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A family getaway can often turn out to be a fraught affair, but in Mauritius, Nikki Saunders finds the perfect recipe for all-round holiday bliss. For a special reader offer, scroll down to the bottom.
Uninhabited until the 17th century, Mauritius would have once fulfilled all fantasies of the desert island variety. But this tranquil island, the only known home of the unfortunate Dodo, was soon discovered by seekers of the New World, who spotted potential in its turquoise water, miles of beaches and lush interior brimming with tropical flora and fauna. First the Dutch, then the French and finally the English ruled this Indian Ocean jewel until it gained independence in the late 1960s.
Today, Mauritius is home to a vibrant mix of Indian, African, European and Chinese settlers, who have created an island alive with its own inimitable style of music, cuisine and colourful dress. Forming part of an archipelago with Réunion and Rodrigues, Mauritius has an atmosphere and environment that could tempt even the most workaholic urbanite to slip on a pair of flip-flops.
With superb diving and water sports, and a climate that welcomes visitors all year round, it’s no surprise that a string of busy resorts have established themselves along the island’s coastline. However, if you choose with care, it is still possible to experience a family holiday where the agenda isn’t driven by a well-meaning rep and you don’t have to fight for space by a crowded hotel pool.
For families and groups, hotel holidays are often a compromise. You feel under constant pressure from other guests to make sure your kids are on best behaviour, your room is the only patch of
privacy and group meals out night after night can lead to meltdown. A far more relaxed choice when travelling en famille is to opt for a villa. Of course, villas can come with their own problems.
There’s no one to tell you what you should be doing, but there’s
also no crèche, no cook and no cleaner.
Luckily, the best of both worlds is at hand in the form of Villas Valriche, which are found in the less developed south-west corner of Mauritius, in the heart of the spectacular Domaine de Bel Ombre (meaning ‘the estate of beautiful shade’). Nestled between mountains and a natural coral-lined lagoon, this former sugar plantation is now home to luxurious accommodation, fine-dining restaurants and a state-of-the-art spa, and offers plenty of activities to keep young and old entertained. This estate has an untouched nature reserve and a kilometre of white sand beach on its doorstep – all of it just waiting to be explored.
A handful of beautifully designed villas offer a peaceful escape from other holidaymakers and allow you the freedom to experience Mauritius at your own pace. With three or four bedrooms you can comfortably accommodate a large family or a party of friends and the set-up of each villa easily lends itself to entertaining – with landscaped gardens, infinity pool and a spacious patio boasting an outdoor bar area and BBQ.
This is no ordinary self-catering villa: you are provided with a concierge and cleaner, while a chef, butler and babysitter can all be arranged. And if you do want to venture out for an evening of haute cuisine, the kids can stay put and play on the Wii or watch movies on the plasma TV while you sample the delights of the Château de Bel Ombre or any one of the other fine-dining options within easy reach. The choice of activities is wide. Children will love the kids club with its menu of creative workshops, swimming lessons and nature trails. The adult equivalent is the Golf du Château championship course, which has winning views over the lagoon on one side and the hills of the Black River Gorges National Park on the other.
If you prefer a more active introduction to Mauritius you could opt for sailing, canoeing or snorkelling on the reef, yoga and Tai Chi by the beach, exploring the Frederica Nature Reserve on foot or discovering the local fishing villages by bike. The adventurous can always opt for quad biking or a night safari to get a different view of the jungle-clad interior. Or why not just take it easy? After days on the beach, a bespoke spa treatment with therapeutic essential oils is a fine way to end an idyllic island break. Mauritius may no longer be a deserted island, but the Villas Valriche will leave you feeling that you’ve found a modern-day hideaway to which you can return time and again.
Square Meal readers can take advantage of some exclusive offers on stays completed between 1 November 2010 and 31 January 2011. By using the booking code 'SQM-UK-VVE-10' readers can enjoy a 10% discount on the published rates in a luxury three- or fou-r bedroom villa, an additional two complimentary green fees per adult per stay at Golf du Chateau, a one-hour complimentary spa treatment, a 20% discount on all restaurants in the two neighbouring sister resorts Heritage Awali and Heritage Le Telfair (on food only; excluding drinks) and a 15% discount on spa treatments at both Seven Colours at Heritage Awali and Millesime Collection Spa at Heritage Le Telfair. Based on a minimum seven-night stay.