I have no idea why depression is associated with the so-called blues. Blue is a calm, soothing and tranquil color. Just like the much-loved vacation island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean with its shades of all things cerulean.
Dispatched by the Radisson Blu Poste Lafayette Resort & Spa, my taxi driver Safe picks me up right on time from my South African Airways flight (about a 4-hour flight from Johannesburg) and we set off to the North East side of the island, about an hour’s drive.
I arrive to this wonderful airy hotel to a great welcome and shown to my fabulous room where the lovely staff have placed a bottle of complimentary sparkling wine. Therooms are a bit small, but who cares when you have the Indian Ocean literally on your doorstep? The 100 cozy guest rooms boast views of either the sparkling Indian Ocean or the hotel’s skilfully manicured gardens. In-room amenities are all the things expected from a superior hotel and the pool is heated in winter!
The resort has an unassuming, beautifully gentle ambience and the lovely Lucille take me on a site inspection. This is an adults/couples resort with on-site spa and fitness center. Guests can also take part on recreational activities such as beach volleyball, beach badminton, bocce balls and darts. The resort’s turquoise lagoon is suitable for snorkeling, kayaking, glass-bottom boat and pedal boats. All the areas are beautiful with a modern Zen design - and the WiFi is free. The design is a contemporary interpretation of the island’s architectural heritage. The minimalist styled guest rooms are set amidst manicured gardens and provide uninterrupted views of the garden, mountains or the ocean. All rooms feature floor-to-ceiling glass with large sliding doors to a small terrace or a Juliette balcony.
Food glorious food
After my massage therapist Roopa hurts and heals my hopelessly damaged back at the spa, I join hotel manager Kevin for dinner by candle light overlooking the ocean at Aqua 180°, their magnificent restaurant. In fact, you can delight in on-site cuisine, from the buffets at Café Nautilus to Asian flavors at Phi and a myriad of snacks at Aqua 180°. We are served an amuse-bouche selection of foie grass, smoked salmon and shrimp canapes and I gulp these delightful morsels down between sips of their delectable signature Longer Passion cocktail, made of rum, fruit juice and passion fruit.
The chef is an alchemist. The food is simple but brilliant, scallops are next, served on a piping hot rock. The main of lobster thermidor is out-of-this-world delicious.
Dessert is a chocolate affair with hot ganache flowing out of the pudding like delicious lava.
Kevin is a great dinner companion and tells me that with only 100 rooms, the hotel is quality rather than quantity-driven in terms of food, ambience, location and service. And in my opinion they tick all these boxes with confidence.
I peacefully fall asleep in my crisp linen sanctuary of abed to waves crashing only meters from me on the pristine beach.
It is a bright and clear paradise with the sea crystal clear as I amble to breakfast the next morning. The buffet is splendidly laid-out with a top-class selection of meats, cheeses, pastries, jams, breads and of course your choice of hot breakfast.
Then a scenic drive to town takes about an hour. The roads are lined with flaming orange New Year’s trees.
Papaya, lychees and mangoes grow wild among the rolling sugar cane fields and just as we get to town, a soft shower breaks out. I alight at the quaint Waterfront area of Port Louis. A short walkway under the busy highway reveals the open food veg market. It’s bustling with color, sound and tourists. Port Louis is one of the wealthiest cities per capita in Africa. Until the Arabs set foot on the soil of Mauritius in the Middle Ages, this island was a desolate pristine tropical Eden. After centuries of human advent into the island, the country has now grown into a fully vibrant multicultural island of peace and prosperity with its population of 1.3 million. A society of multi ethnic backgrounds, the country offers a potpourri of Chinese, Indian, French, and African cultures.
Next stop is the tranquil Mauritius National Botanical Gardens, formally known as Sir Seewoosagur Botanic Garden,home to an incredible variety of tropical plants, many of them indigenous and palm tree the size of skyscrapers.
The botanical garden was initially opened as a private garden by the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago, later to become the national botanical garden of Mauritius.
It stretches over endless acres of land and it may take you more than a week to cover the whole garden. It is populated with more than 650 varieties of plants among which are the famous Baobabs, the Palmier Bouteille, the ineluctable Giant Water Lilies, dozens of medicinal plants, a large spice garden and many more.
One of the main attractions of the botanical garden is the 85 different varieties of palm trees brought from different corners of the world.
Village size resort
I check in at the Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa in the early afternoon just as the sun happily comes out to play. The resort is the size of a village, replete with pharmacy, curio shops and a chain restaurant as well as rental apartments. Check in is seamless and hotel manager Ivan Catherine greets me personally. My room is huge and airy, with a balcony (featuring a day bed) overlooking the pool and the gin clear ocean beyond and is decorated in hues of whites and blues. Also, a delicious array of snacks awaits me, including macaroons, nuts and home-made dark chocolate.
