You don’t need us to wax lyrical about bleached sands, swaying palms and Tiffany-blue waters. This is Mauritius. It has all of that in spades, and you already knew so.

But what sets this Indian Ocean island apart from your archetypal beach paradise isn’t anything to do with those things, nor the kaleidoscopic coral reef, melodramatic sunsets or that the dodo was endemic to the country.

Ask anyone who’s visited, and they will tell you it’s the people.

While Arab and Swahili sailors knew of Mauritius long before the 16th century, the island is thought to have been uninhabited until the Dutch turned up in 1638. Since then, a steady stream of traders, travellers, settlers, slaves, pirates and princes have checked in from Britain, France, Africa, India, China and the Middle East, resulting in a brilliantly bizarre mishmash of cultures that ripples through the streets of the capital, Port Louis, and permeates the island via food, music and hospitality.

Geographically isolated, Mauritians are proud of this “lack” of national identity – they take ownership of it and will be sure to show you the richness of it, given half a chance.

While many who make the pilgrimage to this iridescent islet come simply to lie on the beach, perhaps with a quick snorkel or spot of waterskiing thrown in for good measure, those who venture beyond swimming pool or sun lounger will be rewarded with a variegated dollop of culture that is unlike anything found elsewhere.

Throw in volcanic mountains cloaked in rainforest filled with chattering monkeys and surveyed by swooping kestrels and this “archetypal paradise” you’ve seen plastered across postcards suddenly becomes anything but so.

And if it’s one of those holidays where really only massages and mojitos will do, Mauritius has ample opportunity for both.

TO STAY

Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita

On a resort-heavy island where intimate boutique stays are few and far between, the Four Seasons is one of the best when it comes to accommodation. A mammoth property sprawling throughout palm groves traversed by wooden bridges and licked by the ocean on the east coast of the island, this undeniable idyll gives you no reason to leave – contrary to everything we’ve just said. That is unless you count jumping on a boat to the hotel’s private island – a 15-minute ride away – for desert-island vibes with a side serving of top-drawer service. Other things not to miss include the incredible spa with treatment rooms suspended over the water and the hotel’s three restaurants (French, Italian, buffet). Those who like to stay active on holiday will not be disappointed by an array of watersports that turn the sea into a veritable playground, but we preferred hanging out by the private plunge pool behind our monstrously large villa.

Shangri-La Le Touessrok Resort & Spa

A tropical nirvana with Asian influence, Le Touessrok has one of the most gorgeous hotel beaches in Mauritius. A sweeping crescent-moon bay is backed by chic accommodations with thatched roofs. The interiors are awash with a natural colour palette to emphasise the bed-to-beach effect. Following a day spent trying your hand at various watersports, ambling over the bridge to the hotel’s private islet or simply sitting on a (well-serviced) sunlounger, make your way to the beach bar for a sunset happy hour on the sand, where all drinks are on the house. Food wise, you’ll want to make your way around the various restaurants – Japanese, Mauritian-Indian, beachfront and international – as your mood takes you. Le Touessrok is a real star for those who like to keep busy on holiday, with a daily roster of free classes and activities to choose from – yoga, volleyball, waterskiing, boules, HIIT – and you might just find yourself in a private PT class if everyone else is lounging on the beach. All that’s left to do following your hard work is hit the spa and opt for a signature special massage – you’ll come out a new person.

TO EAT

For those keen to experience Mauritian dining beyond their hotel, it can be tricky to know where to start. We’ve picked the best restaurants – including fine-dining to genuinely local haunts – around the island.

Head to the village of Grand Baie in the north for a varied range of restaurant options. Warm and welcoming, Sauterelle is the place for elegant local cuisine, with Le Pescatore another solid pick for gastro meets local grub. Mamma Mia is your go-to for pasta and pizza, while 1974, da Antonio e Giulia serves Italian-Sicilian fare and a daily changing seafood menu, set inside a former aquarium. Le Capitaine is another good spot – it’s a bit touristy but if you book ahead and pre-order fresh fish cooked in a salt crust you’re in for a real treat. Following dinner, head to the legendary Banana Bar for live music and cocktails.

