Mauritius, Seychelles and the Indian Ocean: New destinations from Israel

Clear oceans, pristine sands and perfect hotels

BEACHCOMBER’S TROU aux Biches, Mauritius. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
BEACHCOMBER’S TROU aux Biches, Mauritius.
(photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
As The Jerusalem Post reports on political deadlock, climate chaos or explosive rallies, it makes it easy to forget serene shores with crystal-blue seas lapping at them exist and they’re just a plane ride or two away.
That’s exactly where I’m headed along with a group of Israeli journalists – Mauritius and Seychelles – off the back of an eventful night-shift for the Post’s Web Desk; the news didn’t sleep and neither did I.
From Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, we were welcomed on board, greeted by the modern interior of one of Air Seychelles’ newest aircrafts. Its cabin was accented with a calming turquoise. Flicking though the in-flight magazine, I note the CEO Remco Althuis explains the color choice is inspired by the calm blue ocean of the archipelago. It left me thinking – is the ocean really that blue? Are the sands really that pristine?
Personally, I’ll admit that these days I’m a bit of a nervous flyer but despite a few bumps and minor turbulence, the flight to our connection to Mauritius was one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a while.
Tel Aviv to the Seychelles is a new route for Air Seychelles, an airline dedicated to bringing the world to its home turf: the Indian Ocean. Their newest offering: year-round flights with extra capacity during the Jewish holidays. They work in close cooperation with Israel’s El Al and they plan on enhancing the partnership.
On our way to the tropical island of Mauritius, we stop off in Seychelles. The quaint colonial-style airport hides away Air Seychelles’ lounge, Salon Vallée de  Mai, on its first floor. The lounge offers a variety of buffet food, complementary Wi-Fi and showers, a necessity for a quick freshen up.
After a short two-hour flight we reach the island of Mauritius at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, a large gleaming, modern, glass-structure. Quickly through passport control, we head to our first stop: Saint Martin, Mauritius’ only Jewish cemetery where Jewish detainees who died on the island during the British Mandate are buried. A guide tells us the little-known story of Jewish refugees who attempted to reach the future Jewish state and how they were deported to the island in 1940.
The graves in Saint Martin Jewish Cemetery in Mauritius tell a Holocaust story that few people know. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
The graves in Saint Martin Jewish Cemetery in Mauritius tell a Holocaust story that few people know. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
Mauritius is a tropical island a little more than 6,300 km from Israel. It was ruled by the Dutch, French and British, finally gaining independence in 1968. Their most famous former resident: the dodo, a flightless bird that lived without natural predators on the island. It ultimately fell prey to the colonists who discovered the land and the predators they brought with them.
Today, the friendly, welcoming Mauritian culture is influenced by its colonial past and its location in the world; it’s a fusion of European, African and Asian cultures. Most people speak English, the official language, along with French and Mauritian Creole, a language and culture which developed across colonies and because of colonization.
Our first night’s stay is at Beachcomber’s luxurious Trou Aux Biches hotel; described as the most romantic, it truly meets that expectation. The hotel is encircled by vivid blue pools accompanied by subtle calming sound of water, palm trees line each path with a golf resort is nearby.
We reach the hotel just in time for a breathtaking sunset, fluffy clouds adorn the light blue sky as the orange sun dips beyond the horizon. It’s a common sight in a climate where the daytime temperature rarely drops below 25°.
The Beachcomber hotel chain offers an experience for everyone. From families looking for fun for the little ones and five-star rooms to the couple looking for seclusion in indulgent private villas complete with their own pools.
Across the island, the brand has eight luxurious hotels, and despite not seeing them all, each has individualities and uniqueness.
At Beachcomber’s Victoria, the hotel offers an exclusively adult concept, featuring the longest pool on the Island with swim-up rooms and a swim-up cocktail bar.
“The art of beautiful,” Bruno Bosquet, Sales Manager at Beachcomber Resorts and Hotels told us the meaning behind the hotel’s moto. “We think of each member of staff as an artisan,” he said over dinner; each course is more beautiful than the last.
At Beachcomber’s Canonnier, which, like its sisters, features multiple restaurants, water sport activities and spas, we meet world renowned Executive Chef Mooroogun Coopen. “I just did something for Masterchef UK,” he told us.
As he conducts a demonstration in molecular cooking, I realize the flavors need to be experienced to be understood. He presents a spoon with a bright orange orb in the center. He explains that the egg yolk-like sphere actually contains the nutritional value of two carrots. It’s nice making something that tastes good and looks pretty, he adds. It needs the nutritional value too.
Coopen explains how cooking at a cellular level with lower temperatures and pasteurizing the fish and poultry produces an entirely different pallet of flavors. “What we eat is overcooked,” he explained. You can taste the sea in the fish, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
What are my Kosher options, you may ask? Well, they exist and the hotel chain is willing to cater, providing you make your requests known in advance. The chain will do their best to alter their menu offerings and swap out produce for guests with dietary requirements. For certified kosher food the local Chabad is able to provide food at a premium.
