Mauritius was motherland to the dodo, the dumpy and cumbersome flightless bird endemic to this tropical island lying eastwards of Africa on the tropic of Capricorn. The Theory of Island Biogeography describes the phenomenon of endemic these island species – like the giant Galapagos turtles and the extinct moa of New Zealand – the premise being that sea-locked islands are devoid of higher mammalian predators, thus removing the selection pressure for agility and speed, which rendered organisms oversized and birds flightless. Like the Mauritian dodo, who lives on in its thousands in wooden ornamental form.
I have my own Theory of Island Biogeography concerning humans. It strikes me that every island I have ever been to has a pervasive luxuriation that is unheard of in the landlocked world. Perhaps it is the absence of human predators, those that adorn suits and ties and fill trains with the smell of mint and musk, but something about island life creates what appears to be some of the most laid back people you are ever likely to meet. From the Caribbean to the Andaman, the Hawaiian and so on, each archipelago is littered with laughter, lazy days and boozy nights. As I approached the St. Regis Resort in the south western corner of Mauritius on a UNESCO world heritage site under the shadow of the foreboding Le Morne mountain, Rhianna pumped from coconut vendors and I could sense matters were horizontally chilled and rum-laced.
The St. Regis Mauritius Resort was the 30th hotel opened by the noble lineage in 2013. Its positioning here, on white powdered beaches and beside a heavenly sea lagoon, makes for some pricey real-estate, which is arguably the best on the island. Right next to the world famous kite surfing spot, ‘One Eye’, which provides limitless access to tanned, wet athletes acrobating themselves into the air. The resorts back story here is its historical design as a plantation owner’s manor, ‘Le Manoir’, set as a large veranda-enclosed colonial building within a Victorian estate. Indeed, I thought it poignant how the colloquial Creole language was used between staff members, its creation during colonial times as a means of conversing without your masters understanding was echoed in my complete ambivalence as to what the hell everyone was saying around me as the seamless flow of service commenced.
Le Manoir is strikingly lit and encircled by some of the most flagrant central pool and water features I’ve ever had the pleasure of navigating round to get to a bar. What pleased me most during my first impressions, and indeed on reflection as I sit here in London, where the season turns cold, is how the resort encapsulated the complete antithesis of being hemmed or locked in one place. This compound is huge (but thanks to a fleet of golf buggies and drivers, very accessible) and equipped to satisfy your any desire. There are manor suites (often entirely rented out by wealthy Arabs and their entourages), beachfront villas (brilliantly designed to feel private despite my being surrounded by at least 6 love-making honeymooning couples), libraries, bars, cinemas, conservatories and countless verandas to sozzle a sunset away on. Likewise, I’ve lost count of the number of dining venues (their number, culinary credibility and range giving the feeling of ‘going out’ even though you haven’t set foot outside of the resort), but will endeavour to describe them in my ensuing essay.
Naturally our first port of call after a 9-hour flight was the spa, which due to the aforementioned high volume of honeymooners, was running at near full capacity. My flight knots were successfully pummelled away and I oozed myself into a dress for that evening’s surprise, the Inspiration dinner at the chef’s table in Le Manoir. After breaking the ice over a few cocktails at the beachside Boathouse bar (politely try the local interpretation of a Bloody Mary: the interestingly tasting Le Belle Creole Mary) we were whisked back through Le Manoir. Staff appeared holding open a series of back doors, nodding and knowingly smiling as we were ushered deep into the classified core of the resort like we had the golden tickets. The chef’s table is literally that – a table set in the corner of the kitchen, in full view of the art and filtered commotion led by Executive Chef Sébastien Le Gall. I can’t spoil what followed, as Chef Le Gall redesigns the menu to suit each booking, depending on that days caprice. A favourite of mine was the red tuna carpaccio with caviar served in a skull-sized ice-cave on a plate (a balloon filled with water and suspended in a freezer until frozen – sorry Sebastian! I’m eagerly planning my own home-made water bomb version). Exclusively only catering for 6-10 guests, this, frustratingly, is the best place to dine in my opinion.
The next morning, with our vague hangovers and bikini bods bloating from last night’s plunder, we boarded a catamaran to drink rum, I mean, go dolphin watching. Again, cue the Caribbean vibe as the boat knifed its way across the bay, cocktails in hands and riddims pulsating, to catch a glimpse of the resident dolphin family whose residency more or less guarantees a spotting of the spectacular creatures. And sure enough, amongst a flotilla of other catamarans and cameras, there they were in full performance, flirting with us tourists with every one of their synchronised jumps. A quick dip-in with a snorkel and my fish biologist hat on confirmed the backlog of reading I’d been consuming about Mauritius wildlife – the coral is superb and fish aplenty.
That evening, glamorised, we were back on dry land, although not really as we were sitting in the Floating Market, the Asian restaurant designed with its moat and water features that quite accurately reproduce the Thai floating market experience, but with scented candles instead of open sewage. As a sushi fiend, I particularly enjoyed that course, as well as the surprise Opera cake served for one of our birthdays – even though the staff knew about it for precisely two seconds. The attention to detail here is impressive.
