When you think of Mauritius, you imagine lazing on a pristine beach surrounded by palms, cocktail in hand while the azure sea laps the shore. And you'd be right – it really is paradise, but did you know there are plenty of sporting activities on offer too? If you're after a luxury getaway combined with a spot of action, then this is the holiday for you.
Officially known as the Republic of Mauritius, the nation lies off the southeast coast of Africa. It's a fabulous melting pot of different cultures, people and faiths, with the main languages spoken being Creole, French and English. It's a beautiful, lush island, rich in flora and fauna with a warm, tropical climate; its summer runs from November to April and winter from June to September. We went at the end of June and the temperatures were still in the mid-twenties.
The amazing view from Le Chamarel restaurant
Getting to Mauritius from the UK couldn't be easier. Air Mauritius flies to the island direct from London Heathrow, and my husband Andrew and I had a wonderful flight. We were celebrating our ten-year wedding anniversary during the holiday, so treated ourselves to a glass of bubbly on board!
On arrival in Mauritius, we were immediately struck by the friendly nature of the locals. We were to stay at two hotels during our visit: first stop the famous Shangri-La Le Touessrok on the stunning eastern coast in Trou d'eau Douce bay, and second, the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort in the south's Bel Ombre.
The pools at the Shangri-La
Our welcome at the five-star Shangri-La resort was so special – a musical greeting by the ravanne, a type of hand drum, accompanied by a traditional Sega dancer. It didn't take us long to settle into the Mauritian island vibe and before long our busy London lifestyle seemed a world away.
The Shangri-La is an impressive resort. The hotel has long been a hideaway of the rich and famous, having welcomed the likes of Prince Philip, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, the late Whitney Houston, Penelope Cruz and Alexa Chung among others. Recently renovated, the resort spans 34 acres of beachfront with 200 rooms and suites benefiting from spectacular sea views. There are five restaurants, three bars, the CHI spa, two swimming pools, an 18-hole championship golf course and a fantastic kids' club, plus an Active-T club for teenagers.
A room in the Frangipani wing
We stayed in one of the resort's Frangipani suites, set on a private peninsula with its own pool, complimentary minibar (uh oh) and, wait for it, personal butler service. Having never had our own personal butler before, this was highly exciting. He was so attentive, constantly checking we had everything we needed and even decorated our bed with gorgeous island flowers for our anniversary.
The Shangri-La's private island
Our first day was like something out of a movie. Shangri-La Le Touessrok has its own private island, Ilot Mangénie, which offers a Beach cabana experience. Packing our sunbathing essentials, Andrew and I hopped on the hotel's small shuttle boat for a romantic afternoon ahead. As we docked, a line of staff waited to greet us and other guests, spritzing our faces with a cooling mist and cleaning our sunglasses (we are now missing this special treatment!).
Tea time in the beach cabana!
Our personal butler – yes, another one, don't hate us – led us to our cabana where he'd set up a lunch spread of fish, salad, an incredible truffle pizza, washed down with the most refreshing rosé. It truly was paradise and an afternoon we'll never forget. That evening, we dined at the resort's sleek Japanese restaurant, Kushi, trying the most delicious sushi platter, served to us in a decorative boat dish. The perfect end to a perfect day.
It was another morning in paradise for day two of our trip, with a sumptuous breakfast at the seafront Republik Beach Club & grill. We're still thinking about the fried egg and Wagyu steak, and saffron polenta dishes from that morning. After brekkie, we enjoyed a peaceful stroll along the beach and took kayaks out for a paddle, stopping off at another tiny island which was covered in coral.
We'd clearly had a seriously taxing morning, so decided to unwind with a trip to the hotel's Chi Spa for a couples' 60 minute Coco Massage. Set in a luscious tropical garden, the spa is an oasis of calm and offers everything from a Jet Lag Rescue Release massage to anti-ageing facials, eye contour treatments and Indian head massage. They even offer child and teen treatments.
After all that chilling out it was time for some sightseeing, so off we went to the local tea plantation, Bois Cheri. It's a fascinating place, with its own museum, factory tour and the best bit, tea tasting in the Bois Cheri restaurant overlooking the picturesque tea fields. You have to try the tea biscuits and tea chutney. Delicious!
