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Club Med, Mauritius: Melting-pot Indian Ocean island makes for a fabulous holiday destination

Travel News from Stuff - 21-11-2022 stuff.co.nz

The first time I stayed at Club Med, I remember being wrapped in I-don't-know-how-many layers as we hit the pistes in the wintry, snow-clawed wonderland of the French Alps, before enjoying apres-ski tipples by the resort's roaring fires.

Those memories flutter back today in dreamy, balmy Mauritius. Stepping onto the powdery coral sand beach after a late afternoon dip in bath-warm, bluey-green waters, I'm off to the bar for a rum-charged sundowner when I spy a multi-coloured sign pointing to other Club Meds around the world.

One is Les Arcs Panorama, the alpine retreat in my mind. The location (8992 kilometres away) and temperature may be starkly different this time, but there are familiar aspects to our Mauritian Club Med experience: fun, yet relaxed vibes, a sublime natural setting, activities galore, cordial, upbeat staff and (almost dangerously) moreish food.

That's especially the case on this melting-pot Indian Ocean island. Its history and influx of immigration from India, Africa, China and Europe has fashioned its mixed culture and belly-pleasing cuisine. During our stay, we devour fragrant curries and rougailles (tomatoey stews) and oodles of seafood, from tuna tataki and smoked marlin to grilled sea bream and jumbo prawns - and even a spicy take on fish and chips.

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Named after Maurice, Prince of Orange, by 17th-century Dutch settlers, Mauritius was a British colony between 1810 and 1968 - and they still have English as the official language and drive on the left here. But it's the influence of the French, who ruled the island from 1715-1810, that really permeates day-to-day life here.

Mauritians typically converse with each other in a French-based Creole, TV programs are routinely dubbed into French, and place names evoke the Gallic era, not least Port Louis, the capital city, where, on a day trip, we trawl bustling, aromatic markets, admire forts, churches, temples and mosques, and tuck into char siu bao buns and baguettes in its street art-splashed Chinatown.

While this subtropical island is a treat to explore - it's just 61 kilometres long, 45 kilometres wide and also lures you for hikes by extinct volcanoes, gorges and waterfalls and tasting-tours at rum, tea and coffee plantations - you'll appreciate somewhere nice to come back to and linger at.

Mauritius has two all-inclusive, family-friendly, chic-casual Club Meds: La Plantation d'Albion, cocooned on the west coast, a half-hour drive from Port Louis, and La Pointe aux Canonniers, which neighbours a sleepy coastal village in the island's north near the tourist hub of Grand Baie.

We sample both resorts, which have rustically photogenic locations beside public beaches, coves and reef-protected lagoons, with jagged mountain backdrops, and accommodation, pools and venues - some with palm-thatched Mauritian and colonial-inspired wooden architecture.

They sit scattered amid exotic, scented gardens, where chirpy birds, like the red-breasted fody and the bulbul, with its punk-rocker hair-do, flit between hibiscus flowers and cactus, coconut, casuarina, bamboo and banyan trees.

Guided island excursions are offered (for a fee) and there are taxis 24/7 for independent jaunts, but you could just as easily hang out at your resort and lap up the wealth of "free" land and water sports.

Some days, we try stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Others, we snorkel (about 80 per cent of Mauritius is circled by coral reefs and you'll see much of the cast of ). You can also gym-it and take scuba, sailing, aqua, pilates, yoga, tennis and golf classes. At Albion, there's even a flying trapeze, while La Pointe aux Canonniers has wake-boarding and water-skiing.

Your package also includes food around the clock, an open bar, evening entertainment and all-day clubs for children. You can fork out extra for lobster nights and treatments at the resorts' Cinq Mondes spas. Oenophiles may find themselves splashing out for fancier French wine, as the complimentary South African house wine is so-so. More palatable, for me, are the mojitos and Mauritian Phoenix lager.

Opened in 1973, La Pointe aux Canonniers is the older resort, but looking sprightly after a pre-pandemic revamp, with new pools and a facelift for the principal Belle Creole restaurant, where the food is exceptional, particularly sushi and sashimi, chateaubriand and dainty desserts (which my French partner rates as Parisian patisserie-standard).

The beaches are also superior at this resort, which has 394 rooms and suites (from 28 to 62-square-metres) with folding cane latticed partition walls, infusions from the island's Bois Cheri plantation and balconies with ocean and garden views.

Located by sugar cane fields, Albion is ranked as the more luxurious option, part of Club Med's 5-Trident (five-star) Exclusive Collection. Choose from 266 upscale balcony-adorned rooms and suites, spaciously sized from 40 to 70-square-metres, furnished with lacquered woods, art, antiques, brightly-toned fabrics and coffee machines.

As with La Pointe aux Canonniers, rooms can interconnect for groups and families, and there are also two-to-four bedroom villas with butlers. After 6pm, Albion guests are served complimentary champagne and snacks like chilli bites and samosas as flying foxes criss-cross the pinkening skies above.

By day, we love idling at Albion's adults-only Zen Zone, which was spruced-up before Covid-19. Crimson loungers and parasols fringe a boardwalk and infinity pool with a blissful soundtrack produced by ocean waves crashing against agave-topped volcanic rocks.

Handily, there's a bar and a la carte restaurant (La Phare) here, with late breakfasts of viennoiserie and tropical fruits, and catch-of-the-day lunches with crunchy palm heart salads and seasonal vegetables laced with garlic, chilli and turmeric. Tip: with capacity limited, reserve your table for dinner well in advance via the Club Med app.

Most guests flock to the main, fan-cooled, buffet-style, but largely cooked-to-order Distillerie restaurant, where carnivores and pescatarians are well-catered for. Vegetarians and vegans will find salads, fresh pasta, vindayes (curries), brianis (biryanis) and lentil-based offerings.

Mauritius Night - staged at both resorts on Mondays - is jolly. Venues are draped in the red, blue, yellow and green of the national flag, and there are island specialities like roti and dholl puri (a cumin-tinged split-pea wrap), peanut rougaille and chicken and pumpkin fricassee.

Post-dessert - for us, fromage, coconut panna cotta and tamarind ice cream - we shuffle to Albion's lantern-lit Mangrove beach bar via the "Rum Road", on which we're plied with arranged local rums infused with pineapple, vanilla, orange and anise.

Perched on loungers, we watch a drum-fuelled display of Sega - with performers in traditional outfits acting out the national dance, which originated among the African slaves who toiled on Mauritius' sugar estates. Then a pair of wiry, bare-chested men spirit across the sands with a gripping, and increasingly daring fire show.

Another evening, we dine alfresco on sea urchins and oysters by the ruins of the resort's centuries-old stone fort-battery. A downpour puts a dampener on our meal, with the starry skies clouding over in seconds, but this can happen in summer, when it's hot (above 30C), humid and stuffy.

Winters are cooler and drier, when sea and day-time temperatures are normally 23-27C, making this very much a year-round destination (it's on the same latitude as Queensland's Airlie Beach). With its easy-going atmosphere and stimulating scenery, culture and cuisine, Mauritius has all the ingredients for a fabulous holiday. We're already plotting our return.

Club Med La Pointe aux Canonniers has rates from $1440 a person, all-inclusive for seven nights, based on double occupancy. It's from $1640 at La Plantation d'Albion. Flights and transfers can be arranged in addition. Both resorts are roughly an hour's drive from the international airport. See

Emirates fly from Auckland to Mauritius via Dubai. See:

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