The makeover of Shangri-La’s exclusive Le Touessrok in Mauritius has added an authentic flavour to an already picture-perfect location, discovers Jane Broughton
The route from the airport in the south to Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, a long-time landmark on the east coast of Mauritius, cuts through sugar-cane fields before the road dips, narrows and passes through the first of several sleepy, coastal villages that are fairly indistinguishable from each other. My driver hoots gently to shoo old ladies in jewel-bright saris, stray dogs and mopeds out of his path, brakes for a stream of school children gathered at the local bus stop and waits patiently while a delivery truck backs into the road. I’m witnessing island time in action. No one seems to be in a hurry. But soon we’re accelerating slowly out the other end of the village and I finally get my first proper, uninterrupted view of the Indian Ocean: fishing boats in sheltered coves, the low tide revealing tantalising slivers of white-sand beach, and waves breaking where the coral reef separates the lagoon from the open sea.
Airline companies like us to believe that a holiday begins the moment you board their flight, but, unless you’re flying up front in the realm of flat-beds and chilled Champagne, I’m not convinced. Island fever only kicks in properly when I open the car window and breathe in the sticky, salty, slightly perfumed air – shockingly warm in comparison to the air-conditioned confines of the vehicle – that is reminiscent of tropical retreats and good times.
The east coast of Mauritius does not have the west coast’s Instagram-worthy sunsets. Untrammelled and less developed than the bustling north-west coast of the island, it has retained a charming sense of place and that’s a large part of its allure. Almost 40 years ago, when South African hotelier Sol Kerzner was given first dibs by the Mauritian government on prime beachfront land, it’s hardly surprising that he chose Trou d’eau Douce Bay on the east coast as the site of his first luxury resort, Le Touessrok. In less than an hour, we’re driving through the gates of the resort’s extensive grounds, coming to a stop beneath the biggest banyan I’ve ever seen. At night, it twinkles with hundreds of lanterns. I’m welcomed with music, iced hibiscus-infused green tea and a bouquet of tropical blooms to take to my room.
Le Touessrok reopened in December 2015 after a £21 million refurbishment. The basic footprint of the resort hasn’t changed much, but everything else is new. The island’s rich melting pot of cultural influences have been worked into the interiors with contemporary artworks by young local artists, such as Gael Froget, and sleek homegrown furniture custom-made from rough-hewn, recycled mango wood. In the lobby, tables have been fashioned from thick, gnarled, salvaged tree roots supporting slabs of glass, and an arresting art installation captures the swirling energy and colour of traditional sega dancing.
The rooms, of which there are 200 of differing sizes and configurations, are equally grounded in Mauritius, with colours and motifs from the natural surroundings echoed in subtle design details and the loveliest, locally made bath amenities. Where you choose to stay will depend a lot on what you want to do.
Linked to the mainland by a wooden bridge, ultra-private Frangipani Island is traditionally the reserve of couples and honeymooners (it has an adults-only pool), but is also the place to stay if you are planning to frequent the CHI Spa and fitness centre. There are daily yoga, pilates and stretch classes, personal trainers on standby, and specialised strengthening programmes for golfers, tennis players and water-sport junkies. I’m far more interested in the holistic Indo-Asian, Ayurvedic-leaning treatments at the spa, which has a welcoming, down-to-earth ambience and organic Ila products made in England. I book an hour-long Jet Lag Rescue Release massage, even though I can’t have jet lag, as I’ve only flown for five hours and have hardly noticed the two-hour time difference. The success of my treatment is a combination of the lovely therapist’s soothing voice and powerful hands and the customised salve that melts into my parched skin, a fragrant infusion of organic oil and botanicals from the spa’s Ayurvedic garden.
By choice, I have a top-floor room in the end block of the Hibiscus wing, a series of low-rise, Mediterranean-style buildings following the curve of the beach and bay. I sleep with my balcony doors open to the cacophony of birdsong in the trees, enjoying the breeze and waking to the sun peeping over the far horizon, turning the clouds fleetingly to pink and mauve.
