Enjoy a Double Luxury Short Break in Dubai and Mauritius
Why have just one luxury holiday when you can plump for two if you are flying over to Mauritius via Dubai . Here are two phrases I never thought I’d hear in my life: one of them is, ahem, ‘foot virtuoso’ (more of which later), the other is ‘pastry library’. I am confronted with the latter at Stay, the swanky signature restaurant situated in One&Only The Palm, sister hotel to the brand’s Royal Mirage resort – itself located a ten-minute speedboat ride away on what passes for Dubai’s ‘mainland’.
Feeling as if I have entered an annexe of Willy Wonka’s factory, I try to locate my sweet tooth as I gaze at the vast variety of homemade truffles, caramels, slabs of flavoured chocolate, lollipops and marshmallows displayed in jars like so many jewels, to which you can simply help yourself (you don’t even need to give them back; that’s my idea of a good library). In addition, explains our effusive maître d’, the pastry chef will assemble, in front of you, any of the desserts du jour – or, if you can’t decide, he’ll prepare a selection, which arrives at your table on a sinuous metre-long steel serving dish. It’s a grown-up, sexy sweetshop, and of course I don’t leave Michelin-starred French chef Yannick Alléno’s restaurant without stuffing my face.
As gimmicks go, it’s a good one – and Dubai is only one of many in an emirate that constantly tries to be bigger and better, not only than everyone else, but also itself.
Witness the evidence: up the road, at the top of The Palm – the result of the notoriously ludicrously ambitious plan to literally create an island out of the sea – sits the Atlantis hotel, which houses the world’s most expensive suite (a mere $25k a night). But now it’s six years old, it’s practically geriatric in Dubai terms, and construction is about to commence on a new Atlantis just next door (which will, of course, have a lot more than the paltry 1,500 rooms at the old one).
The world’s biggest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall – covering 12.1 million sq ft, and which contains its own aquarium – is here, too. But already local movers and, er, sheikh-ers are currently planning to build the 48 million sq ft Mall of the World, complete with climate controlled streets, the world’s largest indoor theme park and 100 hotels and apartments.
With fewer than seven hours’ flying time from London, and only a three-hour time difference, Dubai is the more-accessible Vegas (though without the gambling); a neon-lit, skyscraper-dominated playground where fantasies can, and do, come true. And while its location, perched above the Indian Ocean, usually means it functions as a brief stopover to somewhere more far flung, spending a few days here to soak up its frantic pace means your next destination – in my case Mauritius, thanks to Emirates’ new direct flight – will inevitably be a total contrast.
I’m staying at the Royal Mirage, a resort comprising three distinctive hotels, whose decadent décor is courtesy of acclaimed global design firm Wilson Associates. Firstly, The Palace: opened in 1999, it was the first hotel in Dubai to buck the slick glass-and-steel trend, its exteriors and interiors going back to Middle Eastern roots – all domed, painted ceilings, arabesque archways and pale, sandy tones. Next door is the Residence, which, with only 50 rooms compared with the Palace’s 231, has more of an exclusive, boutique feel, and is where celebrities such as George Clooney come when they don’t want to be disturbed.
Finally, there is the mid-sized Arabian Court, which has 150 recently refurbished rooms, decorated in striking tones of either pistachio green, royal purple, sapphire blue or hot pink. All feature individual pieces – bold pots, antique mirrors, vintage paintings – sourced from countries including Morocco, India, Tunisia and Iran. At night, when all three properties are atmospherically lit by Zoom round sand dunes in a 4x4, with the speed of the drivers dictated by your screams 118 lamp and candlelight, it’s a Bedouin bonanza.
