If there were somewhere I would want to be shipwrecked, it would be Mauritius. Admittedly it is my first Indian Ocean island and so I am probably swept up by the romance of the fine sand, lush foliage and lagoon filled with colourful fish. Strategically important Mauritius welcomed sailors from the earliest Arab traders to Portuguese explorers and the naval fleets of the Dutch, French and British as they sought to build their empires. Unsurprisingly, wrecks are a feature of this coral coastline.
In 1744, the Saint Géran, a “majestic vessel under the command of Captain Delamere” which had sailed from the French port of Lorient six months earlier, was shipwrecked on rocks near Le Flacq on the north-east of the island. Of the nearly 200 people on board, 149 sailors, 13 passengers and 30 Senegalese slaves died. The incident has a popular place in Mauritian history but the wreck lay undisturbed until the 1960s.
When an American resort chain was looking to create its first non-US establishment, it was the Saint Géran that gave it a name, and the One & Only Le Saint Géran has now been at the forefront of the Mauritian luxury hospitality sector for four decades.
Set on a peninsula facing a lagoon formed by a coral reef, the beach-front resort is so peaceful that at times you feel you could be on the edge of the world.
I’ve probably got the wrong end of the stick about the romance of being shipwrecked, but one can only daydream as one stretches out on a sun lounger with a postcard-perfect view. I know the hawkers Philip (I love my blue-black pashmina) and his father the pearl-seller will be round soon. Then our iced water will be replenished, watermelon served, lunch orders taken – and our sunglasses polished. Saint Géran really thinks of everything.
In the end all this sitting around is not my style and anyway there is much to do on the Saint Géran estate. An energetic hit with a tennis coach, a trip out to the reef on a glass-bottomed boat and nine holes on the palm-fringed Gary Player-designed golf course – each gives me an excuse to go back for more of that beach-side magic.
Another diversion is the spa. With my nails in need of some TLC, I opt for a Bastien Gonzalez pedi-mani-cure. This has to be the ultimate in co-ordinated pampering. Matthieu looks after my toes as Anoushka works on my fingers. They use the techniques developed by French podiatrist Gonzalez for models. It is a fusion of medical skills and natural products with nothing done “without reason” as Matthieu explains. The synchronised hand and foot massages create a fitting finale to my treatment. I walk back to my suite sure that even the hotel’s rather haughty resident grey-crested crane notices my dainty digits. Frasier – as we have named the bird – lives in the lush vegetation between the wings of the hotel and seems to spend the day preening himself, starting at dawn with a session in front of the windows of the fitness room.
About the same size as Tenerife, Mauritius benefits from tropical climate and fertile land, with the crop mostly sugar cane. The horizon is punctuated by dramatic hills – jagged peaks swathed in green. First we stop on the outskirts of Curepipe where an extinct volcano offers a central viewpoint of the island. The most dramatic of the peaks are les Trois Mamelles, an other-worldly hand imploring heavenwards.
We are heading south of that landmark through the Black River hills to Chamarel. The road twists its way through the peaks, with each turn a new vista. Progress is slow but the destination dramatic. The 300ft waterfall is just the first of our geology lessons as it crashes past evidence of generations of volcanic activity. The Seven Coloured Earth is our next stop. This quirk of nature has been created by the weathering of the volcanic rock and the different coloured sands settling into separate layers.
Then it is time to learn about Mauritius’s most famous product – rum. Ten to 15 tonnes of sugar cane a day arrive at the Rhumerie de Chamarel Distillery to be transformed into the spirit for which we seem to be getting quite a taste. We are taken through Chamarel’s repertoire before we sit down at the distillery’s L’Alchimiste restaurant for a meal that wouldn’t haven been out of place in a chic European city.
Talking of food, back at Saint Géran it’s always a delight. From a leisurely breakfast at La Terrasse overlooking the pool to its fine-dining grill Prime, the fresh imaginative flavours and personal attention mean each meal is an occasion. The seafood buffet at La Terrasse has to be seen to be believed and allows me to have my first taste of sea urchin.
However, we have to roll up our sleeves for one of our lunches. First it is off to the market in Centre de Flacq with Chef Faizan Ali. Here amid the piles of produce, we get a real flavour for this island and its multicultural heritage. There are displays of locally grown fruit and vegetables, exotic imported ingredients, a woman extracting juice from freshly cut sugar cane and a colourful array of textiles. Faizan guides us as we buy the ingredients for lunch – and a few more pashminas.
Back in Faizan’s restaurant, the Indian Pavilion, he demonstrates how to combine our simple ingredients into a delicious feast.
We get our hands dirty as we coat the chicken with sauce and put it on skewers before it goes into the tandoor.
Then we watch entranced as Faizan makes naan bread. I was going to say never has a meal tasted so good, but Faizan’s farewell feast for us the next night was better – only because there were more tantalising dishes to savour.
The One & Only Le Saint Géran, Mauritius, from £295 per room on half-board basis in the low season, from £485 in the high season (www.oneandonlyresorts.com).
Bastien Gonzalez Duo hand and foot treatment, approximately £158.
Emirates flies from Glasgow to Mauritius via Dubai. Flights start at £779 this month and December (www.emirates.com)
The One & Only Saint Géran resort will will close in February 2017 for an extensive renovation. It will re-emerge in late 2017 with brand new guest rooms and suites; culinary experiences; pool, fitness and spa offerings. The hallmark hospitality and attention to detail will remain unchanged.