Hibiscus’s inter-leading rooms on the ground floor are the ones to request if you’re holidaying with young children, with convenient direct beach access and close proximity to the large free-form pool, kids club and teen centre.
The sea-facing rooms in the Coral wing lead directly on to a quiet beach that gets late-afternoon sun. From here, it’s a short walk to the resort’s private jetty, where small boats arrive and depart every 20 minutes to ferry guests to either Île aux Cerfs or Ilot Mangénie.
Personally, access to these small islands is Le Touessrok’s real attraction. If you’re feeling energetic, Île aux Cerfs beckons with a fully staffed boathouse, free-to-use motorised water sports, kayaking in the mangroves, SUP and sailing lessons, plus complimentary use of the great 18-hole Bernhard Langer-designed golf course.
In the other direction, you can fulfil all your Robinson Crusoe fantasies without forfeiting any creature comforts by alighting on Ilot Mangénie’s tiny jetty, where butlers rush forward with iced face cloths, offer to clean the sea spray off your sunglasses and insist on spritzing sunscreen on hard-
to-reach areas, like your back. Thereafter, you are left alone to find your place in the sun on the uninhabited island, which is totally private and reserved exclusively for Le Touessrok guests. Sun recliners are set up in the shade of thatched umbrellas, and the ocean shallows are great for a dip, followed by a freshwater shower. There’s a rustic beach bar serving ice-cold Phoenix beer, cocktails and simple seafood, such as fresh red snapper in a tomato-rich Creole sauce or a delicious palm-heart salad with swordfish ceviche. I would check into Le Touessrok again, simply
to have access to the abundant array of unadulterated pleasures that Ilot Mangénie has to offer.
One morning, I joined a day trip to explore the east coast’s tiny islands and shipwrecks, zoomed across the translucent water in a bright-pink speed boat vibrating with reggae beats, navigated the black waters of a river to get a close-up view of a waterfall, and snorkelled in the marine reserve at Blue Bay. Afterwards, sunburnt and tired, we tucked into spicy barbecued prawns and rum punch on a beach under the shade of casuarinas.
It takes a while to notice that music is the common thread that ties everything at Le Touessrok together. Toto Lebrasse, the entertainment director, is a talented musician in his own right, and knows all the best musicians on the island. In the intimate, open-air Sega Bar, which makes fantastic tiki cocktails using artisanal Mauritian rum (either smoked or vanilla-infused), talented Creole musicians will lure you in after dinner with a mix of original songs and cover versions.
At Republik Beach Club & Grill, open from breakfast to late, soulful grooves suit the boho-chic vibe, which encourages you to kick off your shoes and sink into a sofa on the sand. Firepits warm things up late into the evening, and the bar’s speciality is a collection of more than 20 home-brewed tequila infusions displayed in enormous glass jars. A DJ plays beats at cocktail hour, and there are regular themed dinner shows and jam sessions, too.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite meal from my stay, because even the breakfast buffet in the main marketplace restaurant, Le Bazar, is exceptionally good. I am pleasantly surprised to hear that all the Indian dishes on the evening buffet are prepared by the specialist chefs at Safran, a dinner-only restaurant known for its modern Indian cuisine served as generous sharing portions. I happily overdose on fresh seafood, enjoying authentic sushi, prepared in front of me by a Japanese sushi master, and the fun of searing tuna and scallops on the DIY tabletop yakiniku grill at Kushi, a Japanese restaurant.
Shangri-La has taken the old-school resort model and turned it on its head, without compromising the value-added attractions of a package holiday. Art, music, drinks and traditional dishes, all grounded in authentic island culture, inform every aspect of staying here.
Whether you’re a young, fun-seeking family or booking a romantic escape for two, expect a hip hang-out with lashings of Mauritian flavour and style at the new-look Le Touessrok.
Photography: courtesy images