Is This the Coolest Hotel in Mauritius?

Photo by Benker

by Nicki Grihault, The Daily Telegraph, January 07, 2015

Shangri-La Le Touessrok has recently reopened after a multi-million dollar makeover and now offers the ultimate in barefoot luxury.

At the daily cocktail hour at Republik Beach Club & Grill, I spotted Gael Froget, the newly installed artist-in-residence, seated in a sunken sandpit under Bedouin-style canvas. Soulful tracks played from speakers lodged in the sand, and Gael’s grotesque but playful “art vandalism” paintings jumped from the cocktail menu as I drifted from the hibiscus margarita to a curry-infused gin and tonic (better than it sounds). Welcome to the reinvention of Le Touessrok, by Shangri-La, on the island of Mauritius .

For 30 years, this east-coast hideaway blossomed under the vision of Sol Kerzner, the South African hotel tycoon, and along with Le Saint Géran, also on the island, formed part of his exclusive One&Only collection. Le Touessrok became a haunt for celebrities and royalty, and was much loved by British visitors. But the relationship with Kerzner ended almost a decade ago, and when I last visited in 2014, Le Touessrok was in need of some TLC. This year, along came Shangri-La, the Asia-based powerhouse with 92 hotels and resorts worldwide – including one in the Maldives – and who, together with owners Sun Resorts, invested $30 million to propel Le Touessrok to new levels of luxury. Voted by readers as the Best Hotel in Africa and the Indian Ocean three years running in The Telegraph’sUltratravel Awards, it was an eagerly anticipated opening.

As part of the makeover, the resort’s Mediterranean-style architecture has been blended with Asian interiors to create a contemporary island-chic vibe. Salvaged tree roots hold up glass tables in the lobby, while the remodelled suites feature rough-hewn wooden desks, abstract coral screens on the bedheads, and bathrooms of shimmering pink tiles. Replacing the slick, international design with a more local feel, Scottish-born but Mauritius‑based architect Alistair MacBeth has created the Weaver’s Belvedere, inspired by the bird nests that dot the hotel’s tropical garden.

In developing a more locally authentic Le Touessrok, the Shangri-La team even pored over photographs and recipes from the Seventies with Jacqueline Dalais, the original owner and celebrated Mauritian chef, who is renowned on the island for having served lobster thermidor, clam gratin and coconut flambé to the island’s sugar barons.

A stay at the reinvigorated Le Touessrok is more expensive than before, but then it has more to offer. Five fresh dining concepts for a start – including Dine by Design, with bespoke candlelit lobster dinners on the beach; a revamped spa, and family daybeds and private cabanas for days à deux on the nearby private islet of Ilot Mangénie. Activities, art and entertainment have also been completely reborn.

Although a sega dancer now sashays to the beat of a ravanne on arrival (instead of a welcome drink from Ti Henri), so a sense of the island is immediate, guests are still treated like family at this hotel, renowned for its exceptional service – Sunil Beerbul, a long-serving staff member who started as a bar tender and is now manager, even hosts Diwali in his home.

The hotel still offers 34 acres of private beachfront on the curve of Trou d’eau Douce bay and the extensive watery playground includes two islands reached by boat – Ile aux Cerfs, with watersports and an 18-hole Bernhard Langer-designed golf course, and the exclusive and secluded Ilot Mangénie, offering 3.5km of talcum-white sand and butler service.

Shangri-La’s own-brand CHI Spa, replacing the old Givenchy beauty spa, has a focus on healing, from Ayurveda to holistic treatments such as Kundalini Back Massage, the latter involving three delicious detox juices.

A platform in the ayurvedic herb garden is laid out with fresh plants – organic vetiver, aloe vera and citronella – and the spa will soon produce its own local organic oils, starting with combava, a lemon endemic to Rodrigues. Settling on the Mauritian signature Traditional Tipik Massage, I was soothed by hypnotising strokes in time to the piped sega music.

Later, I sipped eight-year-old New Grove rum in the hotel’s sega bar, which remains reassuringly unchanged since my last visit, as part of a new Mauritian gourmet rum tasting, and perused the list of contemporary Tiki cocktails, featuring ingredients such as tamarind and mango from villages island-wide. Sebastien Noat, Shangri-La’s creative talent, scoured underground clubs and island bars to sign 30 bands, from jazz musicians to sega greats, with the help of entertainments manager Toto Lebrasse, son of the musician Serge Lebrasse, credited with introducing sega music to the Mauritian middle classes.

At Safran, the resort’s Indian restaurant, my party was given a warm welcome by softly spoken chef Ramesh Bundi, who trained under Michelin-starred chefs Atul Kochhar and Vineet Bhatia. Safran has been given a light refresh, with more relaxed family-style dining and new signature dishes – roast chicken ghee from South Indian wedding feasts and five-spiced jinga prawns and tandoori salmon inspired by Indian street food, served in authentic clay pots.

Shangri-La’s transformation of Le Touessrok has been driven by a desire to offer less predictable, more authentic island experiences – ranging from exposure to the contemporary arts and music scene, largely hidden from tourist view, to a dodo museum and the rewilding of neglected Ilot Bourgo, with 140 endemic plants. There’s even a stargazing observatory in the pipeline.

A kayaking eco-tour from the Ile aux Cerfs boathouse at low tide revealed crabs clinging to the mangroves; on a cycle tour to the fishing village of Trou d’eau Douce we paused to watch fishermen unloading their day’s catch from boats onto the quay, and I bartered over local vanilla pods in Flacq market as part of a cooking class with Ramesh Bindi, Safran’s chef.

Best of all was being whisked from the hotel jetty in a hot pink speedboat complete with Creole guides to explore some of the lesser-known eastern islands, such as the far-flung fort on Ile de Passe, where the British fought the French in 1810, ending with a lobster lunch on Ile aux Cerfs.

Is the new-look Shangri-La Le Touessrok perfect? During my stay, some regulars voiced concerns about music on Republik’s beach disturbing this once-silent resort (150 speakers now create 'music zones'), staff being reassigned to new roles (all have been retained) and smaller wardrobes (a work in progress). But with 40 bottles of champagne sold a day – back to 1995 levels – something is working.

Shangri-La hopes to wake things up a bit, though, and the addition of Republik is an attempt to attract a younger crowd – guests are traditionally mature couples seeking silence, sleep and the same room as on previous visits. Sipping an after-dinner tequila infused with coffee – one of 20 flavours at Republik – the throaty Police cover from young Creole talent Emanuel Desroches, seated on a barrel beneath the palms with his guitar, complemented the new ethos perfectly. As Le Touessrok approaches middle age, it has been given a new lease of life by Shangri‑La that has restored the hotel to its rightful position as one of the loveliest – and even coolest – places to stay on Mauritius.

Nicki Grihault travelled as a guest of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority ( ) and Air Mauritius (020 7434 4375; ), who operate direct flights to Mauritius four times a week from Heathrow from £782pp. Doubles from £223 per night, including breakfast. Coastal Road, Trou dʼ Eau Douce, Mauritius, (00 230 402 7400; ).

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This article was written by Nicki Grihault from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.