Tag Archives: Indian Ocean

Maldives: Romancing the Blues

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY fly GoAir to Malé and discover an isle of bliss in the Indian Ocean – Mövenpick Resort Kuredhivaru at Noonu Atoll in the Maldives

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Who could have imagined that in under two hours, a direct GoAir flight from Bengaluru would literally deposit us on a dreamy island cluster in the middle of the Indian Ocean? We were on the seasonal winter flight (return fares to Malé from Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai start at just Rs.9,999, available till January end). According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, GoAir topped the On-Time-Performance Chart for 15 months in a row till November last year! However, December was festive season and Malé sure had a lot of air traffic. The captain’s voice crackled on the PA system “I expect to be floating around for another 35 minutes until I receive air clearance to land. Sincere apologies for the inconvenience… but this situation is beyond our control.”

So we hovered over the clouds, taking in the spectacular birds’ eye view. Malé, the island capital looked like a long strip of land, populated by mosques, markets and colourful clusters of tall buildings neatly arranged like a LEGO set. The bustling mercantile city is ringed by a coral reef and waters spangled with boats. The urban mood here contrasts the laidback setting of the islets and atolls around.

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It was pretty apparent why Maldives remains one of the top honeymoon destinations in the world – it fits every definition of a tropical paradise with crystal clear waters in every shade of blue, hotels and resorts to suit every budget and private island resorts luring one to venture further to the faraway atolls for privacy, comfort and the perfect ambience for romance. Its proximity made it a top choice for Indians in particular. Many on the flight were newlyweds; the fresh mehendi, sindoor and lac bangles on the young girls were a dead giveaway.

Travelling Business Class on GoAir brought all the perks of seat choice with more leg room, pillows and blankets for a restful ride. With friendly staff, hot meals and priority baggage, the on-board experience and landing procedure was literally a breeze. After immigration check at Velana International airport, we collected our bags and were whisked to the Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) VIP lounge for coffee and snacks where we awaited our seaplane to Kuredhivaru.

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With just 10-12 seats, these were the most convenient modes of transport to access the luxury resorts set on remote islands and atolls. The nearby islands had ferries and motorboats and we noticed several folks queuing up outside the airport. Our address, the Mövenpick Resort Kuredhivaru was located in the tranquil northern part of Maldives in Noonu Atoll, a 55-minute flight away.

Being a hopping flight, we watched guests disembark onto a deck mid-ocean – not your everyday landing spot! Their motorboat was on its way but they looked positively marooned as we took off. A while later, we were in for the same adventure! At dusk we landed by a bobbing deck, disembarked and clung to the railings as waves and gusty winds bounced all around us. In the distance, the yellow lights of Movenpick Kuredhivaru, our address for a few days, glimmered seductively as we heard the whirr of a speedboat coming towards us.

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Greeted by the staff at the end of a long jetty that snaked like a ramp towards the hotel reception and lobby, we cat-walked down its lit-up length, cautiously glancing at the waters below. Downing the welcome drink and after a brief check-in, we were carted off to our exclusive Overwater Pool Villa. Designed to floor guests the moment they enter, each villa has a glass-floored foyer. The thrill of watching parrot fish and manta rays swimming right under our feet is inexplicable.

Our bedroom had a spacious dresser on one side and a plushy bath on the other, fitted with a gorgeous bathtub overlooking the sea, separate shower and WC cubicles, twin wash basins and driftwood framed mirrors besides large outdoor tanning decks with a plunge pool. The minimalist décor lauds the unspoiled splendor of uninterrupted ocean views with large ceiling to floor glass doors. Another wow factor was the creative use of 3.5 million coconut shell tips, cut into small neat squares that cladded the sliding doors, headboards and amenities’ counters in the rooms.

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Dinner was an elaborate affair at Onu Marché, the main waterfront all-day dining restaurant serving global cuisine and international buffets. Set on the beach overlooking the Dive Centre, it flaunted a high, acutely sloped bamboo roof with indoor and outdoor seating. Onu Marché translates to ‘bamboo marketplace’ in Divehi, the Maldivian language. With signature chef specialties for a Mediterranean themed night, a laden buffet counter and tapas section besides live cooking stations, we were spoilt for choice.

Sipping tropical cocktails and wine, we sampled amazing seafood paella besides wholesome slices of cheesy grilled pizza topped with aubergine and peppers and Swiss-style gourmet grilled cheese raclette, enjoying live music under its breezy market-style setting. The dessert counter at the far end, rounded off the evening with delectable double scoops of Mövenpick ice-cream and chocolate. Needless to say we were back here for a beachside breakfast the next morning.

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The following day way we took a tour around the resort, exploring its sun-dappled pathways and spacious villas and suites nestled in the woods with easy access to the beach. The 3-bedroom Beach Spa Pool Residence was a luxurious option, ideal for a large group or family of six adults or four adults with kids. Packed with amenities, a lavish living and dining area, spacious baths, even a private double spa treatment room with a 1-hr daily massage thrown in, it wore the perfect vibe for a private beach party with no one else around!

Lunch at Latitude 5.5 was an Asian experience with delicious prawn laksa and Singapore noodles tossed with stir fried pork and prawns. The beach and dazzling blue waters by the restaurant was gorgeous, enticing several guests to take a dip, float in the sea or lounge on their beach towels for a mandatory tan; though some were sunburnt to a lobster red!

