Island adventure: Five have fun in Mauritius
Alexander Armstrong thought luxury and relaxation were all in the past until he found a hotel that takes care of the little things.
Saturday 23 July 2011
Yes, I suppose we could have planned it better. Not our holiday of course, that had been given some thought. Fun and sunshine was in order, and yes maybe even enough for everyone. No, I'm talking about the number of small children we suddenly have knocking about at home. Three of them. The oldest is three. We have gone from nought to Massive Noisy Family in just three years. And as each child has emerged onto the sunlit uplands of normal sleeping, the next child has appeared bang on cue to cock it all up. Enormous fun, of course, but as I said, we could have planned it better.
And while our lives are now pleasingly full of new treats like wet wipes, Peppa Pig and lingering lunches in Byron Burger, one thing we were quite obviously never going to have again was a spoiling hot holiday abroad. Because there is the kind of hol you go on before children where you stay in impossible luxury and swan around reading books by swimming pools, signing for club sandwiches and bottles of rosé at lunchtime, and walking through the spume at sunset carrying-your-shoes-like-they-do-in-the-brochures.
The "from children onwards" holiday happens in a cottage with bunk-beds and worn towels and endless laminated notices saying things like "The immersion heater will explode if left on overnight".
I am genuinely delighted with both kinds of getaway, but knowing that the spume-and-rosé one is now off-limits gives it a terrible and dangerous allure, and makes me feel so old. It's not off-limits of course – you can take your small children with you anywhere you like – but what's the point? Who wants to fly long-haul with howling progeny when it's just a fortnight of hot childcare at the far end without all the handy resources of home? Exactly.
If this feels like a familiar train of thought then I have unbelievably good news: the Royal Palm in Mauritius is the first absolutely tip-top, eye-wateringly luxurious hotel I have ever been to that does all the normal stuff (couple of pools, several restaurants, ridiculous spa, food to make glad the hearts of men, loo-roll folded into a V...) at the same time as taking the comfort and joy of their younger guests as one of their highest priorities.
Some genius has worked out that by going the long way round to make the children's experience as good as it can possibly be, parents can have the kind of holiday they have only had guilty dreams about since muslins and teddies came into their lives.
By this I don't mean simply that they have a good kids' club (although they do). It's more impressive than that. The hotel's staff and management seem to have a strangely parent-like understanding of what children need and want. Amble into breakfast, for example, with grumpy kids in tow, and a flurry of beaming waiters will pick them up and whisk them to a table where high-chairs will already be waiting. Not a massive deal in itself, but the sort of thing that makes a sleepless parent crumple and sob with gratitude.
Arriving at a hotel at the beginning of a fortnight's holiday is inevitably a tense moment. What if you've ballsed up and committed yourselves to somewhere ghastly? And how long will it take before the penny drops? As it does with most things, the Royal Palm does arrivals rather well. And they don't hang about in letting you know that you have come somewhere rather special.
We had arrived on an overnight flight from the UK, so when we stepped into the colossal reception looking all pasty and underslept, crumpled and prickly in our wintry English clothes, it was the sparkling morning sun that whipped off the blue, blue Indian Ocean and whacked us between the eyes. Agapanthus and bougainvillea were bouncing stupidly in the breeze, and the receptionist suggested we just head straight for our suite "... and we can sort everything out once you're settled in". I have never in my life felt the dirt fall from my fingernails with such a clatter.
Orientation at the Royal Palm is relatively simple. It has its own long, white sandy beach fringed by a rather beautiful garden, and the hotel lies just back from that. There are none of the stand-alone villas that you might expect in such a resort. Instead, all guests are accommodated in suites of various sizes arranged over three floors of an attractive long, modular block that from the air must look like the Very Hungry Caterpillar or a pretty good run on Blockbuster.
We had opted for a middle-sized suite (two regular suites with a communicating door) to house the five of us.It was pretty perfect – but it didn't stop us coveting dreadfully the swanky suites with the enormous balconies that were a couple of notches up the tariff.
