Published in Private Edition 31, 30 March 2016
The name may be fictitious but Shangri-La means serenity and service. If you’re in hospitality, that’s about the biggest promise you can make.
This is what happens when you add a top-drawer management company to a Mauritian resort that’s been given a magical refurbishment.
A uniformed official was bearing a sign with my name on it at the air bridge. Even if you’re absolutely sure you are not a smuggler, not on the FBI’s most-wanted list and have never given the air crew lip, your blood freezes. It turned out this was bog standard royal/rock-star treatment and that meant skipping formalities at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. His task was not to march me off for interrogation but to a waiting Porsche Cayenne.
Without a word, he drove me and a colleague to a nearby building and to the big reveal – a YU Lounge. And it is all about you; Champagne and canapés and a personal customs official on standby to process your arrival to Mauritius. All we had to do was hand over our passports and baggage tags and relax. No queues, no questions, no fuss. This was just one of the major plus points for VIP guests travelling by private jet or commercial airline en route to their little piece of paradise. In airport terms, the 30 minutes it took to ‘process’ us was in speed terms a bullet train. Destination: Shangri-La’s recently refurbished Le Touessrok Resort and Spa, on a stretch of the east coast called Trou d’Eau Douce Bay.
A frequent returnee, I never tire of this drive. It’s about an hour’s journey along the coastal road, winding past fishing villages and Indian temples, mixed vegetable crops and sugarcane fields, with the island’s volcanic terrain in the distance. One of two luxury establishments first imagined for Mauritius by Sol Kerzner (beginning with Le Saint Géran in 1975), Le Touessrok is now under management by the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts for the owners, Sun Limited. Shangri-La revealed Le Touessrok’s new look late last year and its trademark Asian influence is evident in the décor, fine dining and the group’s in-house Chi, the Spa. There’s something else they get: after any number of hours and a longish taxi trip, pretty scenery aside, the last thing you feel like is what you could dub ‘counter-intuitive’, that exasperating form-filling, card-swiping ritual that wrecks the moment. A casual lounge lobby replaces formal check-in counters so the experience is much more like being welcomed as a house guest. The lobby layout blends seamlessly with the outdoors, leading to tropical gardens that pattern the walkways to the sea-facing rooms and suites, as well as relaxation and dining areas.
The décor is stylishly understated, incorporating more indigenous materials to reflect the natural environment – and helping guests progress faster towards shedding the layers of daily life in favour of a shaded recliner near a watery playground of their choice. The more active guests are dished up water sports and golf (a fine course designed by Bernhard Langer) at the nearby Île aux Cerfs, while the resort’s private island, Ilot Mangénie, is a short boat ride away. At this little escape from an already secluded area of the coast, the only formal structure was a beach club serving delicious food. I spent hours wandering alone along the pale sand, keeping a wary eye out for spiky sea urchins washed up by the tide, reclining on a lounger or wallowing in the shallow, temperate waters balancing a cocktail. It’s what the brochures promise but here it’s delivered effortlessly.
On the main site, Safran offers superb classical Indian fare prepared by chef Ramesh Bundi while a new addition, Kushi, can be recommended equally for its contemporary Japanese menu and raised ocean views. It’s impossible not to taste almost everything. Then again, there’s that beach for a run, and a gym that offers a range of exercise programmes from yoga to custom-designed cardio routines. And to soothe aching muscles? The magnetic attraction of Chi, the Spa next door with its Ayurvedic wellness approach and therapeutic range of botanical and herbal products extracted from plants grown on site. The signature baton cane deep-tissue massage, performed using a sugar-cane stick, lifts energy levels and obliterates any remnants of fatigue and muscle pain.
Not one to favour early nights, even at this level of paradise, I was happy to discover that the entertainment programme incorporated live music at the intimate Sega Bar a little further along the shore. A DJ was also mixing beats at the Republik Beach Club & Grill to liven up what has been known as a quiet (often older) couples’ destination. But the sound from both sources is contained so that there is no competition, leaving areas of the resort still blissfully quiet for those who prefer to turn in early.
You don’t leave a resort such as this. You abandon it with great reluctance. They are well aware of this here and on your last morning, your butler arranges red roses and frangipani fresh from the garden in your room. It is a seduction of the senses and on that one-hour trip to the airport you plot your return. This time, perhaps, with dark shades, luggage that match a bit more, and insouciance to your walk. There is a slim chance someone might mistake you for Someone…