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After we turned a happy umber, we lumbered back to soak ourselves in our plunge pool over the house reef. Being a family friendly resort, we watched parents encouraging their kids to indulge in water sports activities. The Little Birds Club was a convenient addition with engaging activities for kids – arts and crafts, nature walks, outdoor games and storytelling, dance, music, a kid’s pool, etc.

The two days went by in a blur – borrowing fins and equipment from the Dive Centre for some self guided exploration of the house reef, snorkeling and turtle spotting at Kendhikulhudhoo Island – a 30-minute boat ride away, luxuriating in the signature Raahlu (literally ‘ocean wave’) therapy at Sun Spa by Esthederm, the daily ritual of the Chocolate Hour at 4:30pm and dining on the day’s catch at Bodumas, the overwater seafood restaurant. Soon, it was time to say goodbye…

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Our last dinner with the wonderful Mövenpick team (James Kiragu, Vaibhav, Jamila with Beral, Mohit and Khae attending to us) was truly special – a jungle theme dining experience by the beach with fire torches and lanterns featuring delicious traditional Indian cuisine. Led from the front by their General Manager Maciej Gruszecki (Matt), the whole team epitomized what Swiss precision and warm Maldivian hospitality was all about. Their personal attention ensured that all their guests have a memorable holiday and often return. A big thank to you all and Ankita and Shirali from GoAir and Amisha of Accor Hotels for a beautiful Maldivian experience.

On the flight back from Malé to Bangalore, we met Capt. Anup Ghosh and the GoAir team whose impeccable onboard service guaranteed a comfortable and restful business-class experience. Getting to Maldives has never been easier. However, saying Dhanee (‘goodbye’ in Dhivehi) was probably the hardest thing to do.

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Getting there:
Fly direct to Velana International Airport, Malé from Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi (2 hrs). Choose from national carriers Air India or Air Maldives, or low cost airlines like GoAir. www.goair.com

Getting around:
Head to the Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) lounge from where seaplanes fly you to your island resort (20 mins to 1 hr). www.transmaldivian.com

Where to Stay:
Mövenpick Kuredhivaru Resort
Ph +960 656 3000
www.movenpick.com

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Theme Dinners at Onu Marché
Monday – Barbeque
Tuesday – International
Wednesday – Maharaja
Thursday – Spanish
Friday – Arabic
Saturday – Fisherman Night with local cuisine
Sunday – Mediterranean

For more info, www.visitmaldives.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was written exclusively for the blog, courtesy GoAir and Mövenpick Kuredhivaru Resort Maldives/Accor Hotels.

Suite 16: Special places to stay in Mauritius

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From private beaches and butlers to in-house golf courses, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 16 special places to stay in the tropical paradise of Mauritius

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There’s a lot that makes Mauritius unique – the world’s third largest coral reef, multi-coloured earth and other geological wonders, experiences such as walking with lions at Casela or swimming with dolphins, rum tasting at rhumeries (rum factories) like Chamarel, St Aubin, Chateau Labourdonnais and L’Aventure du Sucre, besides spectacular marine adventure – Sea Karting, UnderSea Walk, Underwater Scooter and submarine rides.

But what makes a holiday in the island nation of Ilé Maurice unforgettable is its special places to stay. Here, resorts come with more than sea-facing rooms; think world-class golf courses, dive centres, private butlers, gourmet French and Creole cuisine, besides Sega dancers and fire-eaters performing on white sandy shores after a magical sunset. Here are our top picks.

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Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, Beau Champ
Easily the pick of the resorts in Mauritius, the luxurious Four Seasons is located on a 64-acre private sanctuary on the east coast with 136 pool villas. Each villa comes with a private plunge pool and garden, alfresco rain showers and a spacious verandah, offering enough privacy to honeymooners or families. There’s an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ernie Els and a 1-hour golf initiation session is offered free to guests every day. You have four friendly giant Aldabra tortoises for company and 10 water sports to keep you entertained. Try homemade pastas and Italian cuisine at Acquapazza, amble down for some fine dine at The Chef’s Table or chill at the O-Bar open-air lounge at one of the largest lagoons on the island.
https://www.fourseasons.com/mauritius/

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The Residence Mauritius, Belle Mare
Sunlight filtering in through wooden shutters, a soft palette of white and beige interiors and the relaxing aroma of ylang ylang; The Residence offers classy colonial style comfort. The resort’s central feature is a large pool while its 135 rooms and 28 suites come with garden and ocean views. There’s a choice of dining options – light lunches at The Verandah, contemporary world cuisine at The Dining Room and oceanfront dining at The Plantation.

