One&Only Le Saint Géran pool
One&Only Le Saint Géran pool
Image: Debbie Hathway

A friend recently enquired whether the staff at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport passport control in Mauritius know me by name. They should. I visit that often. And I have a dodo tattoo on my right shoulder that makes them smile every time.

My love affair with Mauritius began at the iconic One&Only Le Saint Géran in April 2013. That wasn’t my first visit to the island, but it was the life-changing one. I learnt to dance in the rain, thanks to the then-resident band, the Famous 9, and began a journey to wellness under Chinese medicine authority and practitioner Francesc Miralles. His Harmonia programme is an essential experience at the award-winning spa. Since then I’ve returned to the island — and this special peninsula — countless times: sometimes to stay, but also to connect with friends and, perhaps more importantly, myself. I inadvertently responded to something recently “as a Mauritian”, so perhaps residency will be my reality one day.

This island has an irresistible magic that wills you to stop doing and simply to start being. That means different things to different people, but for me it brings excitement, energy, and inspiration — rejuvenation on all levels. While most people choose to recline next to the pool or the sea, drinking cocktails all day, I’m walking, swimming, exploring, relaxing at the spa, and dancing until the last note is played.

I tell people there’s something in the air that sparks that transformation — and there’s scientific proof of this. Research conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2015 rates Mauritius’ air quality as one of the best in the world. I’ll never forget the night I waltzed in through the One&Only Le Saint Géran foyer, making a beeline for my usual spot at the bar, and being greeted by Nemdharry Ramesh, the bar manager, who told me how fantastic I looked. I’d been on the island for only two hours.

One&Only Le Saint Géran
One&Only Le Saint Géran
Image: Supplied

When the long-awaited resort renovation was announced, to the tune of $55-million, it was with some trepidation that regular guests (known as repeaters) looked elsewhere for their annual getaway, as they waited for the time when those magnificent driveway gates would open to them once again. “Our comprehensive redesign builds on what our guests already treasure, such as the unrivalled welcome and care of our loyal staff, and our extraordinary location and services,” says general manager Charles de Foucault. “But we have added even more. Following guest feedback we decided to add more suites, all with private butler service; and more interconnecting rooms, all beautifully designed to ensure that both new and loyal guests will find the resort to be a true luxury tropical oasis.”

FAMILIAR TERRITORY

It was a big ask — keeping loyal guests happy, making enough significant changes to attract new ones, and aiming to reclaim the resort’s position at the top of a competitive luxury hierarchy. There are far more players now than when it opened 42 years ago under legendary South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner. “In his quest to find the right location to build a hotel on Mauritius, Sol spent many an hour striding the island’s frangipani-fringed beaches,” wrote Patricia Lepic, author of Little Secrets of a Great Hotel. “Then one day, he sat down, and gazed at the sea. He watched how the sun set neatly behind the lagoon. He listened to the canaries on the headland and made up his mind. ‘I can stop searching now. This is the place.’” It’s represented paradise for a multitude of prestigious guests ever since.

When I returned to One&Only Le Saint Géran soon after it reopened in December, my arrival was as memorable as ever. The staff make you feel like royalty, from the gate security team whose faces light up when they hear my name, to the new recruits at reception who’ve never met me. As I walked in through that majestic wooden doorway, I scanned the smiling staff for familiar faces, looking around to see what had changed and wondering if I’d like it.

In fact, everything had changed, except the main structure of the building. It’s totally different, effectively made over in a contemporary style and generally — as many regulars agree — improved. Enquiring minds will find there’s a story behind every detail.

The interiors have a more graceful elegance now, decorated in muted shades of white marble, teak, and grey, with bespoke furnishings and fabrics that reflect the lush tropical landscape, the vibrant blues of the Indian Ocean, and the sun-bleached sand. South African design consultancy dsgn worked closely with the resort team to ensure that the rooms truly capture the essence of Mauritius. Think natural materials, such as timber, stone, leather, and linen that contribute to an understated sense of style.

