Savour a lion's share of heavenly paradise
If the Garden of Eden had existed it would have been the mirror image of Mauritius, minus the top resorts with personal butlers, says Anne Marie Scanlon
Getting there: Sunway Holidays offers the One & Only Le Saint Geran for five nights half-board, stay for seven, from €3,290 per person sharing, January to March inclusive, and The Residence (January to March), half-board, seven nights from €2,470 per person. Tel: 01 231 1856, www.sunway.ie
Prices for both locations include flights, taxes and fuel charges, and are subject to availability. Flights from Dublin, via Paris or direct, from Heathrow with Air Mauritius www.airmauritius.com
www.tourism-mauritius.muA WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: On the advice of the guide, a fearful Anne Marie removed her sunglasses to go stalking with 11-month-old lions at Casela National Park. Equally exhilarating was a 4x4 trip which would have had Spider-Man baulking
There were two things I never expected to find on Mauritius, the tiny Indian Ocean island off the east coast of Africa -- families and God. Like a lot of people, I assumed that the island paradise was basically a honeymoon destination and fully expected to be surrounded by lovey-dovey couples, a bit of nice scenery and not much else.
However, at both The Residence and One & Only le Saint Geran, the two magnificent resorts on the east coast of the island I stayed at, there were quite a lot of young families. (Amazingly, in six days I didn't hear one child cry, but then again, Mauritius seems to have a similar soothing effect on everyone, or perhaps it had something to do with the fantastic onsite kids' clubs at both locations.)
Driving from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport along the coastal road to The Residence, at Belle Mare, the views are, quite simply, awe-inspiring. Gazing at the turquoise sea meeting white beaches, acres of sugar cane overlooked by verdant mountains filled with exotic birds and luscious plants made me think that if the Garden of Eden ever existed it looked a lot like this. I felt it had been well worth the 12-hour flight from Heathrow.
While Mauritius is a developed country, there are huge swathes of land that look totally untouched and it's not hard to imagine what it looked like when it was discovered by the Dutch in 1598. Since then the island has been colonised by the French and English (the islanders use both languages) and has been independent since 1968.
It wasn't just the gorgeous surroundings and the lovely weather (Mauritius's April to September resembles a good Irish summer) that put me in a more spiritual frame of mind. Venturing beyond the resorts I found myself in a couple of situations where I was fervently saying my prayers and recommitting to my church of choice.
At Casela National Park I had the rather exhilarating experience of walking with lions. I won't lie, despite the lions being cubs of 11 months and having a guide and no less than three trainers accompanying our group of 10, I was absolutely terrified and looking for excuses not to take part. The lions might not like my sparkly sequinned trainers I ventured to the guide. No, he informed me, the only thing the lions objected to was sunglasses -- they see themselves reflected and think it's a strange animal and want to fight. And those are some big paws, with some big claws. So I removed my sunglasses, said my prayers and set off. With the lions. It was brilliant.
After stalking with the lions I thought I was Steve Irwin and pretty much up for anything. So the next day I signed up for a "4x4 Experience" at Vallee de Ferney, a 200 hectare nature reserve in the Bambon Mountains. When the driver decided to take the vehicle up a precipice so sheer that even Spider-Man would walk away from it, I started praying and didn't stop until we came down the other side an hour later. It certainly lived up to the name "Experience" and I'd caution anyone thinking about doing it to be at the peak of both their physical and mental health. Vallee de Ferney also offers hiking and quad biking -- at one point we passed five couples on quads who all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Personally, I was far happier when I got back to the luxury of The Residence to find that my personal butler (every room gets one) had drawn a rose petal bath and lit some scented candles in the bathroom. I didn't think it could get much better until I got to the One & Only (set on its own private peninsula) and my personal butler there offered me a pillow menu. Yes, a pillow menu! Everyone gets to be Goldilocks and decide whether their pillows are too hard, too soft or just right. To be fair they were the most comfortable pillows I've ever slept on and was gutted that I couldn't fit even one into my suitcase.
The longer I was on Mauritius the more I realised it is an ideal family destination, especially for mothers -- having someone else to tidy up and do the ironing (one outfit per day, per person) is magical in itself.
Even if you are not staying at One & Only, I would highly recommend eating at the onsite Prime restaurant. I'm such a picky eater that normally I don't dither over menus as half the stuff is ruled out on the grounds that I won't touch it. It took me ages to make up my mind at Prime, and it was absolutely agonising because everything sounded so fantastic. In the end I settled on the house signature dishes, "hot and cold" tuna sashimi, wagyu beef ribs and a chocolate pudding with salty caramel ice-cream, and yes, it all tasted as good as it sounds. Better actually. Apart from the food, the service at Prime is excellent -- they even provide a wee stand for your handbag.
Despite the fact that I was about as relaxed as I've ever been (a personal butler does tend to have that effect) I felt honour bound to check out the One & Only spa. The spa has its own private pool, which is pure bliss, and after a morning there I really didn't need my relaxing massage. Yet, I nearly cried when the hour was up as I was enjoying it so much.
I could say the same about my time in Mauritius -- I just didn't want my visit to end. On my last day I lay on my terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean and treated myself to a Bounty Bar. Would a "taste of paradise" taste better in paradise? Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes!
Sunday Indo Living