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Laid-back luxury in Mauritius

This warm-hearted island offers a fivestar experience, with plenty to see, learn and do, writes Joanna Tovia.

We’ve flown in at dusk and the craggy mountains we saw from the air now rise majestically out of lush green sugar cane fields as we drive to Lux Belle Mare, the resort we’ll be calling home for the next six days.

Like many developing island nations, the settlements we pass by on the way are simple homes and shops built out of concrete and tin, but a wall here and there has been painted bright blue, pink or yellow, framing dogs standing expectantly by the roadside, as if waiting for their owners or next meal to appear.

A tropical melting pot

Located off the coast of East Africa near Madagascar, Mauritius was settled by the Dutch in 1638 but later abandoned, leaving it for the French to establish a flourishing sugar industry with African slave labour. French plantation owners stayed on when the British invaded in 1810, and when slavery was abolished in 1835, more than 350,000 Indian workers arrived to work, this time for a wage; followed by Chinese immigrants with dreams of setting up businesses of their own.

History is all around when you visit, in language (Creole, French and English), the incredible food, and the island traditions. Tourism is now the major industry here, but on the sleepy east coast in particular, you’re immersed in an Eden that feels all your own.

"History is all around when you visit, in language, the incredible food and the island traditions."

The French touch

I’m travelling with 13-year-old Bianca and seven-year-old Jarrah and we’ve unwittingly timed our arrival with that of Tropical Cyclone Carlos, making its presence felt with heavy rain when we wake. We don’t mind a bit; it’s the perfect day for a relaxing spa treatment (Bianca’s first), a workout at the gym, and for Jarrah to get to know the kids’ club.

But first, the breakfast buffet. The buttery, flaky croissants rival the best I’ve had in Paris and I decide trying to resist a daily pastry fix here will be futile. The kids are just as impressed with the crępes, along with the sheer number of breakfast choices on offer.

Jarrah makes a smooth entry into the kids’ club, and gets a kick out of being the only English speaker until guests from London arrive later in the week. He’s soon happily making masks, feeding fish, playing foosball, and cooking pizza with his French pals.

Teenagers are spoilt for choice, with outings ranging from water skiing to archery, and the Play programme for younger kids is split into age groups (three to seven and eight to 11).

Sunshiny days

When the skies clear and the sun comes out the next day, the colours of the palm trees, white sand and blue ocean come to life in all their vibrant beauty and the resort turns into the island paradise I’d hoped it would be. The only thing to do is head straight to the fabulous 2000-square-metre pool. An all-day ice-cream bar keeps kids happy and there’s a food truck, bar, restaurant and cafe for drinks and snacks, with kids’ menus that are refreshingly healthy.

The 26-degree-Celsius ocean is as aqua when you’re swimming in it as it is when you’re admiring it from afar. The protected lagoon is perfect for families, and you won’t encounter any creatures that sting or bite here.

There are plenty of water sports on offer: snorkelling, diving, kayaking, sailing, and more. We soon settle into a heavenly routine of relaxation, fun and indulgence.

Island life

At a Junk Art Workshop, we upcycle old magazines and turn them into beaded jewellery. We fly a drone, take a Creole class, and head out in a glass-bottomed boat to snorkel. Bianca jumps in without fear; Jarrah needs some persuading. But soon the three of us are mesmerised in a world of coral and fish.

Horse riding on the beach is another big highlight. Two friendly helpers walk alongside our gentle horses, but novice rider Jarrah is soon confident enough to ‘steer’ his horse alone as we make our way around the curve of the bay, the morning sun glistening off the water. Every time I look over at Jarrah he grins.

We dress up to dine at Duck Laundry for Chinese fare better than any I’ve ever tasted; get carried away with a performance of wild drumming and traditional dancing after dinner; and enjoy the novelty of a pieds dans l’eau (feet in the water) breakfast on the beach.

There’s plenty to do beyond the beachfringed perimeter of Mauritius too; the island’s interior is a wilderness of forests, waterfalls and mountains worth exploring, and be sure to go ‘on safari’ to Casela Park, the 250-hectare adventure park that combines adventure with the chance to see and interact with lions, camels, rhinos and more.

Family-friendly things to do in Mauritius

1. Swim with Dolphins

The early start (5.30am) will be worth it. Take a speedboat to Black River Bay on the west coast to encounter dolphins in their natural habitat. Spinner and bottlenose dolphins gather in large numbers in the bay.

2. Go wild at Casela

The 250-hectare African-themed Casela Park offers an action-packed day for all ages. Walk with the lions, ride a camel, go on safari, or get adventurous on the ziplines, canyon, swing, mud karts and quad bikes.

3. Sail to Île Aux Cerfs

You'll sail upriver to an idyllic island off the east coast, swimming beneath a waterfall on the way and enjoying lunch on board. It's a great family day out.

4. Horse ride along Belle Mare beach

What a way to explore the beaches beyond your resort! Quiet, well-cared-for horses suit all experience levels for kids five and over. The group is limited to four riders.


Getting there

Mauritius is an eight-hour direct flight from Perth with Air Mauritius.


This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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