by Adam Ruck, The Telegraph, April 9, 2018
Anse Georgette is often described as the most beautiful beach in the world. It’s a small sandy niche on the Seychelles island of Praslin, where mountainous jungle drops steeply to the sea and pink granite boulders frame a swathe of gossamer licked by milky-blue waves. The seabed is as soft as the beach – not always the case in this part of the world – and overhanging trees supply shade for the less mad-dog to lie in.
Like all beaches in the Seychelles, Anse Georgette is a public space. But it doesn’t get crowded, because the land behind belongs to a luxury hotel, Lemuria, whose pampered residents have alternative beaches of almost comparable beauty closer to hand.
Those beaches have loungers and waiters bearing cocktails. Anse Georgette has nothing. No café, no car park – a glorious absence of facilities. It isn’t plagued by ants or sandflies, at least none that found me during a research effort stretching to several hours and a repeat visit. It really is the stuff of tropical island dreams.
There are three overland ways to approach it. The rugged coastal path from Anse Lazio – more than an hour each way – would be quite an undertaking in equatorial heat. Or you can apply to Lemuria to be one of the two dozen non-residents allowed in each day. But the best approach is to stay at Lemuria, play its golf course and, after completing the short 15th, down tools and wander through the woods to the beach for a swim and a pause before braving the horrors of the 16th, a fiendishly narrow uphill double dogleg par five.
There’s no hurry. Lemuria doesn’t do fixed tee times, nor is it the sort of course that chivvies the golfer with notices saying: “If you started more than 56 minutes ago, you’re playing too slowly.” Residents enjoy the freedom of the course, starting and finishing when and wherever they want and pausing at will.
If this fosters a carefree approach to the game, that will soon be dispelled by the course itself, which although not long is hemmed in by an exotic assortment of problems including palm trees, ponds, quagmires and waste areas inhabited by crabs that steal golf balls and carry them down their holes. I know this; I saw one do it. Replace without penalty (Rule 18-1).
That’s on the flat part, holes one to 12. After that, the course heads for the mountainous jungle zone, cutting a steep swathe through forest and scrub.
The 15th is one of those vertiginous holes typical of holiday courses in hilly places. It’s almost as high as it’s long. The tee is a giddy perch 250ft above Anse Georgette and the green. It often features on lists of the world’s most beautiful holes. After the challenges of the preceding 14 holes, this is one of the more straightforward shots on the course. The ball hangs in the air for long moments of suspense before landing with a smack, if well directed, or a splash in the stream at the back of the green. On holes like this, it’s all about club selection.
“People always take too much club the first time they play it,” Lemuria’s manager Bruno informs me, about half a minute later than would have been helpful. Bruno buses hotel guests to this belvedere for sundowners at six, pours the fizz and scatters hibiscus petals on the tee to add to the romance of the occasion for the honeymooners who choose Lemuria and wisely leave the golf for some other time.
In addition to their routine duties, which include twisting towels into elephant shapes and tending the palm trees to make sure Lemuria doesn’t add a golfer to the global toll of 150 deaths a year caused by falling coconuts, hotel staff are happy to arrange a picnic lunch. Start your game around 10am and you should reach the 15th in time to coincide with the arrival of a box of fishy treats and a chilled sauvignon blanc by South African golfer and winemaker David Frost.
Doze the afternoon away, with half an eye open in case a hawksbill turtle emerges from the waves to bury her eggs on the beach. Resume the contest in fading light when enormous fruit bats are on the wing, casting shadows over the serpentine 16th fairway.
Lemuria is the only 18-hole course in the Seychelles and the archipelago does not feature on the radar of golf tourism. Golf is a bonus, on top of so many other things to enjoy: a boat trip to a nearby island inhabited by ground-nesting terns and giant tortoises born in the Victorian era, perhaps; or a bike ride to Praslin’s Vallée de Mai nature reserve, with its black parrots and coco de mer trees, of the suggestively shaped nuts that are so relentlessly exploited to promote the Seychelles’ “Islands of Love” image. The greatest treat is doing nothing in the balmy seclusion of Lemuria, keeping quiet with the lights low, so as not to disturb the turtles.