The resort is set out across a kilometre of private, sandy beach, and occupies 65 acres of beautiful, landscaped gardens. Each property has its own pool and different signature restaurants, which guests can choose between. Apart from the aforementioned Stay, I loved the Residence’s delightful Dining Room, a formal but unstuffy, airy space reminiscent of a 1950s gentlemen’s club, whose classic offerings – grilled beef tenderloin with pan-fried foie gras, roasted black cod with clams – satisfy a broad range of palates; and the Arabian Court’s poolside Asian-themed Eauzone. Slickly designed, with backlit panels of modern art on the walls, the food at Eauzone is just as stunning to look at – and eat – with the menu comprising the likes of herb-crusted sea bass, oven-baked lobster and wok-seared beef. There is a stunning spa next to the Residence, which will pummel or pamper you according to your desires – the indulgent classic hammam treatment, delivered in a cavernous, low-lit, marble-tiled room, does both.
And if you can tear yourself away from the resort, there are distractions galore. Apart from endless shopping, you can get, um, wet and wild at the Wild Wadi Water Park – a raucous sprawl of go-faster rides and slides – shoot to the top of the world’s current highest building, the Burj Khalifa, for a view from its observation deck, 555m above ground, or zoom around the undulating sand dunes outside the emirate in a 4x4 on a desert safari (the speed at which the devil-may-care drivers go appears to be dictated by your screams). Life here seems to go at a hundred miles per hour – and then some.
But if Dubai shouts, Mauritius – a lush, green, mountainous island slap-bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean – whispers. It’s the pastelcoloured watercolour to Dubai’s GoPro selfie.
A former French colony, its residents speak a mixture of French and Creole, and live in an assortment of pretty little towns and villages scattered among endless fields of sugar cane – its most important export after the island itself. The One&Only Le Saint Géran hotel (the island’s very first luxury property, which opened in 1975) is situated on its own private peninsula in Belle Mare, on the north-east coast. When you arrive, the vibe is instantly relaxing; shoulders loosen as the dazzle of the sun reflects off the sea, viewed from the impressive open lobby. The 162 ocean or lagoon-facing suites – each with their own 24-hour butler – are decorated to fit in with the surroundings, in pale browns, creams and terracottas, with teak slatted balcony doors.
Set in 60 acres of gardens, studded with exotic flowers, it’s the 1.7km of secluded, palm-lined beach you’ll want to the spend most time around. Especially as a whole long list of watersports is included in the price of your stay.
So if you’ve ever fancied stand-up paddleboarding (tricky unless you’ve got a great sense of balance), waterbiking (basically a bike on floats), kayaking, snorkelling, waterskiing or more, this is the place for you. Alternatively, you can play a pro on one of the hotel’s five tennis courts, swing a club on its nine-hole golf course (or arrange to play on any of the bigger courses at other resorts nearby), head to the fully equipped gym – which has machines with in-built computers so you can keep up with your social media – or unwind in the spa. And it’s here I encounter the One&Only’s ‘foot virtuoso’ – a disciple of Bastien Gonzalez, an ‘internationally famous French podiatrist’. While it sounds a bit fetishy, I leave after a 60-minute treatment having had my Hobbit-like heels sanded down to baby-smoothness, my toenails shaped and polished, and my collapsing arches massaged into shape. Apparently more and more men are taking advantage of these treatments, too; I can only tell you that your partner will love you more for it if you do.
Dining here is exceptional; I have the best steak of my life at Prime, which specialises in grilled meat. A slab of wagyu beef melts in the mouth, accompanied by a rich and indulgent macaroni cheese. And if you prefer to eat by the water, try the ridiculously delicious food at the Indian Pavilion, guaranteed to make you forget about every dodgy takeaway curry you’ve ever had, or have a romantic dinner for two set up on the beach.
Beyond the resort’s walls is the opportunity to take in some local culture; you can visit the capital, Port Louis, and try haggling at the market for souvenirs and spices. Or do as I did and take a tour of one of the island’s five rum distilleries. The Chamarel Rhumerie, which opened in 2008, produced a hefty 124,000 litres of rum last year. The best bit, of course, is trying the products afterwards; from the single distilled to VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) you can taste notes such as vanilla, caramel, and, well, sunshine. Ah, sunshine. Along with pastry libraries and foot virtuosi, Dubai and Mauritius surely have it all.