by Nicki Grihault, The Telegraph, December 18, 2017
Mr and Mrs Anderson from Edinburgh, on their 22nd visit to One&Only Le Saint Géran, are kissed by the staff as they walk through the hotel. Their return has been eagerly awaited. The first luxury hotel in Mauritius when it debuted 42 years ago, the resort closed in early 2017 to facilitate a nine-month, $55 million (£41 million) renovation. Among the first guests through the doors after the resort reopened on December 1, the Andersons’ response will be indicative of how repeat guests will view the transformation, and of whether the One&Only team has met its objective of creating a resort that surpasses everything else in the country and rivals the best luxury resorts elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
When it opened, the property was like nothing else in Mauritius. Its founder, the South African hotel tycoon Sol Kerzner, built it within 60 acres of tropical gardens on the island’s best spot – a private peninsula with a mile of silky blond sand on a sheltered bay. The first hotel in his exclusive One&Only collection, Le Saint Géran became a haunt for celebrities and royalty, and was much loved by British visitors, who like the Andersons would return year after year. I first visited as a teenager, when my family lived on Mauritius, and collected seashells along its shore.
But, with the last remodelling in 1999, the resort became outdated and its reputation waned. A number of competitor properties had emerged in its wake and so drastic action was needed to reassert Le Saint Géran as Mauritius’ leading lady.
The project has seen every component of the property re-evaluated. Where once the resort had an aesthetic that could be described as “colonial glamour”, its updated interiors by South African designer Janine Mijne, the South African designer, now draw inspiration from Mauritius’ elegant plantation houses, ancient sugar cane factories and the island’s thatched roofs to provide a more authentic local feel. The remodelled rooms and suites, now light, feature wood-effect parquet ceramic floor tiles and marble-lined bathrooms with egg-shaped baths.
Changes elsewhere are more dramatic. The little-visited Indian Restaurant has been replaced by sexy new pan-Asian restaurant Tapasake, where the menu includes Japanese beef cooked in eucalyptus leaf with pumpkin purée, creative cocktails are on offer and DJs play. It has been devised to attract a new, younger clientele to the property but regulars during my visit were also delighted by the change. Outside, the nine-hole golf course is gone; in its place will be 50 secluded pool villas to be made available for purchase and rental. Scheduled for completion in 2018, they will cost from £1.4 million and are expected to attract the type of ultra-luxe consumers who might previously have shunned Mauritius in favour of the Maldives or the Seychelles.
While those latter nations have better beaches, Mauritius has always trumped other Indian Ocean destinations when it comes to service. I have been fortunate enough to visit many of the 112 hotels on Mauritius on my 20 or so journeys to the island, and the natural friendliness and sincerity of the Mauritian people is extraordinary. In Le Saint Géran, the warmth of the staff was the one thing the hotel didn’t want to change. Many of the returning team have already worked there at Le Saint Géran for up to 30 years, so other repeat guests should be just as warmly received as the Andersons.
This has always been a hotel with a bit of buzz, where people dance to the live band at night, so some returnees have expressed disappointment about the disbanding of the Famous 9, the resident band, who have played here for 27 years. Others are unsure about the revised La Terrasse restaurant, which has been redesigned in the style of a pergola found in plantation houses and no longer offers a clear view of the sea (but shelters guests from the sun and rain).
But everyone notices that the food has improved. The resort’s new executive chef is Marc de Passorio, from Réunion Island. The only resident Michelin star chef on Mauritius, he also has an innate understanding of the region’s produce. and flavours and can chat to staff and suppliers in Creole.
Now guests can dine barefoot on the sand at La Pointe on the tip of the peninsula or enjoy cold cuts and tasting menus at steakhouse Prime. Pass the double-sided infinity pool and you’ll see bottles of rosé chilling beside wooden cabanas, their muslin drapes billowing in the breeze; the smell of freshly baked bread, flavoured with curry leaf or ginger, wafts from L’Artisan.
Elsewhere, the revamped ESPA spa, with its ivory-painted wood cabins set around a palm-fringed pool, offers locally inspired treatments such as “‘Mauritian fusion”’, using a soothing herbal poultice of neem, tulsi, moringa and lemon grass. Taking well-being up a notch are new “Harmonia” journeys, which provide dietary and lifestyle advice alongside indulgent treatments.
A brand- new active zone, Club One, has state-of-the-art fitness facilities and classes, including aerial yoga, and courts for padel –- a cross between tennis and squash. Golfers, however, must now go to Constance’s Legends & Links, which is minutes away but costs £150 a round. Families benefit from a brand new children’s club, and there are dedicated activities for teens such as canyoning at Tamarind Falls. The resort’s inventory now includes spacious two- and three-bedroom suites (and multiple interconnecting rooms for groups).
While its five-star competitors have their strengths –- Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok excels in entertainment; Oberoi Mauritius has the most beautiful gardens; Constance Le Prince Maurice offers colonial architecture and a wine cave; Royal Palm Beachcomber is a calm haven on a beautiful northern cove; and the Four Seasons Mauritius has the Ernie Els Championship golf course –- none can match Le Saint Géran’s location, and its swimming beach, now re-sanded. The resort’s newly enhanced offering and improved interiors should ensure it can comfortably reassert its position as one of the island’s very best addresses.
But the most discerning judges are perhaps Le Saint Géran’s most loyal customers. When I ask for their thoughts on their most recent visit, I’m told Mrs Anderson was so impressed by the new aesthetic that she ordered some of the flooring for their house in Scotland. For Mr Anderson, it’s the resort’s enduring warmth –- untrammelled despite all these changes –- that most stands out: . “The bones of the hotel have stayed the same. And the staff are still here, friends if you like, who keep us coming back, and make us feel at home.”
Elegant Resorts (01244 8975015) offers a seven-night half-board stay at One&Only Le Saint Géran from £2,130 per person (which includes a 30 per cent early bird discount of £625 per person) based on two people sharing a Lagoon room, with private transfers and flights. Valid for departures between April 8 and September 30 2018; must be booked 90 days in advance.