"If hell is other people, this really is heaven."
9 March 2020
Where to go on honeymoon must be the height of first-world problems; up there with ‘Where do I buy a second house?’ or ‘Do I need another Tom Ford suit?’ With a bafflingly devil-may-care attitude to finance – what difference will it make after spending twice the mortgage on a wedding cake and some lace? – the world opens up. But these limitless possibilities are as exhausting as they are fabulous.
Asking everyone you meet is a big mistake. ‘You must go to the Maldives.’ ‘Whatever you do, don’t go to the Maldives.’ ‘Have you thought about the Maldives, maybe?’ Sigh.
So you make a list. You dismiss the Maldives: too clichéd, too small, too great a chance of killing new spouse before the fortnight is up. Middle East: too hot. Seychelles: too expensive. Safari: too Harry and Meghan.
Essentially we are looking for an unashamedly lazy, long-haul getaway, untroubled by malaria, Zika or minor royals. A quick Google confirms Mauritius ticks every box. The weather is pretty much year-round perfect: tick. It’s packed with palm trees and soft white beaches: tick. There’s opportunity for a bit of adventure: tick. The food is brilliant, it’s safe and there’s no jet lag: tick, tick, tick. It’s also pleasingly long-haul (balls to Europe, we can do that whenever) and easyJet don’t fly there. Mauritius it is.
Going straight in at the top, we head for One&Only’s Le St Géran resort. Built in 1975, and recently refurbished from top to bottom, it was the island’s first luxury hotel. As such, it nabbed the prime spot: a white-sand peninsula, surrounded by 60 acres of gardens and palm trees, looking out on an azure lagoon with the open sea beyond.
A gong announces our arrival and we are greeted as if the staff have excitedly awaited us all day. The light is dying but, even so, the entrance – a bleached-wood runway from the pristine beach – is spectacular.
Our luggage disappears like smoke and we are eased into large, cushioned chairs. An itinerary is laid out before us: lagoon trips and spa treatments and beach yoga. We should have done this honeymoon lark years ago. An hour later we are sipping champagne in the hotel’s Bohemian Chic Tipi – an idyllic dinner-on-the-beach experience – and chatting to Dev, a divine waiter who has been at the hotel since it opened. Many of the staff have stayed the course, which is why the service is repeatedly praised by all who come here.
After a few hours, the fire, gently lapping ocean and mountain of rock lobster – not to mention the 14-hour-journey – get to us. We are carted back to our room to collapse into a bed bigger than our top floor in London.
We don’t wake for 13 solid hours.
The next day we have time to soak it all in. The bedroom is light and spacious – soft teals and teaks – with an elegant balcony overlooking the sea. The walk-in wardrobe has space for the most zealous of over-packers while the bathroom boasts a huge wet-room stuffed with delicious Abahna products and an egg-shaped bath big enough to swim in.
Breakfast is an indulgent affair, as anyone familiar with the One&Only brand will know. Tables groan beneath the weight of fresh fruits and homemade pastries, cakes and pancakes. And sushi, of course. Le St Géran itself could not be more perfectly appointed. Apparently, the original owners took a helicopter across the island before selecting an optimum position for the hotel. Strolling around, you can see what they were thinking. With more than a mile of beach wrapping itself around the resort, you are never crowded or overlooked. If hell is other people, this really is heaven.
A water sports centre offers facilities for paddleboarding, water-skiing, jet-skiing and windsurfing across the aquamarine lagoon. Outdoor showers lurk discreetly beneath palm trees; pools boast four-poster beds with ‘Do not disturb’ flags. There’s a seriously kitted-out fitness centre (we join a brutal CrossFit class), three floodlit tennis courts, a battalion of mountain bikes and a full mini-golf course.
The resort’s spa seems loosely modelled on what people imagine the afterlife to look like: swathes of white veils blow around whitewashed walls, candles flicker gently, water flows gently in the background. I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised to find a choir in the corner. Biologique Recherche and Espa products peep from white coves. A couple’s massage is good enough to send us into a coma, before we collapse by the infinity pool.
We become lunchtime regulars at La Pointe: an elegant, pool-side, feet-in-the-sand restaurant, where the catch of the day or a delicious Mauritian salad (crunchy, cooling, cucumber-based) is a perfect accompaniment to a chilled glass of rosé. There is a chic little Parisian-style café serving delicious cakes and macaroons if you can cram another snack into a packed eating schedule. (Unless you’re the type to go easy on a buffet breakfast, in which case I salute you with the hand that isn’t piling croissants on a plate). Evenings are spent skipping between Prime, a steakhouse, the more relaxed La Terrasse, offering a buffet of every cuisine imaginable (again, you need self-control for this one) and the atmospheric Tapasake, on stilts over the water.
Post-dinner, guests are encouraged to relax in the bar, soundtracked by an enthusiastic albeit slightly cheesy band playing eighties and nineties classics that you can’t help but secretly enjoy. On the last night we return to a hot bath full of rose petals (how did they know when we’d be back?) and spend the remainder of the evening on the balcony, wondering how long we have to wait before we can legitimately return here for a ‘second honeymoon’.
Leaving the St Géran is made substantially easier by not actually going very far. We jump in a cab and travel for 90 minutes to the top of the coast. There, on a wide, secluded cove beside a quiet fishing village, stands Lux Grand Gaube – a five-star resort of an entirely different kind.
