Lying off the eastern coast of Africa, about 800 kilometres east of Madagascar, Mauritius is one of the Indian Ocean's greatest treasures.
Famed for its natural beauty with lush rainforests, volcanic mountain peaks, stunning coral reefs and white sandy beaches, it's also home to more five-star hotels than any other destination in the region.
Among these, is the One&Only Le Saint Geran — one of the island's oldest luxury resorts. Over the years, it's become a firm favourite among A-listers, with Charlize Theron, Prince William and Nelson Mandela all having stayed here (according to our butler) and last month, Egyptian actor Yasmine Sabri was holidaying in the tropical hideaway.
The National paid a visit to find out what travellers' can expect when checking into this Mauritian grand dame.
We’re met at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport airport by smiling staff and a sleek air-conditioned Mercedes that takes us on the one-hour drive to the One&Only Le Saint Geran.
The journey is a great introduction to the country and we pass endless sugar-cane plantations, brightly coloured villages and Jurassic Park-style mountains.
If you’re keen for a faster arrival, there's the option to arrive via a 20-minute helicopter transfer that lands on the resort's beachfront helipad.
For us normal folk, check-in is completed directly in our villas, making it an entirely hassle-free process.
As the first luxury hotel to open in Mauritius back in 1975, the One&Only Le Saint Geran had the pick of locations on the island and you’ll struggle to find one in a better spot than this retreat on Pointe de Flacq.
Set on a private peninsula peppered with coconut palm trees and kilometres of pristine private coastline there are sweeping Indian Ocean views on one side and a tranquil mangrove lagoon on the other.
Take a boat trip across the lagoon to Sagar Shiv Mandir, a Hindu temple surrounded by the water, or go kayaking in the mangroves, a haven for bird and marine life.
City seekers can get to the capital of Port Louis on the opposite side of the island in less than an hour.
The safety measures
Mauritius reopened to holidaymakers in October 2021, and welcomes both vaccinated and unvaccinated tourists.
If you're not vaccinated against Covid-19 you'll have extra follow-up tests, but if you're fully jabbed then all you need to do is take a PCR test when you arrive at your hotel.
At One&Only Le Saint Geran, this is complimentary and carried out quickly and efficiently by local medical professionals in a small room above the hotel lobby before check-in.
Impressively, all in-room hygiene packs containing face masks and hand sanitisers are plastic free, one of very few hotels that has found a solution to the pandemic plastic surge.
Renovated in 2017, the resort has 142 rooms and suites all with ocean or cove-facing views and we’re lucky enough to be staying in a spacious 150-square-metre beachfront suite.
Each of these comes with two bathrooms, a dining area, spacious lounge, walk-in dressing room, huge bathroom, outdoor shower terrace and a double-length alfresco decking area.
There is an intriguing mix of textures from the rattan sideboards and wooden parquet floors to the marble tables and colonial-style sliding glass and whitewashed doors.
Cool, contemporary interiors allow the view to take centre stage — and what a view it is, with a verdant green expanse of palm trees stretching out to a white shoreline backed by an ocean of cobalt blue.
Each room comes with 24-hour butler service, with staff contactable via WhatsApp if they’re not within eye shot, so you’ll want for nothing.
A favourite with celebrities, royals and high society, this spot also draws loved-up honeymooners, families and repeat guests, some travellers have stayed at the resort almost every year since it opened nearly five decades ago.
It's not hard to see the appeal. There are three infinity pools and two kilometres of private shorelines plus a boathouse, watersports activities, tennis courts and a private lagoon.
Club One has a state-of-the-art fitness suite and a wooden-floored yoga studio, where we went through some asanas as the tropical rain poured down outside.
It’s also where you’ll find the children and teens' club, with all sorts of activities to keep youngsters busy.
The calming One&Only spa, designed by world-renowned spa expert ESPA, is housed in its own building and is a cocoon of tranquillity overlooking an adults-only swimming pool.
We delight in a 60-minute Only You massage, and declare it one of the best we’ve ever had.
All-day restaurant La Terrasse offers indoor and outdoor dining surrounded by pretty waterways.
Nightly themed buffets come with a choice to rival some of Dubai’s biggest brunches, and a food quality that easily surpasses many.
Prime is the resort’s elegant steakhouse and often plays host to guest chefs.
La Pointe, on the tip of the peninsula, is perfect for fresh seafood served with awe-inspiring views, and you can have toes-in-the-sand al fresco Italian-inspired fare at Le Badamier.
The highlight is Tapasake, the resort’s overwater Japanese fusion eatery.
This stunning outpost sits above the lagoon with views of sugar cane-covered mountains and serves a gorgeous menu of tapas-style sushi, sashimi, grills and tacos.
The Omakase tasting menu comes highly recommended and is ideal if want to try a little bit of everything.
Highlights include tasty tuna tacos, the exquisitely crafted scallop foie gras and the indulgently tender marinated miso cod, which could easily give the dish's pioneer Nobu a run for its money.
Mauritius is famous for its hospitality and this resort is no different.
Our butler tells us he’s worked at the hotel since the day it opened in 1975, so staff know the place like the back of their hand and seem genuinely happy to be there.
Guests want for nothing, with friendly smiles and the classic One&Only heart-touching gesture quickly becoming something we grew to love, especially during Covid-19 when hand shakes and other greetings are out.
Of course, things do run slightly on island-time — this is Mauritius after all — so just be prepared to leave your watch in the safe and go with it.
Highs and lows
The resort’s peninsula location is second to none, with never-ending waterside views that offer sunrises on one side and tranquil sunsets on the other.
The 60 acres of gardens are beautifully manicured and staff here are genuinely happy to assist. Culinary offerings are on-point.
The only downside we noted was a slight lack of privacy on the terraces of some of the beachfront suites.
Our neighbours were a family with two very small children, which meant that afternoons relaxing on our veranda were not as serene as we'd have hoped.
The insider tip
Book some of the hand-picked excursions on offer to get to know the island.
From a sunset cruise accompanied by a local band to the mangroves secret discovery tour, or further afield trips to Ile aux Aigrettes and guided hikes at Le Morne Brabant, you won’t be disappointed.
They say the old ones are the best and, in this case, we vehemently agree.
Having had a modern refresh in 2017 to bring it bang up to date, One&Only Le Saint Geran is a tropical paradise that's well worth visiting.
The bottom line
Rooms at One&Only Le Saint Geran start from Dh2,424 per night in low season, excluding taxes. Check-in is from 2pm and check-out is at noon, but the resort tries to be flexible where possible; lesaintgeran.oneandonlyresorts.com
This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel during the global coronavirus pandemic. It reflects hotel standards during the time, services may change in the future