Opposite me in the glass-bottomed boat is a beautiful young French woman. We drift over purple, pink and creamy-white coral reefs as fish of all shapes and colours dart among the coral branches. Sea cucumbers pulse gently in the waves, and a long-nosed trumpet fish peers curiously at us through the boat’s clear hull.
We are wafting over turquoise seas under an impossibly blue sky studded with a few fluffy white clouds. The young woman’s husband kisses her tenderly on the cheek as she strokes his knee.
She is wearing a teeny-weeny bikini and is at least eight months pregnant. The other guests on the boat – French, Danish, German, Russian and other Europeans – are also in various stages of undress. Fat, thin, old, young, in shorts, bikinis, thongs, speedos, tank tops; everyone seems perfectly happy with the way they look, sublimely unselfconscious and totally comfortable in their bodies.
Hey, this is Mauritius, the ultimate beach holiday destination, and this is how holidays should be - relaxed, carefree and self-indulgent.
You’d be hard pushed to find a better family destination than the newly refurbished Ambre resort on the east coast of Mauritius; home to some of the island’s loveliest beaches. It rubs shoulders with St Géran, the exciting new Long Beach resort and the legendary Touessrok hotel – all members of the World Leisure Holidaysgroup which has holidays and packages to suit all pockets.
It’s been a tough couple of years for tourism globally. The US and European recessions have curtailed consumer spending and what’s the first thing to go when you’re cash-strapped? Your holiday, of course.
But now numbers are picking up again and because Ambre offers four-star luxury accommodation and amenities at three-star prices, the resort is buzzing.
No room is further than a few paces away from the inviting beach of soft sand, and if you don’t fancy lying out on the beach under a thatch umbrella sipping a Piña Colada or chilled coconut juice straight from the shell, then laze under a gazebo by the enormous beach-facing pool. Or the 20-metre tropical pool. Or watch the kids play in their special pool guarded by a row of stone dodos.
Yes, this was the island where the dodo hung out: now extinct and ‘dead as a dodo’, although you can still see a stuffed one in the museum in the tiny capital of Port Louis. While you’re there, a visit to the lovely tropical gardens of Pamplemousse is a must.
But holidays - especially the Christmas holidays - are primarily about children. Long gone are the days when you took the kids to the beach, dug sand castles, dug more sand castles, got hot, irritable and scratchy (although you can still do that!) and that was the routine.
Now there are kids clubs, teenage clubs, pubs with enormous TV screens where Dads can watch the latest soccer, cricket or rugby games, and a spa where Mum can treat herself to a special treatment or three.
Your holiday day might go like this...
The Sun Kids Club, set in a separate and safe corner of Ambre, is for four-11 years old and is run by a team of professional and trained staff who organise fun programmes and exciting activities 12 hours a day. You’ll find the kids won’t want to leave. And if you’ve toddlers, then babysitters are available.
For teenagers, there’s the Loft@Sun Generation Club, on the first floor above the Function Room, a fun hang-out for 12-17 year olds. Again, as with the Kids Club, there’s an experienced trained team who’ll take the youngsters on special day trips, provide great sports and recreation programmes, and in the evenings, there are beach barbeques and pizza nights to keep them happy and out of your hair.
So once the kids are all safely catered for, your holiday day might go like this.
After a continental or full English breakfast (or a combination of the two) take yourself off to the beach for a couple of hours with a book and some sunscreen. Then, if you fancy some exercise, pick up a kayak, a two-person pedal boat, a Laser dinghy, a wind-surfer, or go snorkelling. All these activities are included in your package or daily rate.
For an extra charge you can also go parasailing, take an undersea walk, go scuba diving (take a PADI course), go catamaran sailing, canoeing, kite sailing or big game fishing.
If you’re a land animal, then play tennis or badminton, have an aerobic workout, use the gym, do yoga, or play volleyball or table tennis. And if you’re a golfer, you have preferential access to the famous par-72 championship Touessrok course designed by Bernhard Langer.
Where to eat
That evening dine at Indigo, the main restaurant, with its live interactive buffet stations offering Chinese and Creole specialties (as well as your regular roast beef), or treat yourself to superb Italian food at the Dolce Vita restaurant.
If you’re looking for the ultimate family beach holiday then Ambre is a perfect choice, but if, however, you really want to splurge, then spoil yourself and your family at the iconic and breathtakingly lovely Touessrok, one of the leading hotels of the world, famous for its architecture – a blend of Mauritian, Indian, Caribbean and French – and its exclusivity.
Expect superb service (which you’ll find at all the World Leisure Holidays resorts), private beaches, secluded cloisters, cool courtyards, a variety of tucked away beaches, wooden bridges leading to small islands and great food
My last night at Touessrok, I dined at Safran, the resort’s Indian restaurant that has won multiple awards for its chef and food. It was one of the most memorable Indian fusion meals I have ever had anywhere in the world.
Damn! I don’t know now if I dare wear that tiny bikini…
Kate flew with the charming and friendly Air Mauritius, which has 10 weekly flights from Johannesburg to Mauritius, and three weekly flights from Cape Town. Call 011 601 3900 or visit www.airmauritius.com.