It’s a little strange holidaying at the hotel where you were meant to marry.
Mrs O and I eventually tying the knot in Devon in 2009 wasn’t the original plan, which had been to marry in Mauritius in 2005, in our early 20s.
We planned it, booked it, saved for it and paid the £450 deposit. Weeks before we were due to fly, Mrs O’s dad got ill, and she found a Masters’ degree that she wanted to do. Suddenly, all our priorities changed. She couldn’t not have her dad there and we couldn’t spend her course fees on a party. So our big day in paradise got shelved. I still remember calling to call it off. We were gutted but knew it was the right decision. That lost £450 stung. It was a lot then. Hell, it still is.
Late last year, when there were still only six known coronaviruses, we crept up to our ten-year mark and decided to head to the wedding venue that wasn’t.
Now back home, after a world-of-difference Premium Economy BA flight, what’s the judgement? If we’d have said our vows here, we’d have said them in one of the finest hotels on Earth. That hotel is called Constance Prince Maurice – or just plain old ‘Prince Maurice’ as it was back then.
I’m always wary when foreign hotel groups gobble up superb independents, promising not to suck the individuality out of them then doing exactly that, but Constance is Mauritian and does “authentic luxury” as well as anyone. It is the Belmond of the Indian Ocean. This hotel, with rooms, restaurants and bars on stilts over its own lagoon, is the group’s crown jewel, and takes some beating.
The hotel is a beach and pool mecca but, if you feel active, let the concierge hire you a car (left-hand driving on good roads) and venture inland to the island’s tiny Jewish community epicentre in Curepipe.
There’s a museum and the Amicale Maurice Israel Center, where you can learn the extraordinary story of 1,600 Jewish refugees sent there in 1940 after being denied entry into British-run Palestine.
There would have been 1,800 more but for the Jewish militia Haganah, which scuttled the second ship in Haifa’s port, accidentally killing 200 Jews in the process. Today there is a memorial to 127 Jewish detainees, who didn’t survive the war on this beautiful island.
Jews are now more likely to visit Mauritius than live here, but they’re still contributing – the hotel’s chef told me that a French Jewish family has been coming here for years, and every year they teach him a new Jewish dish, which he then adds to the menu!
I’m a picky reviewer at the best of times and always manage to find a fault, but the Constance Prince Maurice is the first to stump me – not a single, solitary, fleeting failing. I ran out of superlatives. Stunning lagoon setting, towering lobby architecture, top quality furnishings, incredible staff, and sensational food with influences from France, Africa and India. Everything’s just… right.
Dining is enjoyed amid the lush hotel grounds, where weaver birds ply their trade above a network of paths and a pair of giant tortoises watch tourists stroll from the pitching green (in anticipation of the hotel’s championship golf course) to the spa, where therapists know your back better than you do, banishing aches and pains like Harry Potter would a dementor. Also, the spa uses only Sisely products, which Mrs O told me to tell you is a very good thing indeed.
To top it all, Constance Prince Maurice, and its sister hotel Constance Belle Mare Plage, are two of only a few high-end Mauritius hotels that are actually serious about minimising their impact on the environment. Plenty talk the talk but don’t deliver, in some cases with astounding cynicism. A boat trip to the nearby once-healthy reef shows why it’s needed. A coral graveyard tells its own story.
If you would like to visit this beautiful island and this top-tier hotel, if you can afford it, and if this pandemic ever ends, I urge you here and here soon. There is still beauty aplenty both above and below the water, but I’m not sure what state it will be in when Mrs O and I next mark our next milestone.