INSIGHTFUL DESIGN

The east coast can be windy, but somehow never enough to disturb a solid night’s rest, thanks to the combination of plush mattresses, dreamy pillows, and cool linen. This time I was sensitive to the changes underfoot: the soft-pile carpet in the dressing room, and the parquet-effect ceramic floor tiles that maintain a temperature that’s just right.

The egg-shaped bath might be a challenge for those who like to luxuriate in bathtime bliss though, as I was keen to do coming from drought-stricken Cape Town. I’m tall, and I found the angle of the back rest not conducive to sliding down for a good soak. I tried, but succeeded only at shooting down to the other side to rest in a very unglamorous pose.

For guests comparing old with new, the gastronomic offering holds enormous appeal. La Terrasse is now closer to the ocean, and features new dining pavilions over a pool shaded by traditional shutters. It’s open for breakfast and dinner, and there’s a selection of Mauritian, Indian, Chinese, and Mediterranean cuisine available, served on brightly coloured crockery sourced from Mexico and Europe.

One&Only Le Saint Géran La Terrasse
One&Only Le Saint Géran La Terrasse
Image: Supplied

It’s my favourite venue for dinner because it’s close to the bandstand. Stephan Gebert, Jos de Souza, and Ingrid Arles, who will be remembered by regulars for their performances with the Famous 9, are as dynamic as ever on vocals, and backed by Gebert’s Groove Avenue band.

L’Artisan, with its joyful colours and rustic, crafted furnishings, is new. Designed as an artisanal bakery and coffee lounge, plus the source of an all-day breakfast, it doubles as the dessert court for La Terrasse at night.

GASTRONOMIC INDULGENCES

Lunch is best enjoyed at the tip of the peninsula, where you can dig your toes in the sand beneath the thatched-roof pavilions at La Pointe beach restaurant at Palm Grove, while feasting on freshly grilled seafood or watch the sun set over a signature cocktail.

I was delighted to find both my favourite barmen on duty during my stay. Soondar Amar is still quick to produce a scented face towel and glass of bubbly every time I leave the dance floor. His attentiveness is one example of why guests praise the staff here. And this time Amar took it up a notch. I had caught a cold and was feeling unwell enough to refuse alcohol and order vanilla tea. He took one look at me and returned armed with a pot of boiling water filled with fresh citronelle (lemon grass), ginger, and honey. It tasted like nectar.

This island has an irresistible magic that wills you to stop doing and simply to start being... 

I found Laurent Gerard, my other favourite barman, at Prime, the steakhouse that has acquired an ultra-modern, industrial aesthetic. Prime, open for dinner only, offers rare vintages and sustainable wines from around the world, as well as rum infusions that taste like more. Head chef Vikash Coonjan buys locally wherever possible and draws on his Mauritian roots to prepare tasty dishes for guests.

The overwater restaurant Tapasake completes the evening-dining offering. It has a particularly romantic setting — next to the lagoon and away from the main resort area. The restaurant’s open kitchen showcases a contemporary Asian tapas bar where guests and visitors can enjoy sushi, teppanyaki, batayaki, and tandoor in the tapas style.

UNRIVALLED LOCATION

Next year the resort will be unveiling private residences, each with their own pool, for those regulars like me who never wish to leave. These will be located on what used to be the golf course, and will feature a full suite of amenities and resort services for guests to enjoy the Mauritian life, One&Only style.

One&Only Le Saint Géran’s attraction always been underpinned by its unsurpassed location on this private peninsula, its unrivalled views, and its legendary staff. The resort has now increased its appeal to modern travellers with new dining concepts, impressive public spaces, and beautifully designed suites and villas.

The high rainfall during the first quarter of 2018 will no doubt have done much to rejuvenate the resort’s landscaped gardens, which suffered during the construction period. The ducks had not returned to their regular poolside spot, and the grey-crowned crane was not walking his usual beat along the stream that leads to the spa. No doubt, like loyal guests, they will soon return. 

- From the June edition of Wanted magazine.

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