Walking along a sun-drenched beach on the west coast of Mauritius, I look up at the pastel-blue sky dotted with a rainbow of colours; it’s as if someone has spilt a bag of Skittles in the heavens.
A kite surfer whizzes by, riding the waves as a blast of wind sends him soaring some 15ft in the air. Displaying his mastery of the elements, he does a somersault, expertly twisting in the sky before falling back onto the waves.
Thanks to high-coastal winds, kitesurfing has become a popular pastime for tourists to the island. It’s captivating and exhilarating to watch, let alone participate in.
Indeed, there’s something magical in the air in Mauritius.
You can almost see it in the fluttering branches of the palm trees and the hushed rustling in the lush vegetation. It’s in the knowing smiles of the local people who wave you on your way, hinting at the secrets of the island you are yet to discover.
I step into the palatial gated resort at St Regis and, as if on cue, I’m greeted by a warm rush of sea air that engulfs me like a soothing embrace.
An island nation in the Indian ocean, 2,000km off the south-east coast of Africa, Mauritius is a natural tropical haven, separated by sea from an increasingly technological, politically and racially-divided world; it’s an idyllic sanctuary for the 1.34 million people who visit annually.
Fringed by sandy beaches on the west coast, the island has botanical gardens, cascading waterfalls, lagoons, reefs and rainforests in the east. In the south, there’s Le Morne mountain, an imposing monolith steeped in history, tragedy and folklore.
It’s a step back to simpler times and a return to nature.
Not that the island hasn’t seen its share of turmoil. After being ‘discovered’ by Portuguese explorer Pedro Mascarenhas in the early-1500s, its inhabitants were enslaved. It was subsequently colonised by the Dutch and the French before the British seized possession of the island in 1810.
With the abolition of slavery in 1835, the plantation owners enlisted the services of half-a-million indentured labourers from India to work the sugar cane fields, tea plantations and factories, and in 1968, Mauritius gained freedom from British rule.
Today, its population of 1.27m comprises fifth-generation Indo-Mauritians, including descendants of the French and British settlers. English, French, Mauritian Creole and Bhojpuri are the main spoken tongues, and while 48% of the population are Hindu, temples, churches and mosques stand side-by-side. A melting pot of cultures and religions, the people of Mauritius co-exist in harmony.
With its varied vistas, the island offers many opportunities for re-invigorating your senses, reviving your body and discovering your own source of solace beyond the beaches.
A majestic backdrop to the St Regis resort, Le Morne is a powerfully imposing presence on the island, daring you to scale its intimidating heights.
It also has a tragic history: slaves once climbed to the top and in a desperate bid for freedom from a life of servitude, they leapt to their death. On learning of its dark past, the early morning ascent of the mountain holds a deeper significance.
The mountain terrain is unspoilt – rocks stab you underfoot and wild undergrowth surrounds you. The climb is steep and at each plateau, I take a moment to take in the picturesque views.
An almost vertical and treacherous incline takes you to the top, where you are rewarded for your efforts with a view of an underwater waterfall – an illusion created by underwater currents.
After the rigours of a strenuous yet satisfying hike, my calves aching but my soul now lighter and my senses enriched, I’m eager for something to soothe body and mind – a Tai Chi lesson on the beach at sunrise the following morning.
Toes sinking in the white sands, under the gaze of Le Morne, I emulate the slow, flowing movement of the Tai Chi master and feel my racing mind calmed, my concentration honed and focused on the beauty of the moment.
Retiring to my suite, any remaining stresses are kneaded away with a massage, my skin satiated by natural oils.
My day concludes with a tea ceremony, using a blend from the local plantations, enjoyed on my balcony as the sun sets.
Body and soul revived, now the palate demands to be satiated.
The local food combines all the flavours of French, Creole and Indian cuisines, and the spicy curries are like an electric charge on the tongue.
The pungent smell of onions frying in chilli and rich masalas, a base for an authentic vegetable curry, drifts on the air. An aperitif of La Belle Creole Mary, the St Regis’ speciality Bloody Mary with a spicy Mauritian twist is the perfect accompaniment.
At Chamarel, we stop to marvel at the multi-coloured sands in every hue of orange and brown, formed from volcanic minerals.
During a final yacht trip around Le Morne, I marvel at the natural beauty as it glistens in the sun like a jewel. Red-tailed tropicbirds glide on the breeze and a kite surfer flies by, riding the wind.
And I realise what rushes in the island air, what invigorates your spirit and soothes your soul, is a sense of serenity and freedom.
How to plan your trip
British Airways (britishairways.com) flies from London Heathrow to Mauritius from £529 return.
A Manor Ocean Suite at The St. Regis Mauritius Resort (stregismauritius.com) costs from $915/£721 per night with breakfast.