I'm propped up on a padded lounger on a wooden deck with a glass of Champagne in hand. The Indian Ocean twinkles in front of me; I feel the sun seeping into my cold bones.
The general unease of our long-haul flight disappears as the therapist massages my head and shoulders. It's the best welcome I have received in my life.
I've just arrived in Mauritius, the Indian Ocean island. Instead of heading off, as most tourists do, on an hour-long drive to the busy hub of the north coast, however, our transfer was a mere ten minutes through acres of sugarcane to the relatively untouched south-east.
This glorious welcome takes place at the new five-star Anantara Iko resort, owned by the hotel group that recently took over Dublin's Marker Hotel. It's the Thai company's first venture into the hugely popular tourist island. Its ambition here, by eschewing the hotel-crammed northern shoreline, is to combine high-end, sustainable 'eco chic' with an authentic Mauritian experience.
Anantara prides itself on its award-winning spas, and this one lives up to expectation. All products are chemical-free. The atmosphere is one of absolute serenity and peace. Before my treatment, I had the traditional welcome footbath - a gentle foot washing with warm water and an oil of your choice. I promptly fall asleep during the wonderful, but pricey (5,800 rupees, or €140) 90-minute signature massage. After my little nap, enveloped in fluffy robe and slippers and drinking an infusion of rose petals and orange blossom, I embrace doing absolutely nothing as night falls and the crickets begin to chirp.
The tiny island of Mauritius, about the size of Co Wicklow but with a population of 1.3 million, attracted a whopping 1.45 million tourists last year. I can see why, in some ways, it is pigeon-holed as a honeymoon island where couples lounge in white-sand beaches and rarely leave their all-inclusive luxury resorts.
I'm not on honeymoon, though, and while it may be tempting to stay cocooned in this luxury hotel for my entire stay, I also want to explore this part of a country that is steeped in deep traditions, different cultures, history and natural beauty.
So we organise excursions. Our first is to Mahebourg, a colourful, slightly ramshackle yet immensely charming fishing village nearby. It was built by the Dutch and expanded by the French in the 1800s, and its buildings hold fragments of both cultures. It has a lazy, hazy feel to it as people move slowly in the heat or stand, one foot against a wall, watching the world go by.
We visit its National History Museum, housed in Gheude Castle - a magnificent French colonial mansion surrounded by pine trees and pretty gardens. There's a treasure chest of historical treats here: a rare and near-complete skeleton of the country's beloved (and extinct) dodo, naval memorabilia as well as posters and maps from colonial times.
Outside the market, I drink water from a coconut that feels heavier than a small child, before entering a space crammed with shoppers, silks, fruit, spices and food stalls.
I'm having lunch at a local restaurant, but can't resist the calls of the street food hawkers. I try gato pima, which are deep-fried chilli cakes made from split peas. Spurred on by how delicious they are, I try a samosa handed to me by a sweaty man from a box on the back of his motorbike. Also delicious.
I've been told dhal puri, a dhal-stuffed veggie pancake wrapped around curries, pickles and a spicy sauce called rougaille, is Mauritians' most beloved snack. So next, I walk over to a stall selling it. A local lady there points to a different vendor, telling me they sell the best ones. But there's a huge queue, I protest. It's worth it, she insists.
And, of course, she's right.
After spoiling my lunch, we go to Mahebourg's waterfront to see more of Blue Bay Marine Park. While speedboats ferry tourists on day trips from the north around the sparkling water, we take our time travelling by pirogue, the traditional colourful wooden boat. We sail around île aux Aigrettes, a tiny coral island, and dive off the boat to swim in what is probably the island's biggest draw - the pristine, intensely blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Throughout my stay, I am drawn back to Blue Bay. One day, Alkilash, a guide with Coral Diving, takes me on an untaxing underwater exploration of part of the barrier reef that encircles Mauritius. The still waters ensure great visibility and I spot clown, box and trumpet fish as well as the bright-orange Mauritian scorpion fish. Another evening, we take a catamaran cruise, clambering off the boat to sit on a tiny beach on the bay. Black rocks jut out behind us, dozens of starfish are strewn across white sands and breathtaking views of the south east are laid out before us - the perfect place to watch the sun set.
Back at the resort, there are more opportunities to taste the country's cuisine. Mauritian food is strongly influenced by its migrant history, threaded with French, Creole, Indian and Chinese flavours. Didier Jacob, the flamboyant executive chef who overlooks Anantara Iko's five restaurants and dining packages, is passionate about bringing authenticity to his guests. He trained in top restaurants around the world - including Caprice in London, and Dublin's two-Michelin-starred Patrick Guilbaud, where he came as a teenager. He tells me he "learned so much from Patrick" and "loved living in Dublin".