Although BA has relaunched direct flights from the UK to the Seychelles, there’s every reason to twin Lemuria with a golfing stopover in Dubai or Mauritius. The latter involves more flying but seemed to me the more tempting destination, with its mix of French, Dutch and British influences.
Compared with an eagle or albatross, the flightless dodo may not be the most auspicious swing thought, but Mauritius has taken off as a golf destination and now has luxury resort hotels and at least a dozen courses by big-name designers spread around its 200-mile (320km) coastline.
After the reverential calm of Lemuria, the bustle of a golf resort in full swing is quite a shock. As well as having twice as many inmates, Belle Mare Plage is more open and sociable, with hawkers selling sarongs on the beach and loud music in the air after supper. Conversation between strangers at breakfast is not unknown.
Golf is a great mixer, and my visit in early December has coincided with a week when Belle Mare and its two courses fill for a week of competitive action and lively socialising. All the leading lights of the European Senior Tour turn up for the last event on their calendar, the MCB Tour Championship, while amateurs play in the pro-am and their own competition for prizes in various handicap categories.
At least one water hazard on every hole, most of them visited, is my lasting impression of Belle Mare’s trophy course, Legend. I had a sneaking preference for its junior partner, Links, a more undulating and varied layout with outcrops of black lava and the stump of an old watchtower beside the 18th green.
I’m not sure I’d choose it for a match of mixed singles, though. The ladies’ 200yd start at the 10th, a 350yd par five, is calculated to humiliate us, and it was soon followed by a 175yd par four, not to mention three short holes of around or under 100yd. Some women of my acquaintance would take exception to being patronised this way, but the two Frenchwomen I played with didn’t seem to mind.
Mireille and Marie France met in the pro-am several years ago, when their professionals were Philip Walton and Gary Marks. Did I know them? Not personally, but Walton did win the Ryder Cup. “Mon Dieu!” said Mireille. “He seemed, well, so normal.” That’s typical of the relaxed Seniors scene. They compete hard on the course but know how to relax afterwards, and they don’t behave like celebrities.
After our round we headed back to the Legend to see the final moments of the professionals’ championship. Following a blistering front nine, Barry Lane held off Paul Broadhurst, who eagled the last to Barry’s birdie; leaving defending champion Colin Montgomerie one shot further back.
“My wife and I have been coming since 1996,” Lane told the gallery at the presentation. “Mauritius is the best place on earth.”
For guests who want the golf without the party atmosphere, Belle Mare’s close neighbour and sister hotel the Prince Maurice replaces disco boom with soft piano music and offers a step up in luxury, seclusion and price: a Bond Street boutique to Belle Mare’s Oxford Street store. Tucked among banyan trees and mangroves, villas and suites on stilts overlook the barachois, an estuary lake with a floating restaurant and cocktail bar.
With no sea turtles to worry about, underwater lighting is permissible here. A shark flitted in and out of view beneath our feet as we dined.
Free golf for residents of Belle Mare Plage and the Prince Maurice is a powerful incentive to stay put. Two top-notch courses are enough for a short stay and my plan to research some alternatives came to grief when
I misjudged the depth of water at low tide, took the plunge and skinned my hands on a rock. That ruled out golf or hiring a car, but I did research the first aid facilities at the Prince Maurice. They’re first class.
How to get there
British Airways (ba.com) flies non-stop to both the Seychelles and Mauritius.
Where to stay
Chaka Travel (02890 232112; chakagolf.com) offers packages including golf, flights and transfers priced as follows (per person in a shared room):
Twin centre: five nights at Constance Lemuria, Seychelles (B&B) plus five nights at Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius (HB): £3,295.
Seychelles: seven nights at Constance Lemuria, £2,995 (B&B).
Mauritius: seven nights at Constance Belle Mare Plage, £2,325 (including half board and pro-am entry); Constance Prince Maurice: £3,035 (B&B and pro-am entry).
Where to play
Lemuria 6,100yd par 70; Legend 6,650yd, par 72; Links 6,500yd par 71. Golf is free for hotel residents; buggies chargeable, except for Prince Maurice residents.
What to see
MCB Championship (European Senior Tour) December 7-9; amateur competitions including pro-am from December 3. See also constancehotels.com