Light is starting to fade, but the 12 of us aren’t for budging. We’ve been here almost two hours, after all. Each of us is covered in sand and sweat. It’s still 25 degrees despite the descending sun. Two sets all, match points have come and gone, as a dozen strangers bond over a game of beach volleyball in Mauritius. We’re going to finish what we’ve started.
I couldn’t tell you all the nationalities, but French is the predominant language. There are definitely two Scots, myself included, who have been gently toasted by the sun. There’s a Swiss girl, some young Frenchmen, a German, a giant from the nearby island of Réunion and the native, the Mauritian magician, the man who has dictated this match from start to finish.
It’s only apt that the local wins the final point for our team. There are high-fives, hugs and back-slapping as this exhilarating exchange on the shores of the Indian Ocean eventually ends. We bid adieu to each other and return to our respective camps, be it friends or family. As I sip on my Phoenix beer, I bask in the comfort of spending such a fine time with 11 people I had never met before. A perfect way to end my first day on this island.
Welcome to Mauritius, a destination often put in the “honeymoon” category alongside the Caribbean, the Seychelles and the Maldives. The population is 1.3 million people on land that mirrors Malta in size. The predominant languages are French and English, with an added dialect of Creole. It was colonised by the Dutch, the British and the French before independence in 1968 and is diverse. To the west is Madagascar, but go due south from here and you won’t hit anything until Antarctica. I travelled here with the always impressive Emirates via Dubai. Two six-hour flights. It’s a long way from home.
Not that I feel in any way homesick at Beachcomber’s Victoria hotel in the north of the island. I’m splitting my time between this resort and Dinarobin, which is part of the same stable but situated in the south. I like it at Victoria. It has a family feel yet isn’t overrun by children and everyone is extremely friendly, as the impromptu volleyball jolly shows. Mauritius prides itself on the warmth of its people and this hotel symbolises that.
There are restaurants to suit all tastes, be it for a continental buffet or for more salubrious Italian and steak eateries. There’s a kids’ club and, judging by the smiles, it’s a lot of fun. Sport facilities are plentiful – if beach volleyball isn’t your thing, there’s tennis and an abundance of watersports which are unusually built into the price. Most hotels like this charge the earth to go out on a jet ski or diving, but not here, and that’s a huge bonus.
Dinarobin has the same deal with watersports and it also boasts an 18-hole championship golf course on site. The resort is secluded, on a peninsula, and shares the land with another of Beachcomber’s hotels in Paradis. Both are five-star rated and, boy, do they feel like it. While Victoria was great, this is a step up, and if I had known about it when I was arranging my honeymoon, I would definitely have considered it. Tranquil, luxurious, with some idyllic beach bars and restaurants.
My best meal in Mauritius was here, at La Ravanne, which specialises in local Creole food. There is a heavy south-Indian influence to the dishes. My favourite was a wild boar civet, but the seafood offerings, such as vacoas rougaille (a Mauritian classic dish based on spicy tomato sauce) and succulent prawns and smoked marlin tartare, come a close second. They also distil rum on the island and their signature dessert is baba au rhum, which looks like it will be the heaviest dish alive, until you bite into it and feast upon its fluffy, light texture.
You could feasibly spend your whole holiday at the Dinarobin complex and revel in the opulence of it all, but there’s enough to pull you away reluctantly from the resort, on land and at sea.
Mauritius is popular for diving, although my favourite water-based activity of the trip was viewing dolphins. Such excursions never guarantee a sighting, but I was taken aback by how many of the creatures played blissfully in the sea, putting on a show for their gawking audience.
Away from the water, there’s a nice mix of landscape and culture. Staring out of my plane window just before landing at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport, I was quite surprised by the rugged nature of the countryside. For a tropical island it is very green, but the mountains are what caught my eye the most. They pierce the lush plains like jagged teeth, and my mind wandered towards the opening scenes of the film Jurassic Park. I can imagine brontosauruses and velociraptors rampaging around in a bygone era.
However, slap bang in the middle of the island is the most curious feature. The locals call it the “virgin forest”. Essentially, it’s a couple of miles of vegetation that is the only indigenous part of Mauritius. When the Dutch decided to depart in the 1750s, they set fire to everything and this small pocket was the only part of it to not be scorched. The remaining land was later cultivated by the French and British in its natural state. My local guide tells me that no-one has set foot in the virgin forest for 25 years so as to maintain the unique ecosystem. You can view it from above and the photo opportunities across the valley are incredible.
Religion plays a huge part in Mauritius. Hinduism has the largest percentage and there are a couple of pilgrimage sites adorned with Angel of the North-like statues of Brahma and Shiva. The Sacred Lake and its adjoining temple are important places in Mauritian Hindu life, although there are plenty of Muslims and Christians on the island too. Locals are keen to stress how well everyone gets along – and it’s true.
The Mauritian flag perhaps sums up this place best. It has four vivid horizontal stripes – red, blue, yellow and green – and the vibrancy, warmth, beauty and friendliness of this luxury African outpost means I won’t forget my trip here in a hurry. Now, where can I play beach volleyball in Scotland...
Dinarobin: Seven nights full board in a Junior Suite at Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa for two adults starts from £1,755 per person. Price includes return economy flights with Emirates, various complimentary land and water sports and private transfers in Mauritius. Departs 13 September 2019, price subject to availability. Call Beachcomber Tours on 01483 445 610 or visit www.beachcombertours.uk
Victoria: Seven nights all-inclusive in a Superior First Floor Room at Victoria Beachcomber Resort & Spa, for two adults starts from £1,745 per person. Price includes return economy flights with Emirates, various complimentary land and water sports, and airport transfers in Mauritius. Departs 6 December, 2019, price subject to availability. Call Beachcomber Tours on 01483 445 610 or visit www.beachcombertours.uk