It was just as Mrs O was getting confident that the wind took her.
Knee-deep in a reef in warm Indian Ocean waters on the southern coast of Mauritius, having our first kite-surfing lesson, it suddenly picked up.
Minutes earlier I had failed to control my kite, triggering smug cackles from my beloved. She had, on the back of this, picked up the reins in an I’ll-show-you manner. That’s when that gust veritably scooped her up and carried her westward, through the clear Mauritian sky, for a good ten screeching metres before depositing her unceremoniously back into our turquoise playground. #Karma.
Laugh? Me? Only for the next ten days. And just as I’ll never forget her face, emerging broken from the sea, so too I will never forget our two weeks on this unique island, which was gorgeous long before the British and the French got here. Mark Twain said heaven was modelled on Mauritius, and who could disagree?
For Jews who like their food (do any not?) the rich Mauritian gastronomy is influenced from Asia, India, China, Africa and France, while its people practice Hinduism, Islam, Christianity… and even Judaism.
Indeed, the island has its own Jewish community, focused on the Amicale Maurice Israel Center, in the central and uneventful town of Curepipe, and a fascinating Jewish history, with 1,600 Jewish refugees sent here in 1940 after being denied entry into Palestine. Another 1,800 were due to be sent here but Haganah fighters detonated a mine aboard the ship to prevent it from leaving Haifa, killing 250 people, including 200 Jews and 50 British soldiers. Today there is still a small community numbering around 40, plus a museum and memorial to remember the 127 Jewish detainees who didn’t survive the war.
According to locals, Jews are today regular visitors to Mauritius, including to our two hotels: Outrigger at Bel Ombre in the authentic south and The Residence at Belle Mare in the oh-so-easy east. Those who stay in only one place make a mistake. There are two distinct sides to the island. Both are wonderful.
In the less-developed south there is more to do, such as hiking in the beautiful Black River Gorges National Park to swim in its clean, clear pools. It is here where I was attacked by sweat bee bandits. If you were a sweat bee, where would you lie in wait? Exactly. They were at the top of a very steep hill. Black River sweat bees particularly love a huffing, puffing Englishman. #Karma, Mrs O tweeted.
Outrigger is a five-star that does everything well. The food in its three restaurants, including a beachfront offering and an exclusive club, is seriously good, as is the choice at breakfast in its central Mercado restaurant. The spa’s therapists know what they’re doing, too. Their mission in life is to pummel stress, and they’re determined.
Our embarrassingly big Oceanfront suite came armed with Jacuzzi and balcony from which we sipped vino and watched fruit bats clamber around in the palm trees in front of us. Bliss. Leaving the room almost carried a pang of sadness.
The hotel is a top choice for both young and old, couples and families, and benefits from a great location. We were pleased we kick-started the holiday here, but after three days R&R we hired a car (left-hand drive, a British souvenir) and hit the smooth, well-signposted roads of the south-west, rounding the stunning Le Morne peninsula, visiting waterfalls and admiring earth of seven different colours, stopping every so often to take in the views and play with Mrs O’s new camera.
After a luscious week at Outrigger we headed east to Belle Mare, the island’s best beach, and one of its most luxurious hotels: The Residence.
Guarded by men in pith helmets, this is a place of English accents, private butlers, south-east Asian influences, a magnificent modern spa, and the justly-famous Plantation restaurant. With sumptuous furnishings throughout it is a place to kick back and relax with your loved one, as she contemplates having another of those nice cocktails.
Ours was again an ocean-front suite, bigger and classier than anything Donald Trump could imagine, but even the garden-view rooms have balconies with sea views, from where the silky soft beach beckons. Free snorkelling, free glass-bottom boat trips, and free waterskiing are just good excuses.
I last donned waterskis when I was about 15 and didn’t enjoy it because no-one told me to let go of the rope if I lost balance. Apparently I haven’t learned my lesson. The instructor looked lost by these new heights of failure, me swallowing half the ocean as my legs stubbornly refused to rise above a water-high crouch, as the boat sped up and the salty sea slapped me silly. Laugh? Mrs O? Only for the next ten days. Revenge is sweeter than a Mauritian rum cocktail at sunset.
Stephen’s travel tips: