The stereotypical Club Med vacation gets a remix at La Plantation D’Albion in Mauritius, whereflies through a medley of activities – sometimes, literally
"DON'T YOU TRUST ME?" asks my Italian instructor, Gabriele Sapienza, with a grin as he points to his bulging biceps from the ground below. I’m standing on a trapeze platform more than seven metres high. Fear shoots through my body as I lower my gaze. Spread below me is a lush carpet of treetops and the crashing surf of the Indian Ocean. Taking a deep breath, I grab the wooden bar and leap into the air. The directions come rapidly and the adrenaline hits. Before long I’m upside down, hurtling through the sky.
A clumsy somersault later and my feet land back on the sun-bleached earth. “Welcome to the circus. Here’s a badge,” jokes Sapienza as I disentangle myself from the harness. Friendly applause erupts as the bystanders cheer on the next person in line.
I’m in a small forest near the western edge of Mauritius at Club Med’s La Plantation D’Albion. It’s my second day at the resort and I’ve just completed a flying-trapeze lesson.
Though this reads like a typical Club Med holiday – enthusiastic staff, gregarious guests and group activities – La Plantation is different. Less summer camp and more Saint-Tropez, the resort has kept its outdoor philosophy but ramped up the luxury. Clinging to the island’s dramatic coastline, this is one of the most exclusive properties in Club Med’s portfolio.
Arriving late the previous night, we drive for an hour from the airport to reach the remote resort. Leaving behind large billboards and fluorescent street lamps, we push into narrow roads skirted by sugarcane fields. Once we’re inside La Plantation’s estate, chauffeured buggies promptly pull up to the lobby to drive us to our rooms. Winding through tall trees and cacti, we’re gradually plunged into darkness. We pass the occasional lantern, but otherwise the only thing we can see clearly are the stars dotting the sky.
Located at the far end of the property, my suite is hidden behind dense foliage. The lounge is painted in warm ochre and filled with rustic furniture; deep pink cushions are nestled in a cavernous wooden daybed and delicate lamps dangle low from the bedroom ceiling. In the bathroom is an inviting marble tub flush next to a large window and an outdoor rain shower shaded by banana trees.
In the morning I awake to sunlight flooding through the curtains and the ocean at the foot of my bed. Pulling open the glass doors, I stare in disbelief. Glistening rocks snake across the water as frothy waves crawl towards me. Set out on the veranda is a simple feast of guava juice, cheese, exotic preserves and freshly baked croissants. An electric-yellow bird joins me, parading fearlessly on the banister. Sinking into one of the lounge chairs, I savour a slow sip of coffee as my hesitations about Club Med disappear into thin air.
Rich in wildlife, Mauritius is unflinching in its beauty. Charles Baudelaire described it as “the perfumed land that the sun caresses.” A volcanic speck east of Madagascar, it was discovered by Arab merchants in the year 1000 but quickly abandoned because of its isolation from trade routes. It was only in 1507 that the Portuguese settled on the untamed island.
In many ways, Club Med’s 21-hectare resort is Mauritius in microcosm. Positioned between mountains and the shore, its interior, like the island, is submerged in tropical vegetation, its edges fringed by white sand beaches. Similar to Mauritius’ multiethnic population, Club Med is known for its diverse staff, a large majority of whom are locals. Many of them speak Creole, so echoes of bonzours (hello) can be heard across the property.
Unlike regular hotel employees, Club Med has Gentils Organisateurs or GOs (gracious/nice organisers) who mingle with guests through the day and evening. If you walk past the main pool, you’ll often find boisterous waterpolo matches or other games taking place between guests and staff. In other parts of the property, they’ll be coaching tennis or taking people out snorkelling. Come early evening, tropical music wafts through the air from the main bar, activities come to a standstill and the GOs pull up a chair to join guests for dinner and drinks.
Admittedly, making small talk with strangers isn’t my idea of an island getaway, but I quickly discover that there’s hope for the reclusive traveller. Wandering through the property on the third day, I find private gardens, a Parisian spa and a castaway beach. As an antidote to an afternoon of drinks with other guests and GOs, I escape to the Zen pool perched beside the ocean. Floating in the turquoise water, I watch the sun slip behind the tropical plants on the horizon.
By day four I’m anxious to explore the island, so I take a taxi into the capital, Port Louis. Steering clear of the tourist haunts lining the waterfront, I venture down an underpass leading to the old market. Absorbing myself in the crowded alleyways, I feel as though I’ve reached the beating heart of the island. At one stall an Indian woman crouches in a colourful sari, hawking vegetables in French. Across from her, a Rasta man with a spiral of dreadlocks piled like a turban on his head sways to reggae music. To the left, men sell Mexican tobacco inside a shop front painted with red Chinese characters.
Back at the resort for dinner, I run into a group of Mauritian GOs and press them on what I should explore on my last day. Jeff, one of the younger ones, insists that I try one of the Club Med excursions to see the south, “for a more local experience.” Although I’m reluctant to sit on a tour bus during my last few hours on the island, Jeff assures me that the itinerary covers some of Mauritius’ prime real estate.
Early the next day, the bus whisks us out of the resort and past brightly painted doors and shutters of small convenience stores in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The tour stretches through the afternoon, taking us to dramatic waterfalls, dormant volcanoes and Hindu temples. Moving past Port Louis, we see guava trees rippling in a landscape of coffee plantations, salt-drying fields and acres of fragrant tea.
For centuries Mauritius was a colonial incubator of sorts, with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British in succession laying claim to the island. Africans and Indians were brought over as slaves and indentured labour; Chinese came later as traders, setting up shops in the capital. Today Mauritius is a blend of Indians, people of mixed Creole origin and small groups of Chinese and French descendants.
Driving down the time-mellowed streets of Moka town, we stop to explore a colonial Creole home named Eureka. Set in a garden of mango trees and palms, the massive white wooden mansion was transformed into a museum in the 1980s. Once owned by Eugène Leclézio, an ancestor of the 2008 Nobel literature laureate JMG Le Clézio, it’s referred to by locals as the house of 109 doors. Slipping inside the dark vestibule is like peering into the island’s colonial past. Each room is preserved in haunting detail, infused with Chinese, European or Indian influences. Lingering on the shaded veranda that coils around the house, I find myself reluctant to leave for the airport.
A far cry from the overrun beaches of Indonesia and Thailand, Mauritius holds an unrivalled charm. With its atmospheric mélange of Asian, Creole and European inhabitants, the island is a hotbed of culture. Our guide, Stella Miniopoo, admits that Mauritius may not be the most affluent of nations, but shrugs it off cheerfully. “We manage like this,” she says, pointing to the lush surroundings. “Rich or poor, life goes on.”Payal Uttam flew to Mauritius courtesy of Air Mauritius
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