chip cookies, apple tarts and crème brulée cartwheeled across my
daydream, but the soft yet insistent voice cut through my reverie. "Madame,"
she said. "Madame!"
must have been the coconut. After the most delicious massage I've ever enjoyed,
I awoke covered with curly white aromatic shavings like a giant macaroon.
had fallen asleep as my petite masseuse administered the "paillasson"
at the spa in the Oberoi Resort on Mauritius. The therapy involved the entire
coconut - first, a full body scrub with the coir husk, then a peeling with the
soft, white interior and finally, a rub with scented oil.
now, my time was up and she wanted me awake and gone to my frangipani-scented
I rolled off the table and wrapped up in the plush terrycloth bathrobe, slipping
my feet - even they had been coconut oiled -- into the scuffs. With one last wistful
glance at the waterfall out the window, I headed to the dressing room.
reason to visit a resort is to step out of the ordinary. Instead of deadlines
and traffic, there's leisure and tranquility. If there's a spa on site, all the
better. An appointment with someone whose only job is to pamper body and soul
is a gift beyond measure.
Oberoi Mauritius is all about retreating from reality. First of all, it's on the
island nation of Mauritius - one of those places that will cause your friends
to stare at you blankly as they try to place it on the globe. (Hint: look for
a small island that's south of the equator and east of Africa.) Nobody's likely
to run across you accidentally when you're surrounded by the Indian Ocean!
|Oberoi Resort, Mauritius.
Photo © Susan McKee.
fact, very few Americans visit Mauritius. Last year, of some 350,000 tourists,
only 3,900 carried U.S. passports. Celebrities who really want to get away from
the hassles of fame come here (the ones who pretend they're annoyed by notoriety
go to New York or Paris).
island does have one big claim to fame. Remember the dodo bird? This is where
it was driven into extinction - not so much by the colonizing Dutch, but by the
housecats they brought with them (what carnivore could resist pouncing on a bird
that didn't fly?).
centuries of Arab and Portuguese sailors had made note of the island, it seems
there was no indigenous human population at the time of the Dutch arrival in 1598.
They named it in tribute to royalty, specifically, Maurice of Nassau, Prince of
Dutch harvested ebony wood and then lost interest in the island in 1710. Five
years later, the French arrived. Mauritius became a favorite base for pirates
who raided merchant ships laded with treasures on their way between Europe and
the Far East. In exasperation, the English took the island away from them in 1814.
French had imported slaves from East Africa and Madagascar to work the sugar plantations
they established on Mauritius, but the British outlawed slavery in the 1830s.
They imported their labor in the form of indentured servants from India. When
Mauritius gained independence in 1968, it remained with the British Commonwealth.
Although English is the official language, most everyday conversation is in French.
population, about 1.2 million, is an exotic mix found nowhere else in the world
- 64% Indian plus lots of Chinese, Africans and Creoles plus a handful of Europeans.
I was continually startled when dark-eyed women in brightly colored saris would
address me in French. And I can't think of a country where you can
enjoy a freshly baked croissant with a really good cup of tea.
brings me back to the Oberoi, featuring varied and inventive cuisine in its open-air
restaurant overlooking the ocean. Opened in late 2000, it's on the un-touristy
northwest corner of the island. Spread across its 20 acres, there are 76 separate
villas - sort of like guesthouses in a giant garden on the beach. Guests with
a yen for complete privacy can claim one of the villas with its own swimming pool
enclosed in a private garden, order room service and never venture out to mingle
with the hoi polloi.
chose the option of breakfast in my room, or, rather, on my private patio. The
island abounds with tropical birds I'd never seen before, but they're obviously
used to visitors. Each morning, I had to defend my breadbasket from a couple of
red, black and white feathered thieves.
Photo © Susan McKee.
are everywhere: frangipani, bougainvillea, jacaranda, orchids, hibiscus, anthurium.
Every time I returned to my room, the maid had rearranged the towels and folded
the clothing I'd discarded on the rattan couch - then carefully placed fresh flower
blossoms in the folds.
large marble bathroom, freshly flower-strewn each day, has a sunken tub and separate
shower, both of which have only a glass wall separating them from a secluded garden.
you can rouse yourself to leave the resort, expeditions around the island are
many and varied. I enjoyed an afternoon at Pamplemousses gardens, had lunch barbecued
by my captain on a boat trip to a picturesque cove, drove a bit along the Tea
Route, visited a sugar plantation and took an underwater trip on a mini submarine.
island is volcanic, so the topography is varied. There are steep jagged peaks
inland and deep gorges with plummeting waterfalls. At Black River Gorge National
Park, the resident monkeys begged treats from visitors. I marveled at the rainbow-hued
volcanic dunes at Chamarel.
sunsets over the Indian Ocean each evening were symphonies of pastels. My only
disappointment was the night sky. There was a full moon while I was on Mauritius,
and its light was bright enough to keep me from spotting the Southern Cross or
any other unfamiliar constellation of stars.
had other spa treatments while hiding out at the Oberoi, but my strongest memory
is of that coconut massage. I found out that its name, paillasson, means coconut
in Creole. I'd go back just for that.
get to my island paradise, I flew first to Paris and then continued on Air Mauritius
for another 11 hours. Although long, with an evening departure it was easy to
finish dinner and then sleep the rest of the way. Several of the people I met
on the island had come to Mauritius to rest up after taking a safari in Africa
(it's just a four-hour flight from Capetown).
Oberoi Resort (1-800-562-3764; http://www.oberoihotels.com)
is located on the Baie aux Tortues, but I saw (and heard) many more frogs than
turtles. The pond in the center of the resort is filled with them, and they, in
turn, filled the evening air with their croaking. The resort chain, headquartered
in Delhi, India, has 35 properties in Australia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mauritius,
Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.