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Mauritius a faraway island--a place in the sun

February 21, 1988|SHARON DIRLAM | Times Staff Writer

POSTE DE FLACQ, Mauritius — In the past few years European royalty, jet-setters and celebrities, along with ordinary rich people who just want to have fun, have made Mauritius their favorite tropical island.

The beaches are beautiful spills of white sand, the gleaming inner edges of a coral reef that rims and shelters this small, mountainous island. The weather is perfect; Paradise must have these balmy nights, these rich warm days. The mountains are beautiful and blue, the stars too numerous to count, flowers are in full riot and an abundance of fish practically throw themselves nightly onto the dinner platter.

In contrast to the luxury resorts along the beaches, the villages of Mauritius are mostly poor. Roads are narrow and lined with ramshackle huts.

The sugar cane fields that spread across the high, central plateau are crisscrossed by long, black rows of lava rocks that had to be dug out and moved to clear the way for planting. This is a volcanic island and its center is ringed with stark outcroppings of lava and strangely dramatic mountain ranges.

Mauritius is 1,200 miles east of Africa, a dot in the Indian Ocean on the other side of Madagascar. There are 1 million Mauritians, more than half of Indian descent. The rest are descended from French settlers who came to work the sugar plantations and their African slaves, along with a few British and Chinese immigrants. English is widely spoken but the common language is Creole. (This was a British colony from 1810 until independence in 1968.)

The capital, Port Louis, is a congested, cluttered seaport with a crowded, open-air market. Tourists may come in for half a day of shopping, but few make this their base. Other bus tours take them to the town of Curepipe on the central plateau.

The resorts are playgrounds for deep-sea fishermen, skin divers, water skiers, treasure hunters, yachtsmen, beachcombers, sun worshipers, golfers, gamblers and gourmands. And for lovers, spoiled children and others who are happy only when everything is going their way.

Because things do go their way here. Not only does Mauritius have tropical splendor and breezy beauty in its favor, among its 60 hotels are a trio of Sun International resorts, staffed by genuinely friendly people who want everyone to be happy.

The resorts are the Saint Geran Sun, Le Touessrok Sun and La Pirogue Sun. There are also two smaller luxury hotels--the Royal Palm and the Trou aux Biches--and a Club Mediterranee on the beach near Grand Baie. The Saint Geran Sun epitomizes elegance. The daily rate is 3,500 rupees (about $240) for a double room (plus 10% tax). The price is steep but it does include fantastic gourmet meals, and, as Jean-Claude Koster, general manager, says: "We're full. Business is booming."

His visitors come mainly from France and South Africa, with others from England, West Germany and Switzerland. Less than half of 1% are Americans. And more than half the guests are repeaters.

"They come back year after year. And they want to come at the same time of year and have the same room and sit at the same table," Koster said. "When you have the perfect experience, you want it to always be the same."

Princess Stephanie of Monaco comes to Mauritius to relax and party, far from the maddening press. England's Prince Andrew and his wife Fergie have hidden away at Le Touessrok Hotel, a Mediterranean-style resort on its own little island. A wooden footbridge over the inlet leads to the rooms. And the resort's own private island playground is the tiny Ile aux Cerfs, accessible only by boat from the hotel pier.

"We loved Fergie," said a spokeswoman for Le Touessrok. "The staff adored her energetic ways."

La Pirogue on the west coast is popular with deep-sea fishermen. They head out beyond the coral reef after giant blue and black marlin and other game fish that lurk just five miles off the coast. Rooms are individual cottages, little thatched-roof chalets. Its scuba diving school and 12 dive sites attract divers from around the world.

The Saint Geran Sun, on the northeast coast, is a sprawling two-story resort built on a natural jetty, with the ocean on one side and a coral lagoon on the other. The architecture is a grand mixture of elegance and informality, in a Spanish style. Every room has sliding glass doors that open onto the sea, with views sheltered by palm fronds, casuarina trees and perfumed frangipani.

A large pool winds around the thatched-roof Polynesian-style bar and terrace, where guests are entertained every evening. The hotel employees shed their daytime uniforms to double as singers, dancers and musicians in enjoyable displays of talent and boundless energy.

Diving School

Saint Geran's has the Karl-Heinz Diving School that takes guests daily to dive sites all around the island. The encircling reef, at an average depth of about 40 feet, is a diver's delight--crystal-clear waters and a reef encrusted with fantastic coral formations and loaded with an abundance of colorful fish.

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