AT THE back of my bedroom in Le Galawa beach hotel was a sofa, draped in cheerful blue, and a sliding glass door. On my first day I slid the door open, walked out onto the lush grass and counted the steps to the ocean. It was splashdown after 10 steps.

There is something indescribably revitalising about sleeping so close to this turquoise water, with only a few yards of peroxide white sand between you and some of the most spectacular underwater scenery in the world.

Le Galawa Beach is a resort hotel on the dry, northwest edge of Grand Comore, the largest island in the archipelago of the Comores, which lies off Madagascar. Grand Comore, a volcanic island, is circled by coral reefs that divers reckon are among the best in the world. The island has seen its share of troubles over the past few years, including two invasions led by French mercenary Bob Denard. The instability meant tourists have stayed away and so Grand Comore remains unspoiled, and very impoverished.

Le Galawa is a smallish, South African-owned resort hotel with its own casino. Service is enthusiastic, but a little chaotic. Orders for pina coladas often came back as margaritas, but who cares? The rooms are stretched out over two private white-sand beaches and every morning the sun rises from the volcano behind you, and sets in the sea in front. The hotel also offers PADI diving courses. After a day spluttering around the pool I was looking lionfish in the eye in a parallel universe.

Every evening there is a barbecue of freshly caught and seasoned fish. The scent of lime and coriander mixes with the lushness of ylang-ylang, a perfumed flower that, with vanilla, is the island's main export. Arabian and Indian influences in the cuisine mean turmeric, curry and ginger infused the mahi-mahi and tuna.


Le Galawa Beach hotel is at PO Box 1027, Moroni, Federal Republic of the Comores (00 269 788 118).

The island is half an hour from the airport at Moroni, capital of the Comores. Rent a car at reception and you can explore the spectacularly located Muslim villages on the far reaches of the huge volcano. Kids playfully demand baksheesh in French (the Comores used to be a colony). A driver will take you to the jewellers' shops in Moroni. Gold earrings and necklaces are pitifully cheap. This is a very poor country, so don't bargain too hard.

Transport: The hotel will pick you up from the airport for free.


Greek-village blues and rattan furniture fill rooms, which aren't enormous, but the views are stunning.

Freebies: pounds 20 worth of free chips for the hotel's small casino. I won pounds 40 the first night, and lost much more later - worthwhile to see honeymooners bickering over which number to put their last chip on.

Staying in touch: Mobiles don't work and the phone lines went down twice. Now that's what I call a proper holiday.


Room rates are $100 (pounds 63) a night officially, but there are numerous package discounts.

I'm not paying that: The self-catering Maloudja Beach Bungalows are 300m along the beach, and run by the same company. Rooms are smaller and less luxurious, but you can use all Le Galawa's facilities at prices that are up to 35 per cent cheaper.