On the east coast you’ll find one of our absolute favourite restaurants on the island: Le Café des Arts. Taking up a colourful residency in a former Victorian sugarcane factory, this restaurant-cum-arthouse can only be described as a “hidden gem” though we’re loathe to use the cliché. Get stuck into fresh island produce formulated into refined plates or international dishes such as chateaubriand, washed down with a brilliant wine list.

Those looking for a truly local experience should head for Domaine in the north of the island – it’s the best in our opinion, though quite tricky to find if you don’t know where you’re going (your taxi driver will). Those staying south will find Chez Rosy in Souillac another excellent example of proper Mauritian dining, as is Le Palais de Barbizon in the southeast.

TO DO

Catamaran cruise

A luxe way to take in the impressive topography of this volcanic isle with its craggy peaks and humdrum fishing villages. Be treated like royalty by JPH Charters as you float along Mauritius’ perimeter before heading out to sea. A cheerful crew will keep you well satiated with a variety of cold drinks and snacks (grilled chorizo anyone?) as well as offering to blast out your music, P Diddy style. But what really knocked our socks off was the surprise appearance of a family of sperm whales who put on a show around our boat. Surely they can’t have arranged that?

Buggy through the National Park

Buggying is always a good idea, particularly if it involves ragging the vehicle down steep dirt tracks and dodging branches as you trundle through a national park. Just make sure to stop and look at indigenous flora and fauna and snap panoramic views of the ocean. If nature is your thing, try a 4×4 adventure or one of Heritage Nature Reserve‘s various hiking excursions, depending on how active you’re looking to get.

My Moris Tour

We would never recommend a tour company unless it was brilliant – and this one is. Billing themselves as “Mauritius beyond the clichés”, these guys work with locals (and they really do do that) to open doors on island living that you wouldn’t otherwise experience. Offering cooking classes, artisan workshops, cycling trips through fishing villages and more, they let you get under the skin of Ile Maurice without feeling like an ogling tourist. We highly recommend the Port Louis food tour, which takes you from the capital’s Indian quarter to Chinatown via plenty of markets with street food galore along the way, and just the right amount of local history as you go.

Experience local art at The Third Dot

Art is picking up in Mauritius and this gallery located in DOCK13 – a 652m2 former dock overlooking the Taiwanese boats of Port Louis – showcases the best creative talent from Mauritius and across the Indian Ocean. It also has a lovely café and design shop called Travel Society. If you’re after more aesthetics, check out the Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean (ICAIO) which houses interesting work from private collections, featuring artists from the Indian Ocean and its peripheries, some of whom are displayed at the Tate Modern.

Visit Mahébourg Village

This quintessential, somewhat ramshackle town in the southeast is well worth a visit to experience coastal living. Once a thriving port, the area now leads a somewhat quieter existence. Spend a morning strolling through streets filled with local markets and sampling spicy street food before dipping your toes in the sea at the pretty beaches bookending settlement.

Dive at Pointe d’Esny Beach

Divers shouldn’t miss this beautiful beach and its preserved, pristine lagoon in Blue Bay in the southeast of Mauritius. That being said, with some of the whitest sands and clearest waters on the island, it’s a hit among those who prefer to stay above water too.

Lunch at The Governor’s House on Île Plate

Following a light breakfast, take a morning boat ride to the desert island of Île Plate, arriving just in time for lunch. The untouched ruins of the former governor’s house offer a surreal backdrop for tucking into fresh salads and grilled seafood (don’t miss the crayfish) before retreating to a lounger for a siesta. One of those “remember forever” experiences, it’s simultaneously glamorous and off the beaten track. Very, very special. Your hotel should be able to recommend the best company and arrange it all for you.

Road trip in the south

Always a brilliant way to get out and explore on your own, rent a car and the island really is your oyster. One of the best routes is to head southwards along the coast, finishing up in time for sunset at Le Morne public beach, where you shouldn’t miss sampling gateaux piments – bite-sized Mauritian chilli balls – from a local vendor.

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