Redesigned by Kelly Hoppen MBE, the hotel makes quite the impression on us not-so-weary travellers. A wide, breezy, arched entrance punctuates a long, winding driveway. To one side is a retro-chic palm court, complete with high-backed rattan chairs straight from a 1980s wedding, sequined pillars, and plants in wicker baskets hanging from the ceiling. To the other side is a beach, dotted with picture-perfect thatched parasols and red-and-white bean bags. It’s less grande dame, more ingénue, with a touch of Ibiza-esque glam.
The resort itself comprises low-rise, bougainvillea-clad villas, built around two bays. Bay one is a quiet, adults-only section, with a pool, restaurant and bar under a giant banyan tree. Bay two is buzzy, with water sports, more restaurants and a gin bar.
Rooms walk the line between trend-led and traditional. Local linens, bleached wood beds and elegant naval shades combine with sliding doors, bold geometric tiles and oversized, freestanding baths. Patios with armchairs offer the perfect place to relax in the unlikely event that it all gets too much.
Throughout the resort, quirky touches compete to offer the perfect Instagram shot. Inflatable pink flamingos pop out of the lagoon. Hammocks sway gently between palm trees. A scarlet phone box invites guests to ‘phone home’. An ice-cream truck – proffering homemade gelatos and a bright beachside mural by French artist Camille Walala – provides a graphic backdrop to the beach bar. Cheerful, handwritten signs abound.
On arrival we order a latte at Café Lux, Grand Gaube’s answer to Starbucks, and take in the view over the glistening cove. Fishing boats bob in the water. I quickly suss out that the spa – 11 treatment rooms, three pools of varying temperatures, a glorious hammam – is the hotel’s pièce de résistance, and vow to spend as much time there as humanly possible.
Activities, for those who ‘don’t do lounging around’ (note: I am not such a person), are plentiful: twice-daily boat trips to snorkel in the clear Indian Ocean, film screenings, paddleboarding, kayaking, water-skiing. You can take photography classes around the resort, ride a bike to a giant turtle reserve and even master the art of opening a bottle with a sabre. There are also professional tennis courts and coaches for those looking to polish up their game.
One place we return to more than is decent is Bodrum Blue. This fabulous Turkish restaurant offers a brilliant menu (spicy Levantine mezzes, slow-cooked lamb and sticky baklava), an excellent local wine list and the best views over the miles of lagoon.
There are no fewer than 14 restaurants at the Grand Gaube, but the Peruvian-Argentinian Inti deserves a standing ovation: a theatrical ceviche and pisco bar, a menu bursting with ridiculously fresh seafood, punchy tacos, a fantastic wine list and the best steak in the Indian Ocean. We eat until we run out of menu, then head to the tropical garden, lagoon lit up in the background, for a final pisco sour. At night, things get rousingly rowdy in the palm court, with live bands adding a dash of disco.
Our final stop is the Le Morne peninsula at the southwestern tip of the island. There we are promised a heady cocktail of epic sunsets and swim-up bars. Lux Le Morne is part of the same group as the Grand Gaube but is an entirely different proposition to its northern counterpart. The Gaube is glittering and fabulous. Le Morne is rustic, relaxed and utterly enchanting. Wooden, Balinese-style apartments crescent around powdery white beaches, and the rooms are simple yet comfortable. Coming here feels like kicking off high heels after a night of partying.
The magnificent Le Morne Brabant presides over the area. Awarded Unesco World Heritage status, the mountain provides shelter from high winds that make the seas below excellent for surfing.
A sense of calm pervades the region and the resort is the most relaxed we’ve seen. Yet we find ourselves lured by the activities on offer. I sign up for sunrise yoga on the beach and paddleboard most afternoons. Near the resort are some of the best snorkelling and diving spots in Mauritius and we take boat trips to reefs populated by incredible arrays of creatures in all shapes and colours.
After a long battle, Le Morne Brabant has been opened to the public. We seize the opportunity. At 3.5km, the trail is long and has sharp inclines (divorce might have been mentioned) but the three-plus hours of uphill are made more than worth it by the spectacular views over the endless blue below.
As we hike, our guide explains the significance of the mountain to Mauritius. A symbol of freedom, it provided shelter for runaway slaves before the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Many are said to have climbed to its 555m peak and jumped, rather than return to the horrors that awaited them below. If you make it to the top, you will see a cross honouring those who chose the ‘kiss of death’. It’s an extraordinary place.
Another bucket-list ticker is the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins; an incredible experience made all the more so by the resort’s determination to keep from disturbing them. Each day, a couple of local boats take a handful of guests to where dolphins often swim. We jump in the water and delight as at least 50 bottlenoses and spinners pass effortlessly around us, paying us no heed whatsoever. It’s nothing short of magical.
When it’s time to relax, Lux Le Morne has no fewer than five large infinity pools. All are surrounded by palm trees and tropical flowerbeds. Hammocks in the lagoon are slowly filled by afternoon tides. The beach restaurant serves a delicious mix of Creole and Thai-inspired dishes, and long lunches blend into balmy early evenings.
On the final night we watch a fire-red sunset slowly dip behind the lagoon, then enjoy dinner at the award-winning, candlelit Thai restaurant East. Afterwards, on the way back to our room, we pass the Tree of Wishes and sit on a swinging bench beneath the dreams of guests of days gone by. What’s the rule on wishing for more wishes again…?