Stretching out behind the accommodation block lies all the fun stuff. An enormous and extremely senior spa complex sits splendidly around a courtyard of gently burbling water features. I am afraid we didn't quite get around to sampling the spa, but its situation took some beating.
Equally sophisticated was the gym. Every hotel gym I have ever been to has been a perfectly adequate but ultimately poor and distant relation of the kind of place I'm used to: treadmills of Olivia Newton-John vintage making very heavy weather of anything above a shilly-shally; weights that are trim and foreign, and somehow smaller than seems right. The gym at the Royal Palm is none of these things. It is three huge studios with highly polished floors clustered around another peaceful quadrangle. One is for cardio stuff, another for weights and machines (both, of course, packed wi th the best, the shiniest, the most recently manufactured equipment I have ever dared pick up or stand on). The third is a Pilates studio fully kitted out with scary-looking beds and a (less scary-looking) instructor. Evidently, this is another area in which the Royal Palm has decided not to muck about.
Then we come to the kids' club. Except they don't call it a kids' club, they call it the Mini-Club – kind of appropriate as there's nothing else remotely condescending about it. It is an entire villa of its own with a hefty garden beyond. It has a swimming pool with fun-size sun-loungers ranged around it, and Mini-Club towels and cushions so that children can feel grown-up. The club also has its own puppet theatre, about 20 ride-on bikes and trucks, children-sized everything (armchairs, tables, loos and basins) and about a million toys of the kind children actually like (ie ones that take batteries).
Far from being the musty corner of some staff flat nobody wanted, this was the place where our lot begged to go every day until only the bribe of ice cream would persuade them to come and play with their old parents.
There is one problem with the Royal Palm: the food. Only it's not the problem you're thinking, in fact quite the reverse. The menu here changes daily (although the favourites re-appear from time to time) so that each dinner is like another night in a very exciting restaurant. And it's fabulous; not just tired old stuff banged out with a smear of goo on the plate and called Fine Dining, but astoundingly good cooking.
There are three different restaurants by day and two in the evenings and not one of them does the usual trick of laying on a buffet under the guise of "themed" cuisine. No, here you get waiters, crisp linen, a proper menu, amuses-bouches, spectacular "breads", more waiters, pudding-y amuses-bouches and a stonking three-course dinner. Even if you decide to have a quiet night in with room service, a small cadre of kitchen staff will turn up with your supper (and the "breads", and the amuses-bouches), and cover your balcony with napery and candles. The problem is simply that you can't avoid eating like Michael Winner every time you lift a fork, and after a fortnight of that – even if you visit the shiny-floored gym– you will wonder why those prickly winter clothes feel quite so snug on the flight home.
It's funny how hotels have done luxury over the years: colour tellies, towelling dressing-gowns, chocolates on pillows, rose petals, Wi-Fi, fruit... these days there's no longer even anything wildly spoiling about a DVD player or iPod dock in your room. There is, however, one luxury that trumps all others and that's thoughtfulness. At the Royal Palm some very clever people have given your holiday an awful lot of thought, and it shines through everything they do. We will most definitely be going back and just knowing that makes me feel, well... younger.
Alexander Armstrong co-presents The Great British Weather on Wednesday at 7.30pm on BBC1
Travel essentials: Mauritius
* Beachcomber Tours (01483 445 685; beachcombertours.co.uk) offers seven nights at Royal Palm Mauritius from £2,650 per person, including half-board accommodation in a Junior Suite plus return flights from Heathrow with Air Mauritius and private transfers. You can fly non-stop to the island from Heathrow by Air Mauritius (020-7434 4375; airmauritius.com) and British Airways (0844 497 0787). Or fly from one of many UK airports via Paris on Air France (0870 142 4343; airfrance.co.uk).
* Royal Palm Mauritius, Grand Baie, Mauritius (00 230 209 8300; royalpalm-hotel.com).
* Mauritius Tourism: 020-7584 3666; tourism-mauritius.mu
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