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Mauritius: Island paradise fit for royalty



THE rain started the moment the bells stopped ringing as we left the church on our wedding day. It didn't stop -- for the photographs, or the next day, and continued as we drove along the M50 towards the airport.

Even if we had a hotline to Met Eireann we couldn't have picked a better time to jet off on honeymoon to the Indian Ocean than during the Great Flood of last October. We didn't plan it that way of course. We chose to get married in October because of the beautiful foliage and supposed crisp clear days -- with the added bonus that we could travel to some far-flung tropical destination if we wanted guaranteed sunshine and hot white sand beneath our toes. And we found that, and a whole lot more in Mauritius.

As soon as the plane landed on the runway after a 12-hour overnight flight and we saw the palm trees, we knew that we had chosen wisely. While Mauritius is famed for its white sands and the blueness of the Indian Ocean, it also boasts green, fertile land, which our taxi-driver on the 40-minute drive to our destination proudly pointed out. We were pretty sure he had never seen the green, green grass of home.

The Heritage Villas are located on the south coast of the island in the Domaine de Bel Ombre, a 2,500-hectare estate which includes an 18-hole championship golf course, two Heritage hotels, and the Frederica Nature Reserve -- a perfect mixture of luxury, nature, activity and privacy.

At the centre of the estate is the Chateau de Bel Ombre, a beautiful colonial building which dates from the 1800s and has been restored to its former glory; with grand wood panelling. On our arrival at the chateau, a mango juice was handed to us on the beautiful veranda to refresh us after our long flight and then we were transported on a golf cart to our villa.

On your wedding day, you feel as if you are a cross between royalty and rock star -- and that feeling should continue until you touch down back in Ireland. It was fitting then that our villa would have made any princess or pop star feel right at home. Each of the four bedrooms in the villa was en suite. The master bedroom upstairs had a sea view and overlooked the vast estate. Our infinity plunge pool was the pinnacle, in the garden with breathtaking views over the entire estate, down to the turquoise lagoon of the ocean.

The vast estate affords great privacy, but it also makes getting around on foot somewhat of a challenge. Luckily, a golf cart --which even with my dismal driving skills, I was able to master -- was provided with the villa. We didn't leave the villa for the first day -- a gourmet basket had been provided for us, and Andrew took the opportunity to make use of the American grill-style barbecue while I topped up the Champagne from the bottle in the outdoor fridge. We relaxed in the gazebo, drinking in the fabulous views. If throwing a few sausages on the barbecue is too daunting a task for you, there is the option of having a chef come to the villa to cook.

When we felt like doing some exploring we took to the golf cart. Andrew gazed longingly at the 18-hole championship golf course and every day half-heartedly threatened to play a few rounds, but I drew the line there. There is plenty of time for me to become a golf widow so there was no need for me to assume that title in the first week of our marriage.

Residents of the villas are welcome to use the facilities and restaurants in both the hotels on the estate, the Heritage Awali and the Heritage Le Telfair (named after an Irishman, Charles Telfair, a botanist from Belfast who settled in the Domaine). Both are about a 10-minute golf cart drive away, a slightly quicker journey after a few cocktails in the evening.

With more than 10 restaurants in both hotels, it meant that we had plenty of choice for our evening meals. Our first culinary experience was in Infinity Blue restaurant on the beach -- darkness falls in Mauritius just after 6pm at the start of their summer, so while we were on the beach, with the sand beneath our toes, beyond was the great blackness of sea and sky with stars as bright as diamonds, puncturing the sheet of darkness.

We tried nearly every restaurant in the two hotels over the course of our week -- from the buffet in the Awali to the Seven Colours restaurant which serves menus by colour, based on the concept of "re-awakening our deadened senses, and re-invigorating our least active chakras". I chose the "red" menu and Andrew opted for the "green". We can't be sure whether it did anything for our chakras, but it definitely tasted delicious.

However, it soon became clear that we didn't need a menu to re-invigorate our chakras -- just a week in Heritage Villas. Every whim was catered for, our villa was cleaned daily, teams of gardeners toiled every day to ensure that every flower was as beautiful, bright and perfect as the next, and every member of staff treated you as if you were the royalty that you were by now convinced you were.

Villas are both for sale and to rent in the complex, and if we just had our financial chakra energised enough, we would have bought our own slice of paradise to return to again and again.

Sunday Indo Living