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The Sanctuary Spa has treatments inspired by luxury French brand Carita. ​Inspired by a sugarcane plantation house, the Planters Kids Club by the beach offers treasure hunts, snorkeling, cooking classes, picnics, pony rides and other fun activities. Get expert coaching from fitness expert Stephan Manique or have your personal butler attend to more mundane chores like unpacking, running a bath, ironing or taking care of your laundry.
http://cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius/about

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One & Only Le St. Geran, Belle Mare
South African hotel tycoon Sol Kersner’s One & Only chain takes holidaying to another level with special bespoke experiences. Stay in plush rooms with views overlooking a lagoon, the ocean or sandy beach. Go on a carefully curated art trail in Port Louis or cruise aboard the luxury speedboat Legend 33 to The Cathedral and Fosse aux Requins (Shark Pit) for diving with sharks. Accompany celebrity Executive Chef Marc de Passorio to the vibrant Flacq Market to shop for groceries followed by a guided cooking session at the resort. Can’t cook? There are dining options aplenty – Pan Asian at Tapasake, industrial-style grill house Prime, La Terrasse overlooking the pool and grilled seafood at La Pointe at Palm Grove beach.
https://www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-le-saint-geran-mauritius

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Constance Prince Maurice
Designed by architecture genius Jean Marc Eynaud and designer David Edwards, Constance Prince Maurice is named after Prince Maurice Van Nassau, after whom the Dutch named the island Mauritius in 1598. Set amidst lush tropical greenery, the resort is based on the principles of Feng Shui. Beds stand high above floor level to help the circulation of Qi while Archipel restaurant has concrete columns at the centre of the hall to increase the concentration of energy. It has an intimate and secluded setting with an Infinity pool, U Spa by Constance and exceptional cuisine. Families who opt for beach villas get complimentary access to Constance Kids Club, while golfers have two 18-hole championship courses to choose from.
https://www.constancehotels.com/en/hotels-resorts/mauritius/prince-maurice/

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Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Trou d’Eau Douce
Located on the untouched eastern coast, Le Touessrok’s a winner because of its two isles of paradise just off the resort’s pristine shore, open only to Shangri-La’s guests. Ilot Mangénie features a trendy beach club and on-island butlers while Ile aux Cerfs has a spectacular 18-hole championship golf course designed by golf pro Bernhard Langer. The Chi spa at the resort is a pamper haven. Japanese restaurant Kushi features exclusive Wagyu beef menus and traditional omakase set menus while Le Bazar presents international cuisine with a twist. Guests also get to interact with chefs at the show kitchen. If visiting between 12 April-26 May this year, the resort is bringing South African icon The Test Kitchen (voted the best Restaurant in Africa in 2016), a unique culinary journey curated by Chef Luke Dale Roberts.
http://www.shangri-la.com/mauritius/shangrila/about/

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Lux Grand Gaube
With 5-star resorts stretching from Reunion, Turkey to Vietnam, everything about Lux Resorts promises world-class luxury and indulgence. After setting up resorts at Le Morne and Belle Mare in Mauritius, they continue their promise of ‘a lighter, brighter holiday experience’ with the opening of Lux Grand Gaube in December. Award-winning designer and interior designer Kelly Hoppen MBE blends an east-meets-west sensibility. Partnering with British swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, the resort has created an exciting new capsule collection of swim shorts for men. LUX roped in street artist and French designer Camille Walala to bring her bold geometric prints, patterns and murals to Mauritius. It has a busy event schedule with expert-led workshops and guest DJs. To top it, each LUX resort is 100% carbon neutral!
https://www.luxresorts.com

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Shanti Maurice, St Felix
Tucked away from the busy north, Shanti Maurice is a 36-acres oasis by the sea in the quiet south. Walkways lined with tropical foliage lead to private villas with thatched roofs and large balconies that face the garden or the sea. Ringed by a coral reef, the resort has only non-motorized water sports like windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and kayaking so as not to disturb guests. Enjoy lovely massages at the in-house Nira Spa and a range of culinary experiences.

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Rum Shed offers spiced rum, prawn pancakes, calamari and signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime infused rum and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla infused rum! In the resort’s herb garden ‘La Kaze Mama’ (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. The lantern-lit Fish Shack has seafood and beachside barbecues with Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.
www.shantimaurice.com

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Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, Roches Noire
A unique lifestyle beach resort integrated within the coastal village of Azuri, like many sights in Mauritius, it is built around a sugarcane factory. The old dilapidated chimney overlooking the pool has been left untouched as a relic of the past. Fringed by coral reefs and clear blue waters, one may snorkel and kayak without leaving the comforts of the resort. Of the 100 odd rooms, the Superior Rooms are located on the beachfront with a plunge pool and private access to the beach, making them ideal for couples. Breakfasts are generally served at Le Comptoir restaurant (the ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade really lives up to its name) while Ocean One Beach Club & Restaurant overlooks the surf. Luxuriate at the Spa by Decleor, go on a mangrove kayak safari or explore the lively Flacq Market, the largest outdoor market in Mauritius.
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

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Hotel Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial, Flic en Flac
Spread over 9 hectares of tropical gardens, the reception and restaurant open out to a large swimming pool that seems to spill onto a white sandy beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean stretching into the distance. Located on the west coast, it is one of the best spots to catch the famed Mauritian sunset, though one can be prepared for Sega dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats to put up a show on the beach with dinner by the sea. They have a great dolphin cruise as well and flippers are available at Christine Sofitel Boat House for snorkeling right on the property.
www.sofitel.com/Mauritius

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Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa, Blue Bay
Pioneers of the hospitality industry in Mauritius, Beachcomber Hotels have been around for 65 years with a bouquet of top-notch resorts across the island. Set on a private peninsula lapped by the Blue Bay Marine Park, Shandrani is the first fully inclusive 5-star resort in Mauritius with 327 rooms. Spread across 57-hectacres, it has three beaches, a 9-hole golf course, a sailing school, a dive centre and Beachcomber Spa that uses their signature product range ‘Be Beautiful’.