We eat many wonderful meals cooked by Didier and his team, but there is one stand-out experience. Before dinner one evening, we sit on plump cushions on the sand around a campfire and listen to local storyteller Marcel Ajoe's fascinating account of Mauritius's turbulent colonial history.
By candlelight, white-gloved waiters carry our glasses to a table set under filao trees. With our toes in the sand, we sit under starlight with the sound of the ocean ever close. We eat, among other things, smoked pumpkin veloute, heart of palm salad with smoked marlin and lobster. The highlight of the meal is lamb that has been slow cooking 'pirate-style' for eight hours on hot stones next to us - we haven't noticed our dinner until Didier and his chefs begin dramatically digging it up from beneath the sand with shovels.
Anantara Iko sits nestled into the golden sands of La Chaland beach, surrounded by the Blue Bay Marine Park, and you can see the architects made serious efforts to blend the hotel into its surroundings, using locally sourced material, recycled volcanic stone, native plants and driftwood.
As I wander around during my stay, I notice each public area - reception, restaurants, library, relaxation pods - has an ocean view and blends seamlessly into the next. This inside/outside design is reinforced by elegant waterways flowing from a waterfall feature in reception to the heart of the hotel, its 30-metre infinity pool.
The blindingly blue pool is ozone-based, which means it uses fewer chemicals and is more efficient than a regular pool. The resort's other eco touches include solar technology for water heating; water being reused for irrigation and cleaning; and food waste going to local farms. There are no plastic straws, but I notice that there is an abundance of plastic water bottles. This is a issue the brand new hotel is working on "ironing out", says general manager Coetzer Deysel.
In terms of rooms, mine is spacious with contemporary, clean lines and Mauritian furnishings and art on the walls. I'm impressed by thoughtful touches such as a straw sun hat and an extensive pillow menu. The bathroom is bigger than a lot of hotel rooms I have stayed in, with a huge freestanding tub, rain shower and twin sinks.
I am tempted to skip my trip to the spa so I can curl up on the daybed on a private balcony that overlooks the ocean. But no, I must soldier on.
It's not just the coast that impresses: Mauritius's interior has its attractions, too. Forty minutes' drive from Mahebourg lies the Black River Gorges National Park. This park of 6,574 hectares was created in 1994 for the protection of Mauritius's native rainforests.
There are many trails through it. Our guide, Lionel, takes us on the Macchabée Forest Trail, a three-hour easy enough hike beginning at the Petrin Visitor Centre and looping through tropical forest. Here, we trek through the magnificent landscapes peppered with black-trunked ebony and guava trees, grateful for Lionel, who points out endemic plants and rare bird species such as Mauritius kestrel and the echo parakeet
On our last morning, we drive towards the town of Chamarel. In the 30-degree heat, water would be the sensible drinking option but the our destination is a rum distillery, so it would be rude not to sample its wares.
Rhumerie de Chamarel is surrounded by the distillery's vast sugarcane plantations which grow next to pineapple and other tropical fruits. Our guide takes us through the distillery explaining the distilling process; essentially how sugarcane juice is turned into high-quality agricultural rum.
The highlight of the 30-minute tour is, of course, the testing - where we sample White Rum, Coeur de Chauffe and the Old Rum, among others.
Back at the hotel, after a swim in the pool, I take tired limbs, a slightly rum-fuzzy head and my book to a cocoon-pod chair hanging from a palm tree at the edge of the beach - after all, sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to indulge in the lazy paradise island cliché.
Take a tour of Île aux Aigrettes conservation site. Look out for the rare pink pigeon, giant tortoises and Telfair's skink, an endemic lizard named after an Irish botanist.
Coloured Earths is one of Mauritius's top tourist attractions. This stunning landscape of blues, greens, reds and yellows is the result of the cooling of molten rock and volcanic ash.
Enter the Vortex
Align your chakras and meridians at the Vortex of Riambel, an isolated 'sacred' space dotted with pretty little 'energy' cabins set among filao trees.
British Airways fly 12-hour direct flights to Mauritius departing from London Gatwick five times per week. From £477 return. ba.com
Stay at Anantara Iko Mauritius Resort & Villas, Mauritius's newest hotel situated in the south-east of the island. Rates from €390 per room per night on a half-board basis. Get 40pc off with the Winter Wonder offer when you book before February 20. anantara.com
Light summer clothes and lots of swimwear. If you plan on hiking, bring suitable footwear and long, loose clothing. Casual attire is fine, even in swankier places. Bring a sun hat, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen as temperatures can hit the 30s. Unfortunately, insect repellent is a must in Mauritius.