a bakery, ATM, dive centre, and a handful of restaurants and clothing shops selling mainly beachwear. That’s it. Ocean Vagabond Bar and Restaurant on the main road was my favourite for seafood even though it looks onto the street and doesn’t have ocean frontage.  

When you’re in holiday mode on this tropical island, you can’t help but relax. The warmth and generosity of the locals and hospitality staff make sure of it. As someone said to me recently: “I’m a Mauritian. I laugh all the time.” Their love for life is perfectly irresistible. 

Where to stay 

For enquiries and reservations at SALT of Palmar, call +27 10 055 1869 or email res@tlcvacations.co.za. Visit saltresorts.com. 

To learn more about Beachcomber Resorts & Hotels packages in Mauritius, call 0800 500 800 or email gen@beachcomber.co.za. Visit beachcomber.co.za. 

Best time to visit 

You’ll get the best of summer in March and April. Cyclone season can affect holiday plans and travel around December and January. The so-called winter months are still warm, so don’t let that put you off from booking.  

Don’t forget 

Sun cream, mosquito repellent, a basic first-aid kit, appropriate footgear if you insist on wading in water where there is coral, and a sense of humour! It’s always a good idea to pack a swimsuit and a change of clothes in your carry-on just in case luggage goes astray. 

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