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Lying in the shadow of the historic Le Morne mountain, Beachcomber’s Hotel Dinarobin is named after the original name of Mauritius given by Arab sailors in 15th century. Along with its twin resort Paradis, it’s set on a 150-acre patch with a 7km beach view. Dinarobin’s exclusive Zen suites at the farthest point are ideal for adults. Wake up to sea views from your private verandah, enjoy kite surfing at the lagoon and pamper yourself with wat-su (water shiatsu) treatments and in-house wellness routines like Gommage and Santayana massage. The best part? You pay for one and enjoy the facilities of both resorts – 8 restaurants, 2 spas, 2 sports centres, a spectacular golf course and shuttle service every 15 minutes.
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

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The St Regis Mauritius Resort, Le Morne
Tucked away on a southwestern nook of the island, the resort comes with 172 guest suites. The colonial theme leads to the 1904 Bar with its signature St. Regis mural painting. Try La Belle Creole Mary, a local interpretation of the legendary Bloody Mary, created 75 years ago at St. Regis New York. The highlight is the food with Franco-Mauritian fare at Le Manoir Dining Room, platters of oysters and grilled prawns at the oceanfront Boathouse Bar & Grill and trendy Asian-inspired Thai, Malay and Vietnamese dishes at Floating Market. They also run the more private St Regis Mauritius Villa with a 143 m beach frontage and the signature St. Regis Butler Service.
http://www.stregismauritius.com

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20 degrees Sud, Grand Baie
Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, the small boutique hotel on the north coast has only 29 rooms and 7 suites, offering an intimate holiday experience. Enter through the beautiful oak door to experience one of the best-kept secrets of Mauritius. Located in an old coconut grove and inspired by a Mauritian Creole style, the interior design is by prestigious Belgian decorator Flamant. Choose from Charm and Beachfront rooms to Austral suites with private plunge pools. Mauritian master chef Sanjeev Purahoo stirs up a wide repertoire of dishes at L’Explorateur restaurant and La Voile, a beach concept under a Bedouin tent with a view of Coin de Mire. The highlight is a cruise on the M/S Lady Lisabeth, the oldest motorboat in Mauritius. Children below 12 are not allowed at the resort.
http://www.20degressud.net/en/

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La Pirogue, Flic en Flac
Part of the international Sun Resorts chain, La Pirogue resembles a traditional fishing village set amidst a coconut grove surrounded by lush gardens. Each bungalow’s thatched roof is reminiscent of the unfurled sail of a local fishing boat, from which the resort derives its name. Bright coloured interiors and themes define this boho-chic hotel with spacious Beach Pavilion rooms and Garden Bungalows. With signature experiences like Sun Golf, Spa, fishing and multi-cultural food, it’s perfect for those looking for a big resort holiday.
https://www.lapirogue.com

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The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa, Balaclava
The 5-star hotel is a tranquil hideaway in the historic Balaclava area overlooking Turtle Bay, a protected marine park on the north-west coast of Mauritius. Natural tropical elements like local teak and lava rocks combine well with contemporary design as The Westin brings its proprietary products to the table – Heavenly Spa By Westin, New Balance gym gear on hire at nominal rates at the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio and SuperFoodsRx dishes like whole-wheat blueberry pancakes, all-natural roasted turkey wraps and black bean hummus. Grab a bite at Seasonal Tastes, relish Frontier cuisine at Kangan or sushis and more at Mystique Beach Bar & Lounge.
http://www.westinturtlebaymauritius.com

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Angsana Balaclava Mauritius Hotel, Turtle Bay
Set in a secluded cove in Turtle Bay adjacent to a coastal village on the picturesque northwest coast, Angsana Balaclava Mauritius is a tropical oasis. Its stylish suites and villas feature private infinity pools and hammams, besides an award-winning spa and gourmet cuisine. There’s international Asian-fusion and Mauritian Creole cuisine at Oryza, lunches at Passion Chill and foodie excursion and cooking class rolled into one at Epicurean Delight. Enjoy Destination Dining with a private dining experience on the beach or a catamaran cruise dinner. Admire the Port Louis skyline and its magnificent mountain backdrop sipping champagne and nibbling on delightful canapés. Cycle through the lovely coastal village of Petit Gamin, take pics against vast sugarcane fields and have a picnic lunch on the quiet beach of Le Goulet.
https://www.angsana.com/en/mauritius/balaclava-mauritius

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La Plantation D’Albion Club Med, Albion
Spread over 21-hectares, Club Med’s ‘5-trident’ beach resort has an all-inclusive policy with full-board gourmet cuisine, bar, snacks and sports activities. Imbued with a laid-back vibe, it has two pools (including an overflow pool), Flying Trapeze classes, an adults-only Zen Zone and a Petit Club Med kids club where little ones can learn about local animal and marine life. The Club Med Spa by Cinq Mondes Paris is the perfect place to pamper yourself as you enjoy delicious Creole and Continental fare at The Distillerie with two terraces overlooking the sea or pool. Dine at The Phare, named after the lighthouse at Albion 6km away, the only lighthouse on the island that is still in use and a worthy excursion.
https://www.clubmed.com.au/r/La-Plantation-d%27Albion-Club-Med/y