Morning followed and we cursed our fuzzy heads as we peeled ourselves into wetsuits before dunking into the hotel pool for our PADI refresher, much to the amusement of other guests who appeared to jostle for breakfast table views of us marching into the chlorinated shallows like heavy-weight penguins. All ‘refreshed’, we plodded to the hotel’s in-house water sports centre and onto our own speedboat, complete with two reassuringly hench divemasters. I always describe Scuba diving like having an acid flashback (tragically, I’ve frequented a few European psy-trance festivals). I spent a year intensively diving all over the Central and South American coast, taking less acid, and will cherish these naturally psychedelic blue memories forever. I was immediately re-immersed during this tropical dive as we slowly sunk ourselves down the side of an underwater cliff, taking in every snapshot of alien piscine peculiarity through our steamy goggles. Maybe it was the gas, or indeed the underwater love we had just witnessed, but it was quite a tear jerker when we all surfaced our bobbing heads up.
As the sun began to set, we were back out at sea on the resort’s wonderfully named ‘Sea Lounge Boat’ and, as St. Regis tradition dictates, learning the art of champagne sabering, which is one of the best sentences I’ve ever had the delight of writing. And as my autocorrect has just reminded me, is also quite sobering. Saber in hand, one swipes the blade quickly and confidently up the neck of a chilled bottle of champs and it splinters off, in one clean diagonal before bubbling over itself and into your glasses. This made for countless fits of giggles on our way back across the lagoon and perhaps set the scene of the night that was to follow. We enjoyed an unsurprisingly outstanding Indian at Masterchef’s Atul Kochhar’s authentic restaurant, Simply India (chose the seafood!) tucked around the side of Le Manoir. We had planned an early post-dive evening in the movie room, but who were we kidding? After hearing a faint beating coming up from the beach, we sashayed our way to the Boathouse bar where an impromptu night of dancing on tables, barefoot in the sand, chain smoking and rum shots ensued. I can’t stand twerking but think I was doing it. It was a welcome contrast to the normal staleness popular honeymoon compounds can have, where you see couples sitting in lines of twos, bored out of their brains and twiddling their thumbs to the soundtrack of Spanish guitars. Indeed, one couple even thanked us for ‘the party’. It was my pleasure.
The next morning writes itself – 4 hours after our last round of nighttime pool shots and all troops just about accounted for, we were nervously packed up in transit, planning to leave our safe place for the first time that week. Our hair was tasseled in the way only going to bed with wet swimming pool hair can do, and we were winding up a narrow road, literally narrowly winding back and forth, right then left, back and forth on ourselves to… a rum distillery. Or the ‘Rhumerie de Chamarel’, which sounds much more romantic. Unfortunately it was not. As we draped our heads over the giant fermentation vats before passing more shots of liquor between us, it all nearly caused a sense of humour failure, but instead hilarity ensued that culminated in a stop off at the Black River valley. The view was like looking back into the Jurassic – one expected to see a dinosaur’s head poking its way up above the palms, but it would probably be just some gigantic flightless bird. In my post-rummery mist and clutching a 1000 ruppee note adorned with a portrait of Mr Duval – the grandfather of our St. Regis PR beauty, Stephanie, and the man credited with conceiving Mauritius as a luxury holiday destination – I was forced (begging?) to buy a carved, mahogany (MDF?) dodo from a dodo-merchant. Alright, it actually has pride of place on my drinks cabinet and winks at me when I do a solo shot of rum before work.
That evening, the best of a very, very good bunch, was saved until last. Set aside to the main of the resort, with its own beach access, you will find the much revered ‘Villa’. Well, more precisely you’ll find it’s private gates, but let’s fantasise here. This really is a special place. It felt completely apart from the hotel, having its own security, driveway, chef and plethora of butlers and staff. Personally, and in a perfect world, I would rent it long term for a few weeks a couple of times a year and pretend it was my holiday home, walking around naked without the bother of worrying about upkeep and tax. It’s designed to be lived in – I’m not too sorry to say there’s a practical office with all modern conveniences that is much required nowadays. There are verandas, pool bars, proper drawing rooms, bedrooms each (bar the kiddies’) with their own plunge pools (as well as the main beach-facing one) and sea views throughout the entire glass-panelled and doored design.
By the time we were 35,000 feet above the Nile on our return flight home, I was beginning to lament leaving Mauritius and my dream stay. I was having the satisfaction but horrible realisation that I had just lodged in one of the most fabulous resorts on one of the greatest islands in the world, and what better could there be out there. Had I outgrown the planet? Mauritius should be cherished as one of our best islands in the worlds portfolio. But as Dr. Farrow quite rightly pointed out during my droning back at home, there are a lot more places for me to visit, aren’t there.