With so many extraordinary places still on the bucket list, my general rule is never to return to a destination. But for every rule, there’s always an exception. And for me, the exception is Mauritius.
As Mark Twain said, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” 20 years on, and I thought it my duty to check that heaven is still in great shape.
Situated in the Indian Ocean and part of the Mascarene islands, Mauritius (once a haunt for pirates) is a magnet for the world’s most luxurious hotel brands and experiences. A manageable 12-hour flight and a wonderful year round temperate climate, it’s an island for exploring, with Indian temples, colonial houses, botanical gardens, and opportunities to spot rare birds among soaring ebony trees, or swim with dolphins in turquoise waters.
Its economy is buoyant and well-balanced. Its people, an eclectic fusion of French, Indian, Creole and Chinese, are renowned for their gracious hospitality.
We’re heading to the unspoilt south coast of the island, to a resort inspired by former resident and 19th-century Irish naturalist Charles Telfair.
Hotel Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort is part of the Heritage Resort Group that includes two 5-star hotels, 12 restaurants, its own nature reserve, a beach club, an 18-hole championship golf course, a kite surfing school, two spas, fitness centres, an outdoor cinema as well the exquisite gem that is the nineteenth-century Chateaux Bel Ombre.
So, as we are chauffeur driven from the airport, even through jetlag haze, I am super-excited to experience the Domaine de Bel Ombre estate in which the resort is hosted, the site of an old sugar plantation that now claims to offer a unique combination of beach, nature, relaxation and adventure.
The skeleton of the original sugar mill sits at the entrance to the resort, a gentle reminder of the history of the land. It’s a legacy that gives the resort its intimate, colonial personality and shapes the design of the two-storey clapper-boarded villas that house the 158 suites.
A river meanders through the tropical gardens, conveniently separating families from romantic couples, and a private adult pool. Whatever your particular type of heaven looks like, the resort makes sure it’s all yours.
Having just reopened after three months renovation, the hotel is not so rooted in its past to be blind to the needs of the luxe traveller. It’s fresh and reinvigorated, delivering a contemporary twist on its plantation roots.
Our deluxe room is huge and airy, well appointed with a vast 4-poster bed in the middle of the room dressed in the finest crisp linen and willowy drapes. The wide balcony peers over one of the two pools at Hotel Telfair and, just a short distance beyond, the signature fine white sandy beach and crystal clear turquoise waters that Mauritius is famed for sits waiting.
Each room comes with its own dedicated butler and beach assistant to care for your every whim. My favourite almond milk stocked in the fridge, cocktails served to our balcony, ice-cold face towels, fruit kebabs, fresh juices delivered to our sun lounger all without the need to move a muscle – now we’re talking my kind of heaven.
Breakfast was the next delight. With culinary standards in this kind of resort getting loftier every year, I have to bow to at Hotel Telfair’s fierce pursuit to deliver the freshest, broadest and most inspiring choices – my favourites being the made-to-order smoothies and freshly-squeezed juices, along with the healthy nut, seeds and flower salad bar. Wellness is evident across the entire food offering, allowing guests to choose the most suitable dishes without the boot camp-like mentality of similar destinations.
In fact, all the culinary experiences are beautifully presented and, at times, playful and quirky, with the ingredients always delivering oodles of flavour. Top dishes were the smoked carpaccio of marlin and the apothecary-style, glass-jar salads served with homemade dressings at Le Palmier; the dim sum at Gin’ja, the fabulous Pan Asian restaurant that over looks the lagoon; and the kadai curry or tandoori paneer at Zafarani, located at the next door sister property, the Hotel Awali, just two minutes walk along the beach.
After a few days of not moving a muscle on the beach, thanks to our own Man Friday, and of course having to taste all the culinary delights on offer, it was time to get active. The water sports alone are arguably some of the best on the island. The Domain de Bel Ombre has a vast reef that wraps around its bay creating a beautifully natural lagoon that protects the beaches, yet is home to a good current and a wind typical of the south west. This elemental alchemy means you can choose from kite-surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, waterskiing, snorkelling or scuba diving.
A dedicated wellness pavilion offers yoga, tai chi, pilates, qi gong, meditation as well as guided nature walks, quad biking and mountain biking in the nearby Frederica Nature Reserve. The reserve, created in 1765, is 1,300 hectares of pristine natural vegetation that is fiercely protected to support the islands biodiversity yet proudly shared. Stretching from the Indian Ocean to the endemic forests of the south, there are rare species of birds, gigantic fruit bats, magnificent waterfalls, abundant fruit trees growing guava, mango and nani fruit, against the backdrop of some of the best views on the island.
And for golfers, there is the 18-hole golf course, which has won best Indian Ocean golf course for the last three years.
After pushing my body to the limit, I was ready to lie down and enjoy the delights on offer at the Seven Colours Spa, a tranquil space designed to recharge the chakras. Apparently my immune system needed some rebalancing, and for that I am grateful.
Our final treat was a fine-dining experience at the exquisite nineteenth-century Chateau Bel Ombre. This is like stepping back to a glamorous bygone era of colonial living. As we arrived at the stunning plantation house, the guests were dressed in all their finery, drinking cocktails under the one of the largest Banyan trees on the island. It’s an elegant, evocative experience, a pianist playing, original wood panelling and beautiful art, crisp linen, the finest crockery and cutlery, not to mention the stunning food and a well-stocked wine cellar. The best tables are alfresco on the expansive veranda with panoramic views over the French-style landscape garden.
So, after just five days at the Heritage Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort, I am delighted to report back that Mark Twain was right: heaven is a place on earth and it’s doing really well.