There are petals on my three-year-old son's bed. Petals that oh-so-delicately spell out his name: Q U I N C Y. They've been arranged by our Villa Master. We are touched, but rather embarrassed. The Villa Master is bored: we are not his usual type of guest; we are doing too many things for ourselves. He has had to invent a way to pass the time with our pleasure in mind.
We are staying in a "villa" at the Belle Mare Plage Resort, one of the premium hotels on the groomed sands of the east coast of Mauritius. It really is a villa, not a souped-up suite. It may be purpose-built but it is two storeys high with its own garden path leading to its own front door. It has two double bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a huge sitting room with home cinema, and a private garden with slate-lined pool set with sunbeds, and a gazebo for dining al fresco or romantic moments when the little ones are asleep. It has a kitchen too. But that's not real. That's where our Villa Master seeks refuge, assembling the offerings delivered by room service rather than cooking. You couldn't rustle up cheese on toast in there.
And that's the point. This is a serviced villa, a private retreat with full access to five-star facilities. Opened in 2002, our villa is typical of a recent growing trend in the world's top-class resorts. It is not designed for self-caterers who are counting the pennies. It's for wealthy travellers who want the privacy and the space - but not the hassle. They get a palatial pad with the latest ultra-mod cons and a servant who will run errands, organise room service, attend to the housekeeping - even play with the kids, when they get a moment.
Once upon a time, wealthy parents left their offspring at home with the nanny when they went to a posh hotel for a break. Children were neither meant to be seen nor heard in such establishments. A holiday with the kids was a much more earthy affair involving oversized tents or dank cottages or eccentric b&bs. The children didn't need posh. They wouldn't appreciate posh. (The truth is, it's probably still true.)
But we've changed: we don't see enough of the kids these days. Yet we want to preserve all those adult pleasures - we're not prepared to spend the whole holiday looking after the little darlings; it's our break too. So there must be plenty of stuff for the kids to do, a fact that has got the top hotels scrambling to devise à la carte menus of children's services. Our son has tried and tested every complimentary child-sized gift from mini-bathrobes to Michelin-starred teddy chefs. He has been dragged kicking and screaming into the finest of kids' clubs. And he's proved a trial for the most pleasant line-up of suitably qualified babysitters. Though he's more often been an angel (well, I am his mum).The villa concept is just the latest in a long line of inspired ideas that will smooth the head of the family's furrowed brow.
"People are looking for all the trappings that one gets with a five-star hotel but they want the freedom that a villa gives you," says Jennifer Trotter, marketing manager of top-end UK tour operator ITC Classics.
"Sometimes you don't want to have to sit down to dinner with an entire room of guests. It's far more intimate - and convenient - to have dinner together as a family, particularly when you've got really little ones.
"That's why people tend to take these villas. It's more like a home-from-home experience. You've got a definite bedroom area and living area, and you can set up a play area for your children. You can have staff come to the villa and do the cooking."
The Belle Mare Plage was one of four resorts we visited on our trip to Mauritius and the only one then offering the villa option - we stayed in rooms at the other three. Though all four hotels claimed to be "child-friendly" and had kids' clubs, the guests at one clearly subscribed to the idea that children should not be seen or heard. Our visit was outside school holidays and our son was the only child staying. And while he (admirably) tried to amuse himself by splashing around in the sea and trundling his toy truck along the private beach, his presence was obviously unwanted by some sunbathers. The choice was to put up with the tut-tutting or hide in our room. We opted for the former but spent the whole time shushing him. There's something to be said for the privacy and freedom of those villas, embarrassing servants and all.
Kate Simon travelled with ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk), which offers seven nights' b&b in a two-bedroom villa with pool from £5,667 for two adults and one child under 12 sharing, including flights and transfers.
Our favourite chic hotel
We love Carlisle Bay - the uber-chic hotel in Antigua created by Gordon Campbell Gray of One Aldwych fame. And now we hear its about to introduce a special programme for children.
Plans are afoot to open a covered children's pavilion on the beach in January, so the little ones can enjoy splashing about in the water under the watchful eyes of capable childminders. Meanwhile, you can slope off to Blue, the hotel's spa, gym and well-being centre, which is also adding five new treatments to its already impressive menu.
A seven-night break at Carlisle Bay starts at £2,250 per adult and £780 per child, based on a family of four sharing (two adults and two children under 12 years) with Carrier (01625 547 020; www.carrier.co.uk). The price includes return flights, private transfers, accommodation in a Beach Suite, breakfast, afternoon tea and three-course dinner daily.
Our favourite luxury safari
Our tip for this year's luxury family safari? We say try the two new family-friendly properties that are about to burst on to the scene in the Lower Zambezi in Zambia.
Luangwa Safari House, opening in April, will be set apart from the main camp on the banks of the Luangwa river, with activities for those too small to enjoy the fun of the game drives. And Chongwe River House, is set to open in December, with dedicated staff and plenty to entertain the kids - if you can drag them away from Silky, the pet impala.
Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; www.rainbowtours.co.uk) will team up with Tangala House for a nine-night safari tour starts at £2,990 per adult and £2,850 per child under 12 years, based on a party of eight sharing, including return international and domestic flights, transfers, full-board accommodation, fees, private vehicle and guiding, all childcare and bar.Reuse content