by Lindsay King

Island of smiles

Lindsay King tells the tale of beautiful Maurice

Win a trip to Mauritius
Lindsay King tells the tale of beautiful Maurice

Viva Maurice! No, I’m not saluting the friendly bartender who kept our cocktails topped up at the beach bar, I’m praising the sub-tropical island of Mauritius that enchanted me with its magic – and its people, the friendliest species I’ve ever come across.

 

“Bonjour monsieur. Bienvenue à bord Air Mauritius,” the flight attendant greeted me as I reclined into my comfortable business class seat on board the immaculate aircraft – my exotic journey to paradise has begun. The tropical island of Mauritius (commonly named Ile Maurice) about 2 000km off the south eastern coast of Africa, was a coconut throw away …

Given that my knowledge of the island paradise was limited to postcard pictures of reclining beach chairs in the shade of tall green palm trees with the turquoise Indian Ocean as its backdrop, the expectations for my first island break-away were high. Knowing that the media  were treated like kings on these excursions, being part of a media trip hosted by Air Mauritius, Connections, MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) has raised my expectations even more.

I have to admit, I could not figure out why Mauritius, a paradise where one should be relaxing, sipping tall cocktails on the beach, would market itself as a business travel destination. 

Yet thinking about it, makes perfect sense, given the latest international conferencing trend among executives – combining business and leisure travel, often taking family along – why not indeed mix business and pleasure?

The Air Mauritius MICE Tour would prove to be enlightening in terms of revealing the business tourism opportunities which the island affords the corporate traveller. 

Flying Air Mauritius (a five hour flight from Cape Town, four hours from Joburg) to the island, one arrives at night and from the airport it’s at least a 45-minute drive to the main hotels and resorts. 

In the dark, the drive along the winding road felt a lot longer, even though my taxi driver, Sanjeev, skillfully volunteered every detail about his country as we rushed through narrow roads in dark eerie-looking villages. 

I tried to tell him about South Africa, but could not get a word in. The two things he was most proud of was the fact that there is “no crime in Mauritius” and that a kaleidoscope of different cultures and religions live in perfect harmony – this time I did not chirp in.

 

Heritage Le Telfair

The next morning my postcard image unfolded in front of me as I stepped out of the sliding door of my luxury suite onto the beach at the beautiful colonial style Heritage Le Telfair resort at Bel Ombre in the south of the island. 

The day-long excursion that followed took us on a tour of the approximately 25km² property. The popular Heritage at Domaine de Bel Ombre offers state of the art conferencing facilities for about 80 people. Hotel guests can choose between two five-star resorts the Heritage Le Telfair (inspired by the Mauritian heritage) and the Heritage Awali Golf & Spa Resort. A number of privately owned luxury villas on an 18 hole championship golf course are for rent and all guests can make use of the 11 restaurants in the group. 

Two extra-ordinary spa villages’, two activity centres, the C Beach Club (which offers a wide variety of water sport and activities) and clubs for kids and teens will ensure that those accompanying business travellers are always occupied and entertained.

 

Four Seasons

Our next rendezvous took us along yet another amazing winding coastal drive to the Four Seasons Anahita resort on the less ‘tourist populated’ east coast. Where Le Telfair presented an elegant colonial ambience, taking guests back to the times of sugar cane barons, the somewhat more exclusive Four Seasons represents the modern manicured stylish upmarket Mauritian way of life. 

The resort, which consists of free-standing individual units, each with its own private plunge pool and luxurious accommodation, was designed to host business meetings and events. Its facilities are fully equipped for all types of events staging, from awards galas to multimedia presentations. Being an avid gardener: the indigenous tropical manicured gardens on the resort are absolutely breathtaking. Exploring the estate in the official modes of transport, by bicycle or golf cart-like buggies, I could not help but think that our very own Kirstenbosch could learn a thing or two. Two days were simply not long enough ...

 

Le Saint Géran

My short visit to Sol Kerzner’s One&Only hotel on the island left me with two main impressions: It’s extremely family friendly ambience – and the very grand Presidential Suite where heads of state and celebrities stay.

 

Exploring the island

Travelling by car in Mauritius is no problem, once one gets used to the peculiar driving habits of the locals. From the main towns and villages in the south to the north (the buzzing Grand Baie area), is about 60km. Visiting the capital, Port Louis, especially bargain shopping at the local market, is a definite must. Other towns of interest to us were Flic-en-Flac (a cosmopolitan seaside town in the east) and the Grand Baie area (the biggest tourist destination), both to be recommended to those who would prefer a buzz as opposed to a tranquil island experience. My personal gem is the less tourist drenched town of Quatre Bornes, a few kilometres inland – simply because it has a more local feel and oozes unpretentiousness. It’s a place where one could rub shoulders with the locals – and the prices are also a lot more reasonable. 

From a tourist point of view, the island is extremely family-friendly, which also counts in its favour when talking about extended business travel. However, Mauritius’ two biggest natural tourist attractions, the coloured sands in the mountains and pamplemousses in the north, were a bit of a disappointment. The first due to the rain wetting the sand, which dims the bright colours – the latter because some of the plants are diseased.

My biggest regret? That my French was too limited to truly understand and get to know the soul of the island – it’s amazing and friendly people. So when the time came to depart I did not say goodbye, just farewell – to a magical island and it’s people who have rightfully earned a special place in my world

 

Did you know?

There are more than 1,2 million people in
Mauritius – the unemployment rate is just below 9%.

A large portion of houses in Mauritius are purposely incomplete
(or under construction as they put it) because they don’t pay tax
on incomplete buildings. This law is about to change soon.

Nearly 40% of the island,
which is 2 040 km² in size, is covered in sugar cane.

Thousands of South Africans are living productive lives in
Mauritius – especially in the Black River district.

A number of SA brands are easily available in Mauritius, making it a very popular destination for many South Africans. These include Woolworths, Fruit & Veg, Shoprite,
Pick n Pay and Panarotti’s.

Other MICE hotels

• The Intercontinental • The Grand Mauritian • The Maritim • Le Meridien
• Shanti Maurice • Heritage Awali • Heritage Le Telfair • The Hilton

 

Useful tips

•  Of all the many different accommodation types, resorts offer all included packages, which work out more economical in the end.

•If you book at a resort and intend to spend most of your time eating and drinking there, opt for an all-inclusive / full board package, as food and beverages at most resorts are quite pricy.

•Should your group decide to take the kids, do your homework well, as some resorts have more to offer than others to keep the young ones entertained.

•Activities during the week at most resorts stop at midnight, and most people retire well before that, leaving the resorts rather quiet. Older teenagers and the twenty-something’s could get bored if the location is isolated and not near a main centre.

•Never let anyone talk you out of driving in Mauritius: Although the island is badly signposted (and the Mauritians have their own unique way of driving) one could never really get lost as most of the main roads eventually connect.

•Car rental costs can be expensive, but if you shop around, you can rent a car for just under R400 per day – a much more economical option than shuttle transfers (about R700 per person per time)

•Take Tabard – it’s a must. 

 

•Better deals are offered in the rainy season – but if you don’t want rain, you might be disappointed.

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