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For more info, contact
Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
www.tourisme-ilemaurice.mu

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. Photos courtesy respective hotels, except Shanti Maurice, Radisson Blu Azuri & Sofitel (by authors). Four Seasons – Ken Seet. This article appeared on 9 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Here’s the link: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/16-gorgeous-hotels-for-your-next-holiday-in-mauritius/

 

Seychelles on the sea shore: 10 wonderful ways to discover Seychelles

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PRIYA GANAPATHY falls in love with the vibrant beautiful island life of the Seychelles and picks out enriching holiday experiences covering history, culture and cuisine

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Nearly a thousand miles off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean lies a cluster of 115 islands that make the Seychelles an unblemished paradise. Apart from lolling in its blissful sun-kissed beaches, here are 10 ways to experience Seychelles’ unique native culture and cuisine.

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1) Eat an octopus and pin your visiting card at Marie-Antoinette
Surrounded by a gigantic ocean teeming with aquatic life, Seychelles offers a generous platter of seafood. At weekly night markets like Bazar Labrin, sample Creole specialities like kari zouri (octopus curry) and sosouri (fruit bat). Pizzerias like La Fontaine at Beau Vallon in Mahe draw beachcombers to feast on salade de pieuvre (octopus salad), Assiette de fruit de mer (ocean platters), cigalle grille (grilled slipper lobster) and crispy calamari served on vibrant wooden fish placemats. At Bravo! on Eden Island Marina dig into crunchy octopus salad or grilled octopus with a fabulous view of docked yachts. Beryl and Brian of Glacis Heights Villa, a boutique homestay, consider kordonye as Seychelles’ favourite dish. The small fish makes ladies tipsy as it has an intoxicant tucked in its glands. For time-honoured Creole recipes, there’s no better place than Le Grand Trianon-Marie Antoinette Restaurant at St Louis Hill. Since 1972, thousands of travellers and celebrities have savoured a meal in this historic restaurant and guesthouse owned by Kathleen Fonseca, the grand lady of Creole cuisine. Declared a national monument in 2011, its high red roof, wood interiors, wide verandahs and white louvered windows wear a definitive stamp of tradition and taste. From the very first bite of mango salad and crunch of batter-fried Parrot fish, down to the last spoon of Coconut Nougat; the multi-course meal is divine. The colonial restaurant played home to journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley for a month after he tracked down missing explorer David Livingstone in Africa and uttered the famous words ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’. Henry renamed Marie Antoinette ‘Livingstone Cottage’ as tribute. Before you leave, do the local thing and pin your visiting card at the notice board!

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2) Learn to dance the sega
Another conspicuous facet of Seychellois island life is their love for music and dance. At night markets or by the beach catch locals singing or performing traditional dances like mutzya or moutia and sega around a bonfire. The moutia was an ancient form of protest music and dance of African origin that involves shuffling one’s feet to a rhythm. They say that when the Europeans brought the slaves here, they bound their feet with big chains causing them to drag their feet while they danced their pain away. Some say that the séance-like moutia is almost extinct as it was banned by the colonial rulers. But the sega continues to delight audiences with its irresistible charm. Holding up their flared skirts, ladies gyrate their hips rhythmically, moving their shoulders teasingly, prompting everyone around to join in.

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3) Hold the largest seed in the plant kingdom at Vallee de Mai
If you ever wondered what the primeval garden of Eden looked like, drop by at Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Praslin. It is a protected haven for the primitive coco de mer palm and the rare endemic Seychelles black parrot. The coco de mer’s erotic shape led people to believe it was aphrodisiacal and Arab traders of yore made a killing by encrusting the giant seed with gemstones and marketing them as prized collectibles. The guided walk is an eye-opener on the treasured palm which holds two botanical records as the world’s largest and heaviest seed and the largest male flower of any palm! The Morne Seychellois National Park at Sans Souci in Mahe is another invigorating hike that unravels many biodiversity secrets – critically endangered species like the strange jellyfish tree (Medusa tree), evergreen cloud forests atop Morne Blanc filled with mosses and giant ferns and endemic birds like Seychelles bulbul and White-tailed Tropicbirds, their dainty tails trailing like kites freed in the wind. Several nature trails across different islands are just a ferry or chopper ride away.

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4) Travel in an oxcart at La Digue
La Digue Island offers a true taste of tradition and a chance to slow down. Barring a few motorised vehicles, only quaint oxcarts, bicycles and walking are the main modes of travel here. Designed by explorer Dr Lyall Watson and one of La Digue’s most influential personalities Ton Karl, the oxcart is emblematic of the island. The contraption has since evolved into a hooded vehicle, adorned with coconut leaves and flowers, making it a well-loved mode of commuting for visitors. Visit L’Union Estate for a peek into the heritage bungalow and copra kiln, discover the antiquated oil extraction technique at an ox-drawn mill and the process of cultivating vanilla in its sprawling plantation. Interestingly, each vanilla stick is etched with UE (Union Estate)!

