Lord Sugar Will See You Now: Lusso’s Donald Twain Visits Mauritius
Donald Twain, sap rising, throws his boules around and whips out his machete in an attempt at seduction on the paradise island of Mauritius.
We’re 3-0 down and my last throw is the only thing saving us from a straight-sets demolition. The coconut rum cocktail I’m slurping (my third) is doing wonders for my chutzpah, though it seems to be claiming deftness as payment. ‘Aim for the small one in the middle, Donald.’ ‘Yeah yeah, I’ve got this – I’m half French, remember.’
The game is pétanque; our opponents are the same kite-surfing instructors who helped us resemble crash-test dummies in the water, two hours earlier. My team-mate, Jennifer, is another on our junket. She’s not my usual type (proper gentlemen love redheads), but I’m attracted to her. It’s remarkable what boules can do for the mechanics of lust. Thoughts yo-yoing from my swing to her curves, I finally release the steel sphere up and towards the cochonnet …
This merry game shone out in my few days in Mauritius. It’s a small example of the enduring European influence here. The footprint of bygone French and British rule is evident in most facets of the island experience: the languages (creole is the lingua franca), cooking, its multi-provenance population – even the landscape. Spend any time away from the beach and you’ll notice the ubiquity of a single robust grass species. Sugar cane – 40% of the island’s 2,000 or so square miles are covered in the stuff, and it remains a major contributor to the island’s economy.
The monoculture makes for an impressive, sometimes eerie sight. We passed through a plantation on our way to see the Fréderica Nature Reserve. It was harvest season, which sees fields set alight to clear surrounding scrubs, preparing the cane for machetes. One of our party insisted we stop to see things up close, so I took the chance to penetrate the sooty thicket. Before anyone could serve admonishment, I snapped off a stalk and put my maw to work. One positive gnash and the gummy sap poured. Then, at once, we all silently sucked the sweetness from its moreish lengths – like children content with nature’s bash at Brighton rock.
To avoid group-wide pancreatic shut down, we moved on, up to the reserve. Way above sea level, knock-out views revealed a topography of grassy valleys and ebony-covered hills. Once the home of indigenous dodo and tortoise populations, they’ve long-since been slain for dinner and replaced with imported quadrupeds. Thrillingly, we eye a stag nobly strutting among the trees. While it’s not shouted about, big-game hunting is an option, which goes in some way to control the number of deer and boar in the park. It’ll cost you, though.
The reserve itself is part of Heritage Resorts, which occupies the 2,500-hectare Domaine de Bel Ombre on the island’s quieter, more verdant south-west side. Divided into three very different propositions, the resort comprises Le Telfair, Awali, and the Villas. Le Telfair’s white-wood colonial theme contrasts with the African stylings of neighbouring Awali (both are five star). But it was in the Villas we stayed. Found hillside, at the far end of the resort’s championship golf course – which recently hosted the inaugural AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open – 45 slick properties offer what’s needed to hide away in luxury for the duration of your stay. There’s a golf buggy parked on every drive, however, should you favour dining at one of the resort’s 12 restaurants. I recommend a boar dinner at the Chateau de Bel Ombre, an 19th-century colonial French mansion near the golf course.
It was from our villa’s expansive patio that I first caught eye of the coral reef, which runs parallel to a 170km stretch of the island’s shoreline. Taming waves before they arrive at humans, the result is water perfect snorkelling and kite surfing. The latter piqued my interest, so I took lessons. You have no idea how fierce the wind can get when you throw a parachute-shaped sail in its face. Catch it right (or wrong in my case) and you’ll be propelled with a force that shrinks baby-making apparatus. When you eventually relax and understand what it’s likely to do, you’ll feel like the father of dragons: in control of something far more powerful than yourself. My pétanque rivals did a grand job of getting me somewhere near confident in a few fast-moving hours. Going solo would have required longer, though. Book a six-hour block of lessons (for €265 through kiteglobing.com or directly at the resort’s C Beach Club) and you’ll be well on your way.
Those of a more passive bent will favour a day’s touring inland. The excursion I went on took me to an area called Chamarel, where we glimpsed at examples of the island’s endemic beauty. Looking into an extinct – now verdant – volcano, and at the 100m-high Chamarel Falls, made the trip worthwhile, but it was the Seven Coloured Earths of Chamarel that stole the show. This relatively small collection of volcanic dunes are iron and aluminium rich, which makes for sandy rainbows. It’s an odd kind of beautiful – I couldn’t help likening them to a collection of naked bodies, lying prone on the earth. But then – that’s me.
Looking at multicoloured bums is thirsty work, so I was pleased to move on to the Rhumerie de Chamarel (rhumeriedechamarel.com), a picturesque distillery nearby. Over lunch, we were told the differences between agricultural rum (created with pure sugar cane) and its rough molasses-based cousin, ‘industrial’. A snappy tour didn’t make much of an impact, but the XO tasting that preceded it still pleasantly lingers.
That evening, we had the chance to try more of the fiery spirit around a camp fire, at the Awali resort. Suited to more adventurous guests, the Boma experience saw us tucking into grilled meats, while taking in a performance of choreographed African dance and fire-breathing. As I sipped on yet another wood-aged rum, I began to wonder whether spitting fire would make Jennifer like me back. My performance at boules certainly didn’t clinch it.
Heritage Resorts, on the southern coast of Mauritius, is made up of three charming properties – Heritage Le Telfair, Heritage Awali and Heritage The Villas. Heritage The Villas is a collection of luxury villas set within the breathtaking beauty of a nature reserve. They offer unlimited access to Le Telfair and Awali hotels’ facilities.
A two-bedroom villa costs from £365 per night (four sharing) on a self-catering basis (www.heritageresorts.mu; +230 266 9768). To book island tours, visit www.heritageresorts.mu.