Delicious Mauritius review: a visit to Bel Ombre, Mauritius offers sun, sand, and sustainable gastronomy
Delicious Mauritius: a visit to Bel Ombre, Mauritius offers sun, sand, and sustainable gastronomy
Close your eyes, picture the platonic notion of a paradise. If your mind flitted to turquoise seas, stretches of empty white beach, rare birds soaring from exotic treetops, reclining on a lounger, ice cold cocktail in hand, you have pictured Mauritius. As Mark Twain quipped, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.”
Part of the Mascarene Archipelago, this honey of an island is situated in the Indian Ocean. Where once it was frequented by carousing pirates, now it’s a plum spot for luxury hotels and holidaymakers. Its population is a happily eclectic mix of French, Creole, Indian and Chinese. In the interest of research, I sojourned to the village of Bel Ombre, on the unspoilt south coast of Mauritius, to cast a rigorous eye over the splendour and see if Mark Twain, indeed, had it right.
Where to stay: Hotel Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort
I stayed at the Hotel Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort. Positioned on the Domaine de Bel Ombre estate, it was formerly a sugar plantation. Now, the picturesque tracts of land formerly owned by 19th-century Irish naturalist Charles Telfair hold two 5-star hotels, 12 restaurants, a nature reserve, a beach club, an 18-hole championship golf course, a kitesurfing school, two spas, and the nineteenth-century Chateaux Bel Ombre.
Accommodation: Le Telfair - Rates start from £302 /night, for 2 adults and 2 children up to 11 years old sharing a Deluxe Suite on a Bed & Breakfast basis.
Please note prices may differ depending on dates.
Hotel Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort (which sits next to its sister hotel, the similarly five-starred Heritage Awali) is proudly colonial in style. Its 158 suites are housed in two-storey clapper-boarded villas. The suites offer luxury with a capital luxe - spacious, airy rooms house a vast 4-poster bed that I absolutely sank into night after night: it is the first recorded instance of me heading to bed excited at the prospect of feeling the sheets against my skin. In the balmy evenings, I’d sup cocktails on a wide, handsome balcony, overlooking the grounds, where tropical gardens studded the villas, and a lazy river meandered its way through the grounds, separating the villas from the restaurants, as if to offer a veil of privacy from the hubbub of diners.
Oh, reader. If you’re considering a honeymoon location or a blow-out stay for a landmark celebration, you would be well advised to splurge on the Telfair.
Semaine de la Gastronomie Durable
The food at Heritage Le Telfair sits at the higher end of quality for what you receive at five star hotels. With three restaurants: the French-inflected Le Palmier, Pan Asian Gin’ja, or the Grande Brasserie style Annabellas, there’s plenty of varied food available year round. But if you want a unique taste of the island, head to the Telfair in September, when they stage the Sustainable Gastronomy Week.
Then, the hotel restaurants play host to accomplished chefs (this year’s fete featured meals created by Michelin-starred chefs, Thomas Collomb and Florian Descours), celebrating sustainable cooking techniques and a ‘locavore’ approach to sourcing. Ingredients were sourced from the island’s farmers, fishermen and growers. For five days, we fatted ourselves like foie gras goose on multi-course creations.
How was the food? Accomplished, varying from very good to utterly delectable, but the locavore approach means dining over a week you will ingest a whole deer’s worth of venison, a school of seabass, and enough hearts of palms to wonder if one would grow in my stomach. It was all precisely prepared, to be sure. As the festival is in its comparative infancy - this was the second year it ran - I hope it will flourish as it continues, and the menu will seek out other pleasures of the islands to highlight.
A short walk or golf buggy jaunt from the main buildings of the Heritage Telfair sits one of Mauritius’ most celebrated restaurants, the elegant Le Château de Bel Ombre. A restored colonial building, it’s another jarring example of how Mauritians seem comfortable celebrating the hierarchies of their history - when I put it to the hotel PR that many regard colonialism as a very bad thing, the retort is “well, yes, but the buildings are so beautiful”, and, yes, I guess they are.
Le Château de Bel Ombre was previously a sugar plantation, the legacy of which is lush gardens and a gorgeous water feature surrounding the manse. It’s unquestionably romantic - if you’re looking to pitch woo abroad with your partner, this would be the restaurant to take them to.
Currency: Mauritian rupee (Rs)
Language: Mauritian Creole, though English is ubiquitous at hotels and restaurants Time difference: Mauritius is 4 hours ahead of the UK
Visas: You don't need a visa to visit Mauritius. When you arrive your passport will be stamped, allowing you to stay in the country for 60 days
A subtropical climate makes Mauritius a welcome destination year round. I visited in July, their winter, when highs sat at a comfortable 25 degrees. It’s most popular with travellers October through to December, the dry season.
What to do: take a day trip to Port Louis
Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, is a little over an hour’s drive from Bel Ombre. It’s worth the day trip if you can manage it, to spy the bustling food markets, smell the heady fug of the city, and eat as locals do. There, the wealth disparity is on stark show: far from the rarified surrounds of the Heritage Telfair, locals will dine on the filling, pleasingly greasy dholl puri, a flatbread filled with spiced yellow split peas, which will set you back 18 rupees - or about 35 pence.
The bustle of Port Louis can provide a necessary jolt to the system after the idyllic torpor of Bel Ombre: all colour, traffic and noise, with glorious banyan trees twisting and towering over the city square. It’s a top spot for spying street art, or simply ambling around the gorgeous Caudan Waterfront.
Head to the beach
I did not, I confess, make a journey to the World of Seashells, a museum located in proximity to the Heritage Telfair that I was reliably informed by a couple staying at my hotel was “more interesting than it sounds” - so if beach detritus/adornments hold your attention, it could be worth a look.
I did, however, avail myself of the excellent water activities the area had to offer. Domaine de Bel Ombre has a vast reef snaking around its bay, encasing a gorgeous natural lagoon, with current and wind enough for water sports - they claim, the best on the island. Try paddle boarding (ludicrously good fun, and easily learnt by a newcomer), kayaking, kite-surfing (a thrill), waterskiing, or scuba diving, all of which (tide permitting, and at extra cost) can be organised by the hotel concierge.
The Bel Ombre Nature Reserve
It was sold to me as a safari, but I find it difficult to refer to the Bel Ombre Nature Reserve as one when the only animal I spied on a two-hour exploration was a very distant monkey. Nevertheless, it makes for a diverting trip, if the idle idyll of the hotel gets too much for you. You’re driven slowly across 1300 hectares of natural vegetation by a guide, the protected reserve offers an insight into the island’s biodiversity. While I failed to sight any of the rare species of birds on the land, in addition to the distant monkey I did spy waterfalls, and took in unparalleled views of the island.
The hotel also offers the Seven Colours Spa, where guests can enjoy a jacuzzi pool and sauna or book in for a massage treatment. I was advised mine would realign my chakras, and while I may dispute that claim, it was nevertheless pleasantly lulling.
Dine with a view: La Chamarel Panoramic Restaurant
If you wish to experience gastronomic pleasures away from the Heritage resorts, the La Chamarel Panoramic Restaurant is the prettiest place to do so. Sat high above treetops,
you’re offered a 180 degree view of the coastline. Your eyes will feast on the Le Morne peninsula, sweeping across the blue-green ocean to the placid majesty of Tamarin mountain.
As to literal feasting - the food does not reach the dizzying heights of the offerings at the Le Château de Bel Ombre - but then, thankfully neither do the prices. Instead it’s perfectly lovely, local Creole fare, with many a heart of palm or seafood dish for your pleasure. The cumulative effect of the view and the hearty food will leave you more than sated, I promise.