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5) Go on a scented spice trail
No trip to the ‘Vanilla Islands’ is complete without a spice trail. Le Jardin du Roi, the spice plantation at Anse Royale in Mahe provides the perfect DIY experience. Spread across 25 hectares of lush vegetation, the privately owned property dates back to 1854 and is a nature reserve, botanical garden and heritage museum cum restaurant rolled into one. Grab a map and checklist and head down any of the designated trails. The easy Rainforest Trail winds through a coffee estate in the shade of the mystical coco de mer trees, cinnamon and clove plantations, patchouli and ylang ylang valley and giant bamboo groves. The Garden Walk weaves past vanilla and pepper vines, shrubs of allspice and nutmeg, citronella bushes, stunning wild ginger, orchids and exotic fruit orchards. The Ridge Trail and the Gratte Fesses, both steep treks to the estate’s highest points present brilliant views of the island and bay. Dotted with peace gardens, an old cemetery, a distillery and souvenir shop, one can spend hours here.

IMG_1361 Curieuse Island hike to Doctor's House_Priya Ganapathy

6) Get curious on Curieuse Island
Just 1km off the coast of Praslin lies Curieuse Island, an erstwhile leper colony that now offers hiking, birdwatching, snorkelling and swimming opportunities. Go on a 1-hr guided trail past the tortoise sanctuary, climb stunning granite boulders hewn by wind and water, and trudge down boardwalks past mangrove swamps crawling with giant crabs, newts, salamander and shellfish twirling in the tangle of submerged roots. Doctor’s house, home of late Dr William MacGregror, a Scotsman who treated lepers at Anse Jose has been converted into a national museum showcasing the island’s fascinating history. For 136 years this quarantined island remained cut away from human influence, which helped protect its natural ecosystem. En route, see the remains of Curieuse Causeway, a seawall built in 1910, that blocked off the mangroves and created a pond for breeding Hawksbill turtles for shell trade. Struck by disease, the turtles died, but the wall served as a walkway for visitors until the 2004 tsunami almost wiped it out! Currently a Marine National Park, Curieuse Island has several rare endemic plant species. Besides the coco de mer palms, the other old-timers include giant tortoises who don’t mind sharing beach barbeques! In fact, the island has numerous free ranging Aldabra Giant land tortoises who love getting curious about you and your food! A 15 minute boat ride takes you to St. Pierre Islet, a haven for snorkelling and diving.

IMG_0172 Seychelles Tea Factory_Priya Ganapathy

7) Sey Beer, Sey Brew, SeyTe
Besides being one of the finest viewpoints in Mahe, the famous Seychelles Tea Factory showcases how tea is grown and manufactured. The Tea Tavern by the gate is a convenient place to enjoy a brew or buy a range of classic SeyTe, with blended varieties like Special Vanilla, Green Tea, Bio Tea, Indian Ocean, Orange and Cinnamon. The “Spirit of The Seychelles” flowed steadily at the renowned rum distillery Takamaka Bay at La Plaine St Andre, a 200 year estate and homestead. We discovered that the fascinating process of rum-making from sugarcane to shot glass actually began with an old sugarcane crusher imported from India! The noisy cast iron contraption had ‘Chabavak’ (chewer) embossed in Devnagiri script! After a heady tasting session of their extraordinary range of award winning spirits including White rum, Dark rum, Spice Rum and Vesou, we voted the premium St Andre 8 Year Old with its woody aroma and Coco Rum (a delicious blend with coconut extract) as favourites. The in-house restaurant La Plaine St Andre has a hearty Creole-inspired lunch of Millionaire salad with palm hearts and fish, Red snapper, chicken coconut curry and a sweet potato-banana-nutmeg dessert.

IMG_0488 Carnaval International de Victoria_Priya Ganapathy

8) Catch the Carnival spirit at Victoria, the smallest capital in the world
When the Carnaval International de Victoria hit the streets, the infectious festive spirit paints the capital in a riot of colour, dance and unabated fun. International and local acts, flamboyant costumes, music and vibrant tableaux create an electric mood as everyone whirls to capture the raw energy and beauty of the spectacle on camera. The much awaited carnival takes place around the third week of April every year.

IMG_0302 Tamil temple at Mahe_Priya Ganapathy

9) Visit the only Hindu temple in Mahe, the largest island of Seychelles
Not far from the heart of Victoria, the capital city, the spire of a South Indian shrine carved with rainbow hued gods and goddesses looks like it has been directly transplanted from a temple street in Tamil Nadu! From within the Sri Navasakti Vinayagar Temple, priests chant Sanskrit shlokas in soulful Carnatic style as bells, drums and nadaswara music resound inside. Clearly, the Hindu Tamils in Seychelles contribute to its multicultural ethos.

IMG_0644 Inter-island ferry_Priya Ganapathy

10) Learn scuba diving at Big Blue Divers
Beau Vallon in Mahe is the chosen hub for adventure seekers who come to sail, snorkel, dive, fish or parasail. With dive sites varying from 8-30m, Seychelles is suitable for both beginners and experienced divers. The waters are ideal between March-May and September-November. Big Blue Divers, run by Gilly and Elizabeth Fideria, offer diving sessions in crystal waters and coral gardens around Willy’s Rock. The treasures in this watery world with a coral reef swarmed by myriad fish can keep one rapt for hours. Elizabeth says, “People only have to dive once to know if they like it or not. Seychelles helps you figure out whether you’re a sea loving turtle or a land dwelling tortoise!”

