Stay The Night: Sofitel So, Mauritius
From its floating spa to the moated restaurant, this temple-like hotel offers a blissful break from reality, says Adrian Mourby
There is something serene and otherworldly about Sofitel's recently opened property at the southern end of Mauritius.
It may be the Buddhist influence of Thai architect "Lek" Bunnag, who surveyed the 34-acre site early on and decided to make a feature of the Belle Rivière watercourse as it makes its way to the Indian Ocean.
Visitors arrive via gardens of raked sand and are greeted in a temple-like structure before being driven down over bridges and past the thatched spa. You can access it only by stepping on paving slabs raised from the flowing water around it.
Guests sleep in semi-detached whitewashed stone pods (known as prestige suites) with a carved dodo guarding each pair. Each suite has its own private garden that leads down towards the white-sand beach. By contrast, the common areas – reception, the bar and dining areas – are lofty and thatched in sugar cane, recalling some South Sea Island paradise.
Despite the dodo and the use of ubiquitous hibiscus motifs, don't expect the real Mauritius here. This is fantasy land. For the moment forget the real world (and that long journey back) and just enjoy.
Into the restraint of Bunnag's 90 suites and villas (plus two impossibly expensive presidential villas), Japanese designer Kenzo Takada has exploded with his own range of brightly coloured vases, hibiscus-motifed pillows and giant lime-green leather beds. You'll see the same colours and floral patterns in the saris worn by hotel staff, who waft around smiling serenely. Apart from the massive bed, each of the suites has a range of ways to get yourself clean – indoor and outdoor showers, marble double sinks and a hot tub in the garden outside. There is nowhere simply to sit and read a book. The purpose of these bedrooms is to take off your clothes and roll around and wash a lot. Beds and linen are by MyBed – a Sofitel brand that boasts an incomparable night's sleep. Toiletries are by Kenzo himself.
The food and drink
The triumph of So Mauritius is Le Flamboyant, the "floating dining room". Actually, it's more moated than floating, with cascades of water running down into blue tiled channels on all four sides of the freestanding thatched structure. Access is over wooden bridges. Try not to see it before evening, when the whole place is illuminated by 12 tall pillars of blue light. The menu is under the supervision of Jacques Ledu, formerly of the Lemuria resort in the Seychelles, and once a holder of Mauritian Chef of the Year. His work is augmented by Nilesh, a young sommelier whose recommendations are to be trusted. Lunch is taken at La Plage, a beachside restaurant under a similar thatched roof where executive chef Isabelle Alexandre has collaborated with three-Michelin star Frédéric Anton to create a menu that takes its cue from fish caught locally. There is a fixed price dinner at ¤60 (£53) a head, without wine, in Le Flamboyant. Going off-menu could prove expensive – but worthwhile.
In-room internet connection is free but surprisingly slow. Rooms have CD players and iPod docks. DVD players are available on request and there is a free DVD library. So Spa is the hotel's moated spa. Tennis lessons are available, and there are free glass-bottom boat cruises.
Pets not permitted. Children up to the age of 12 stay free in their parents' room and there is a free kids' centre with its own swimming pool. Wheelchair access is adequate as there are no steps, but the number of routes that involve stepping stones across delightful channels of water may result in a bumpy ride.
Prestige suites (double rooms) cost from ¤376 room only, with breakfast costing ¤30 per person.
Sofitel So Mauritius Bel Ombre, Route Royal, Beau Champs, Bel Ombre, Mauritius (00 230 605 58 00; sofitel.com).
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