The lovely Mary Joyce then takes me on a tour of the property. There are 160 rooms, suites and residences here, all featuring colorful décor, expansive windows and free high-speed WiFi. This Mauritius resort offers many on-site dining options, from international buffets at Le Comptoir to contemporary Mediterranean at L’Azuli. There are two swimming pools as well as a wellness spa, a fitness center, four tennis courts and access to a variety of nearby activities like snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, sailing and scuba diving. After a heavenly nap on my gargantuan bed I have an equally heavenly bath and then join Ivan for dinner. The outdoor restaurant is transformed into a tropical fairy tale of soft candle lighting dancing off the water, island music and a fragrant ocean breeze.
Ivan tells me about the economic prosperity Mauritius is currently experiencing and how the government is working at making it sustainable by building so-called "smart" cities.
There are also many plans afoot to make Azuri eco-friendly by incorporating solar panels and wind turbine energy.
The menu is mouth-watering and features the freshest seafood like langoustine, prawns, grilled lobster as well as beef fillet and free-range chicken as other main options. I have the delicious fillet, cooked to perfection, followed by raspberry tiramisu which is swoon inducing.
Adventures in the south
Alfio Bernardini, General Manager for Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa as well as Radisson Blu Poste Lafayette Resort & Spa joins me for a quick "super breakfast" the next morning, before I’m off again, this time to Grand Bassin, Chamarel in the South of the island for a full day of adventures. My humorous driver Iqbal proves a wealth of information.
“The Dutch came here in 1598 and brought sugar cane and rats and ate all our dodos," he says drily.
He regales me with Mauritius’s interesting colonial history as undulating sugar cane fields and tea plantations fly by.
Our first stop is at the Hindu temple at Grand Bassin, a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius. It is about 1,800 feet above sea level. This sacred temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and other deities, including Lord Hanuman, Goddess Lakshmi, and others along the Grand Bassin. During Shivaratri, many pilgrims in Mauritius walk bare feet from their homes to the lake.
The new feature of the Ganga Talo is the 33 meter tall statue of Hindu god Shiva, which is the replica of the Shiva Statue of Sursagar Lake in Vadodara. It was inaugurated in 2007 and is the highest known statue in Mauritius.
I walk into the temple and there a Hindu priest bestows on me a blessing. His deep, serene eyes look into mine and the feeling while he talks is quite profound.
I needed a blessing I guess, because strangely everything that has been worrying me suddenly just sort of falls away. I go away with a new-found sensation of simple peace. It occurs to me that the way we look at things is so shallow, the way we listen so cheap. But I digress...
We then take the long and winding road through mountains and forests to what is known as the Seven Color Sands. It is a geological formation and prominent tourist attraction found in the Chamarel plain of the Riviere Noire District. It is a relatively small area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colors (approximately red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). The main feature of the place is the surrealistic striped colored dunes, the result of the differing sands spontaneously settling in layers.
I wonder along the path to the giant Alhambra tortoise enclosure in the lazy mid-day heat and find them all asleep, about eight of them. Then suddenly one rushes over to what I realize is a female and starts mating! The male emanates a weird, very loud and aggressive guttural bellow. Not a romantic, clearly. Copulation I read later, lasts for 10-15 minutes. These tortoises can weigh as much as 300 kg and can grow to be 1.3 meters long. Giant tortoises are among the world's longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more.
Back at the hotel I languish by the pool with a cocktail, as one does in the afternoon sun, and contemplate my raison d'etre...
I meet Alfio for dinner at Ocean 1 restaurant, where the inspiration for the food is Mauritian cuisine with a modern twist - dishes such as fresh gazpacho, pork ribs with lychee and venison and beef curry. I opt for the succulent and fall-off-the-bone oxtail braised in red wine - operas should be written about this food.
I take my sad leave from this paradise the following day, my sense of adventure, luxury, pampering and culinary delight completely sated.
Air Mauritius provides 9 flight options to China per week:
One direct flight to Beijing (Saturday from Mauritius and Monday from Beijing)
Two direct flights to Shanghai (Tuesday/Sunday from Mauritius and Monday/Wednesday from Shanghai)
One direct flight to Chengdu (Monday from Mauritius and Tuesday from Chengdu)
2 direct flights to Hong Kong (Thursday/Sunday from Mauritius and Tuesday/Saturday from Hong Kong)
Three weekly flights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday via our hub in Kuala Lumpur from where passengers may connect directly to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong on code share flights (with partner Malaysia Airlines).
Go to http://www.airmauritius.com/localinformation_cn.htm for more information.