It was our final night at Le Touessrok, and the resort's Republik restaurant was calling. We ate the most divine scallops, Burrata and palm heart salad, followed by a spectacular seafood platter. Then it was onto the Sega bar for the hotel's jazz evening, which topped off another wonderful day.
Buggying at the Heritage Nature Reserve
On our third day, we departed for our next hotel, the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort, stopping off at the Heritage Nature Reserve for a wild morning of 4x4 buggying on the way. The reserve has 1,300 hectares of breathtaking natural scenery, rivers and waterfalls – the ideal spot for some off-roading. We arrived at the Outrigger pretty muddy but full of smiles.
Outrigger's beachfront location is absolutely stunning, dotted with palms and beach beds, relaxation is the order of the day. Many water sports are complimentary, including glass-bottom boats, paddle boats and windsurfing.
The stunning Outrigger resort
The resort has four swimming pools, a fitness centre, the Coral kids club and Navasana spa. Our spa visit was fabulous, first enjoying a sauna and then a relaxing massage (two in one week is allowed, right?)
The hotel has five restaurants to suit different tastes – the Mercado Market Dining offers delicious international cuisine and we adored The Plantation Club with its chic colonial feel. The restaurant even has its own tea library! We ate there twice and were blown away by the exquisite menus and service. You have to try the tasting menu with its carefully chosen wine pairings. The Lychee Rosé, produced in Mauritius is sublime.
A dish at The Plantation Club
We stayed in one of the resort's superb Ocean View rooms which was right on the beach and had a huge Jacuzzi-style bath. On our first night there we joined the Mauritian BBQ night at the Edgewater restaurant for traditional cuisine and Sega dancing – so much fun. Then it was an early morning start for our next adventure… hiking Le Morne mountain.
An Ocean View room at the Outrigger
Le Morne is on a peninsula at the southwestern tip of the island with a summit of 556 metres above sea level. Legend has it that the mountain once served as a hideaway for escaped slaves in the early 19th century. However, when the slaves were later informed of their freedom by police, they scampered back up Le Morne and jumped to their deaths from the top, fearing they were about to be arrested. What a sad story.
Our guide from the company Yanture led us safely up the mountain, pointing out native plants and helping us navigate tricky trails. Due to rain and unsafe conditions, it was not possible to reach the summit but it was a fantastic hike with stunning panoramic views of Mauritius and highly recommended.
Chamarel's Seven Coloured Earth
After the hike we paid a visit to Chamarel's Seven Coloured Earth – an amazing natural phenomenon of different coloured sand dunes dating back millions of years and created by basalt from outpourings of lava. Ferric oxide coloured the sands and rain created the swirling patterns. Lunch was at the nearby Le Chamarel restaurant which offers breath-taking views over the bay.
Our final two days were jam-packed with more sporty pursuits with beach time in-between. I thoroughly recommend the Pamplemousses electric bike tour in the Chamarel region. We cycled in a group led by guides, stopping at a local rummery and taking in the views. A fantastic way to see the island.
For us, the highlight of the trip came on our last day when we swam with wild dolphins in the sea, then rode horses on the beach. Life doesn't get much better. We woke early to join the boat trip with JPH Charters out to the dolphins, getting into our snorkelling gear on board. Wow, we'll never forget jumping into the water and swimming beside the amazing creatures. Pods of around 50-100 dolphins raced past us as we tried to keep up with them.
Centre Equestre de Riambel is the place to go for a fantastic horse riding experience. All the horses at the stables are former racehorses, who have been retrained for public riding. You'll get to ride on a beautiful, natural beach, free from hotels, as your horse paddles in the sea.
After all that excitement, sadly it was time to leave magical Mauritius but with many memories we'll cherish forever. The most special way to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.
We stayed at…
Shangri-La Le Touessrok, see shangri-la.com for latest price details
Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort, see outrigger.com for more information
We flew with…
Air Mauritius, visit airmauriuius.com for flight prices
For more information on Mauritius, visit tourism-mauritius.mu