Toes wriggling in the bath-warm water, heels scalding on the bright white sand as my hair whipped in a cooling wind. It’s impossible not to be nauseatingly romantic about every moment spent in paradise.
I do not use that description lightly, not least because it feels like a cop out, a cliché of the worst kind. But asked how to best describe even the briefest of sojourns on the remote Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, it’s the first and most accurate. Throw more words at it: idyll, nirvana, oasis, heaven. Mauritius was made to trap the most indolent of travel reviewers.
An island rattled by successive invasions, with its sand soaked in the cruelty of first slavery and then indentured workers, does not a peaceful nation make. However, the Mauritian way of life is woven with an acceptance for all. Religious beliefs rub up against the myriad of cultural backgrounds to make a mystifyingly calm and tolerant society.
Mauritians are proud of it, and rightfully so. Few countries, particularly those that have experienced multiple colonial handovers, can boast such a prejudice-free, genuine, love-thy-neighbour attitude. And rarer still, this seems to extend to tourists.
During a cycle along the northwest coast in the searing sun, I stopped at numerous beaches. Families, friends, youngsters all out enjoying themselves on a bright early summer afternoon.
I reached Trou aux Biches, the largest public beach in the Pamplemousses area. It is also considered to be the best in the country due to the sand quality, weather conditions and facilities.
Stretching for two kilometres and lapped by the gentle surf in a dazzling spectrum of blue hues, it is protected by the coral reef, making an ideal spot for some casual snorkelling. It wasn’t what I would consider busy, but there wasn’t a huge amount of sand left to claim.
My guide, Khalid, asked me what I could see and I described my amazement at the ocean, the cool relief of the pine trees and the hunger-inducing street food aromas, a melee of the populace’s mixed culinary heritage.
He responded: “What I see, is people. All people, all different colours, all who believe in different things, tourists, Mauritians. They’re all together just enjoying this beautiful beach.”
That got me.
The warmth of the people is much of what endeared the country to me and what would persuade me to repeat the 14-hour round trip from Edinburgh to Mauritius via Dubai. That and the abundant luxury on offer.
The northwest coast of Mauritius is nearly wall-to-wall with high-end resorts, and my destination was the Angsana Balaclava, no more than an hour from the airport and approximately 15km from the capital, Port Louis. It is ideally located to sample a bit of everything. Built in the secluded Turtle Bay, the hotel is a masterstroke of quality design. Rich wood balconies facing out to the ocean create a haven of tropical indulgence, but the true triumph of Angsana Balaclava is the clever use of natural screens – gentle touches of drapery, perfectly placed greenery and cunningly designed stonework to create pockets of privacy wherever you choose to relax. And the outcome is that, no matter where you are, you feel as though you are in your own personal paradise.
Amid the focus on relaxation there is also an opportunity for self-improvement, with wellness packages based on the Ayurvedic school of thought on offer. The ancient Hindu tradition is a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle based on the idea of balancing the mind, body, senses and the soul. Aiming to wipe away the negative effects of modern life, the centuries-old practice has at its heart the “doshas” – three elements which are believed to create our specific physical and mental characteristics: vatha, pitta, and kapha. I threw myself into a three-day Ayurvedic fitness and discovery programme priced at just over £500, which included a fitness assessment, two personal training sessions, two 60-minute massages, a “discovery” activity – mine was the aforementioned bike ride – an hour of yoga, and a spa “hydro” journey.
The journey appeared to be simply using the facilities, but indulging in the quality and beauty of the outdoor spa was doubtless a journey of complete chill.
The addition of wellness packages to a beach holiday makes the most of a lazy break, and the idea appeals to me. You return home feeling relaxed but also as though you’ve worked a little to make yourself feel better, broken some bad habits and perhaps been encouraged to adopt some good ones.
I am assured guests can work together with the wellness team to prepare a plan that works for each individual but my itinerary was already arranged and it did mean that my startlingly stark fitness assessment – height, weight, age and measurements and little else – had me scheduled for the peak of the day which made this more of a sweat fest than I would have liked. And temperature aside, the sessions were tough. In fact I could have done with the massage after my first hour, instead of before, just to ease the sheer pain brought on by legs unaccustomed to multiple rounds of squats and burpees. None the less, coupled with evening yoga on the beach as the sun set and the aforementioned “discovery” cycle the balance of pamper and hard work was perfect.
My penultimate day in Mauritius ended on a high with a heavenly Javanese massage in the serene spa. In addition to the fitness element, meal plans are designed for the package in conjunction with your “doshas”. Of the three menus, I was allowed to select from two based on my “diagnosed” doshas of pitta and vatha. From the outset there wasn’t much explanation of Ayurvedic practices or what they meant, so I felt a little lost in a sea of wellness, but the meals were well cooked, with fresh, local ingredients.
The fish dishes were definitely the highlight and the morning juice shots were zingy and a great way to put a spring into your step.
If wellness as part of a paradise sojourn sounds like your cup of (green) tea, I would recommend doing your research or speaking with the Angsana Balaclava team before booking to ensure the reality lives up to your expectations.
Doesn’t sound like much of a break? There are other wellness packages available from detox to relaxation and rejuvenation which can also be tailored to meet your specific desires and goals.
And if a step into wellness just feels like one health shot too far, there are plenty of peaceful places to hide away in the delightfully designed luxury of Angsana Balaclava.
Angsana Balaclava, Baie aux Tortues, Le Goulet Road, Balaclava, Mauritius (+230 204 1888, email: [email protected])
Angsana Balaclava Mauritius starts from £595 per night for two people on half board basis. Try a wellness programme for three days, which is an additional £500 and includes a three-course wellness menu each day and spa treatments.
Edinburgh to Mauritius via Dubai with Emirates starts from £700 return.