IMG_0156 Seychelles is an excellent beach destination_Priya Ganapathy

Fact File
Getting There:
Jet Airways has flies to Mahé via Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Colombo. Air Seychelles flies direct from Mumbai to Mahé (4 hr 10 min) three times a week. For inter-island travel, hop on to Cat Cocos www.catcocos.com or local ferries from Mahé to Praslin and La Digue.

Where to Stay: Choose from private island resorts like www.fregate.com, www.north-island.com or www.denisisland.com to chalets, villas and luxury resorts like Hotel Savoy Resort & Spa (www.savoy.sc) in Beau Vallon (Mahé), Hotel L’Archipel www.larchipel.com (Praslin) to boutique homestays like Glacis Heights Villa (Mahé), farmstays and retreats. For budget holiday options visit www.seychellessecrets.com

For more details visit www.seychelles.travel

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story in the September 2015 issue of JetWings magazine.

Life’s a Beach: Great Escapes in India

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list the best sun-sand-surf experiences across India for the beach bum in us…

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With a 7000 km shoreline caressing the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, the Indian sub-continent boasts several enviable beaches where one can catch captivating dawn breaks, sunsets and the blissful songs of the ocean’s incessant rolling waves. For people largely wary of water whose idea of beach fun meant waddling fully clothed in the shallows, the evolution of India as an adventure beach destination has been slow. However, with the emergence of water sports and a fearless younger generation, India’s beaches are a hive of activity… 

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Yoga & Surfing at Mulki (Karnataka)
Launched by American surfing expert Jack Hebner and run by Krishna devotees, the Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram, better known as Ashram Surf Retreat at Mulki (30 km north of Mangalore) promises yoga, meditation, veg fare (served as prasad), detox (no smoking/alcohol allowed), plus surfing lessons! The Zodiac boat takes you to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. The ashram’s 3 guest rooms and sparse beaches provide the ideal terrain to learn in seclusion. May is a great season for beginners with 1-2 m high waves, though June-September sees 8 feet waves that are only for experienced surfers.

India Surf Club Ph 9880659130 www.surfingindia.net Tariff Rs.3500-4500, surfing lessons Rs.1500/p/day with complimentary lessons in yoga and use of river kayaks

Also try: Further up the Karavali coast, stop by at the basalt formations and aquamarine waters of St Mary’s Island off Malpe harbour. And don’t miss the sattvik charms of Sai Vishram Beach Resort at Baindoor, ‘a non-alcoholic, pure-veg resort’ with nice shacks, plush hill chalets and high adrenaline adventure sports.

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Moplah cuisine at Thottada (Kerala)
The 369 km drive from Kasaragod to Kochi down NH-17 traces the historic route along Kerala’s Spice Coast. But you needn’t go all the way down to Kovalam and Varkala for a taste of the sea. Kannur leaves you spoilt for choice with its beaches – Meenkunnu, Payyambalam, Thottada and Ezhara. Stay at seaside homestays like Kannur Beach House, Costa Malabari, Chera Rocks and Shanti Theeram while enjoying excellent Moplah fare. Nearby, skim the surf in your vehicle at the 5km long stretch of Muzhappilangad, India’s longest drive-in beach. Watch fishermen draw their boats and empty loads of green mussels and fish or catch the golden sunsets silhouetting Dharmadom Island.

Kannur Beach House Ph 0497-2836530, 9847184535, 9847186330 www.kannurbeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400 with two meals.
Shanti Theeram Ph 9947193896, 9995868880 www.shantitheeram.com Tariff: Rs.4,500 (Non AC) with two meals.
Ezhara Beach House Ph 0497-2835022, 9846819941, 9846424723 www.ezharabeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400

Also try: The Valiyaparamba backwaters near Nileswaram offer magnificent views and the best way to experience it is on a houseboat with Bekal Boat Stays. Choose from day trips, overnight rides or sunset cruises with delicious seafood served on board.  

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Artist Residency at The Dune (Pondicherry)
The lone door to the 700m seafront reminds you of a Floyd album cover. Set on a 35-acre patch, The Dune Eco-village is a concept resort with fusion food, exotic wat-su (water shiatsu) treatments and unconventional architecture, using upscaled materials from homes, palaces and shipyards! Recycled wine bottles, CFL lamps, solar heating, bicycles and organic farming ensure that the resort’s carbon footprint is 75% less than industry standards. Ranked among the world’s best eco hotels, spa destinations and luxury resorts, The Dune also runs an Artist Residency Program for longer stays. Shop at Artyzan, a vocational academy and design studio for handmade local crafts.

The Dune Eco Beach Village, Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet (via Pondy University) Ph 0413 2655751, 3244040, 9364455440 www.thedunehotel.com Tariff Rs.5,500-17,950

Also try: A 10-minute drive north of Pondicherry takes you to Serenity Beach, which lives up to its name especially on weekdays. The remote Paradise Beach near the Chunnambar backwaters is a clean haven with limited boat access. Besides backwater jaunts and boat rides, Chunnambar Resort organizes treks, picnics with packed lunch and beach sports.

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Act like a local at Aare-Vare (Maharashtra)
While tourists flock to Ganpatipule for temple darshan and camel rides, locals in the know head to the quiet yet curiously named Aare-Vare beach. Literally ‘This side, that side’, these strips of unusually dark sand dotted with seashells are ideal for beach cricket or volleyball. The winding cliff road opens out to stunning seaside views of rows of waves crashing onto the shoreline below. Base yourself at Atithi Parinay, a beautiful homestay equidistant from Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule for the vegetarian pleasures of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Ratnagiri-based Ocean Adventures, the only surfing club in Maharashtra, offers bumper rides, stand-up paddling, sunset wakeboarding, kayaking and Jet Ski tours at Ganpatipule. (Watersports closed during monsoon, reopens on Oct 15.)

Ocean Adventures Ph 9975553617 www.oceanadventures.in

Also try: Take the Sagari Mahamarg (Coastal Highway) down the Konkan Coast to lesser-known beaches like Mithbav, Kunkeshwar’s temple built by Arabian sailors and Sagareshwar, basing yourself at Dwarka Farms.

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Go gourmet at Ashwem-Morjim (Goa)
While first-timers to Goa converge on Baga-Calangute and backpackers favour Anjuna Vagator, the hip crowd mostly heads to Ashwem-Morjim. Easily the most pristine beach in North Goa, sparse crowds and some of the best shacks and restaurants have turned Ashwem into a gourmet paradise. Stay at Sur la Mer or Marbela Beach Resort and dine at La Plage with the ‘it’ crowd. At Morjim, witness the nesting and hatching of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles as you relish delicious seafood at Sublime.

Also try: Head north to Mandrem and Arambol, with its cliffs and a freshwater lake right on the beach

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Radhanagar, Havelock (Andamans)
For an island that boasts just two arterial roads, Havelock is quite a buzzing beach haunt with resorts, seafood restaurants and dive centres. Its crystal waters, rich marine life and coral reefs entice adventure seekers from around the globe to take the plunge. Ringed by forests of Andaman Bullet Wood, the gently sloping Radhanagar is considered the best beach in Asia with is white sandy shore. Barefoot Resort, which put Havelock on the tourist map, offers signature plushness with wood interiors of Nicobari huts and great scuba experiences. Take a nature hike to Hathi Tapu for snorkeling and diving lessons in an underwater realm of corals and rainbow hued marine creatures.

Barefoot Resort Ph 044 42316378 www.barefoot-andaman.com

Also try: The more offbeat Neil Island has a few beaches that present quite a few surprises – Laxmanpur 1 or Sunset Point, natural rock bridge and seaside walks at low tide at Laxmanpur 2 and limestone caves at Sitapur.

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Marine adventures down ECR (Tamil Nadu)
From Artist Villages to ATV rides, wildlife and architectural wonders, the ECR or East Coast Road south of Chennai is an assault course of many adventures. Go for a dash of adrenaline with OffRoad Sports, between Madras Crocodile Bank and Mahabalipuram, which offers ATV adventures on a 5-acre racetrack and cross-country trails through casuarina woods and beach dunes. Temple Adventures, a PADI certified scuba diving outfit on Covelong Road offer snorkeling lessons for Rs.800/hr, surfing (Rs.800/3hrs) scuba (Rs.2,000–21,000 for PADI courses). Or enroll for surfing lessons at Kallialay Surf Club. For kite-surfing, head to the temple town of Rameshwaram to tackle strong winds with Quest Adventures.

Offroad ECR Ph 9840922122 www.offroadecr.com
Temple Adventures Ph 9789844191, 9940219449 www.templeadventures.com
Kallialay Surf Club Ph 9442992874, 9787306376 kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com
Quest Adventures Ph 9820367412, 9930920409 http://quest-asia.com

Also try: At India’s only Danish outpost, savour the ozone-rich beach of Tranquebar. Stay at The Bungalow on the Beach overlooking the old Danish Fort and take heritage walks around the quaint town.

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Tajpur Beach (West Bengal)
Escape the done and dusted beach of Digha and head 16km east to Tajpur, now touted as Bengal’s adventure hotspot. Set between Shankarpur and Mandarmoni, Tajpur possesses one of the few motorable beaches on the east coast and is dotted with many nature camps and adventure outfits. Choose from a range of water sports like kayaking, parasailing, snorkelling, rubber boat propelling and zorbing to taking off on coastal bikes or treks. Scale the 35-feet high artificial rock wall at Tajpur Retreat Hotel, besides a high-rope activity system.

Tajpur Retreat Ph 98302 71064 www.tajpurhotel.com

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Rushikonda Beach, Vizag (Andhra Pradesh)
The serene Rushikonda Beach at Visakhapatnam is considered the most promising wind surfing site in Andhra Pradesh. After successful explorations a few years ago, the beach is the adopted home of surfing enthusiast Melville Smythe who teaches surfing basics at his surfing academy Waveriders.

Waveriders Surf School Ph 9848561052

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as part of the 13th Anniversary cover story on Great Escapes in India in the June 2014 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.