Hotels aside for a moment, in Mauritius how you spend your vacation is up to you: enjoying the hotel’s amenities or exploring the world outside.
On the north side of the island sits the tranquil Pamplemousses botanical garden, created by a French botanist in the 1700s. Trees lush vegetation, and a few animals from around the world thrive in the tropical air. It’s not your average botanical garden. Near its entrance lives the imposing Baobab tree. A tree from Africa normally where African tribesmen would impart wisdom and talk to their fellow tribe, our guide tells us. In a large man-made pond live Victoria Amazonica, giant waterlilies named after Queen Victoria. They can grow to an impressive three meters across in the height of summer.
Pamplemousses botanical garden, Mauritius. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
Pamplemousses botanical garden, Mauritius. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
On the southern inland part of the island lies the Grand Bassin, a large water reservoir sacred for Hindus. Huge red statues of the Hindu gods dot the landscape along the route.
From there we visit Black River Gorges, a stunningly lush, hilly forest. It feels like a trip into the mountains, the sky is filled with clouds and light rain showers add to the ambiance.
Next, we stopped at the Rhumerie De Chamarel where we learn about Mauritian sugar plantations and colonial history of the island its deep influence on religion, culture and language. Mauritian sugar, specifically coffee crystals, are an interesting flavor-enhancing addition to your morning brew. Another use for the sweet stuff is rum, which has deep flavors and deep colors. The New Grove coffee infused rum is simply to die for. With its sweet aftertaste it’s not your average infusion.
Near the Geo park we visit the waterfall then on to the Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth. The barren landscape is a vivid natural phenomenon with reds and subtitle yellows of the sandy elements.
On the hair-pin mountainous bends zig-zagging though lush vegetation we’re off to our last hotel stay via a beach-side lunch at Beachcomber’s Dinarobin (a name which draws influence from the biblical Dinah and Reuben offspring of Jacob).
We finish our tropical Mauritian adventure at the Shandrani which, according to the staff, is one of the best places on the island for water sports and snorkeling and although corals around the world face bleaching and death from higher sea temperatures in the cooler months it is said to be a sight to behold.
FROM MAURITIUS we head back to Seychelles’ Mahé Island, the largest of the many Seychelles islands. The Seychelles is made up of 115 islands with two types: those similar to Mahé, hilly and mountainous and the ones like Desroches, flat surrounded by corals.
The capital Victoria on Mahé is around 450 years old and one of the smallest in the world. It’s surrounded by striking mountains scattered with hiking trails for the adventurous and active traveler.
Our stay for the night on Mahé was at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles. The Four Seasons is a brand synonymous with the highest levels luxury; each hotel may have a unique theme but commitment to five-star excellence never falters.
In the inky night-time darkness, the majesty of the location was not yet apparent asides from the open-air lobby overlooking what we could just about make out to be the ocean.
At diner in Zez, the hotel’s Asian-themed restaurant, we note the kosher wine list available to guests. There’s a demand, the sommelier later tells us. The menu, a selection of “contemporary Pan-Asian delights,” our itinerary says.
As a Brit, I grew up eating rice pudding for dessert, fluffy, sticky and sweet rice usually with raisins and sultanas. Here, it was reimagined with coconut and mango which can only be described as delectably exquisite.
After that, a buggy takes us along steep dimly-lit paths to our rooms which are one of the Resort’s 67 luxuriously appointed villas and suites. On the top of the private steps sits an outdoor bed, sun-deck and on the other side of the villa a private infinity pool complete with outdoor shower just off the spacious marble bathroom.
VIEW OF the infinity pool from a Four Seasons room. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
VIEW OF the infinity pool from a Four Seasons room. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
Indoors, a four-poster bed sits at the center of the colorful, wooden romantically-lit villa with fluffy luxurious bedding waiting to envelop whoever sleeps within a perfect night’s sleep.
The next morning, the location’s scenery comes into view under the tropical sun. The villas and residences dot the hills surrounded by intense green foliage and deep gray rock. Over a decedent breakfast I notice how the cliffs give way to the pristine white beaches I’ve been waiting for.
Atop the mountain awaited a yoga session like no other, an interesting mix of breath-taking views with much-needed breathing techniques. Following our yoga session, we headed to the beach for an afternoon Creole-style barbecue.
From Mahé island we take a 35-minute flight on a small, yet comfortable, propeller plane to the single airstrip of the remote Desroches Island. A “castaway paradise,” our hotel literature tells us. As we taxi towards the hotel the staff wave to greet us as we’re served fresh coconut water to sip on.
“Spectacular, Stunning, Wow!” The words we keep using as we discover the remoteness of the unique island.
Five stars meet remoteness on Desroches, so while you’re not going to be able to watch Netflix, white-sand beaches, untouched nature, lavish villas, bars, five-room spa and a 24-hour fitness center will keep you occupied.
From our beach-front villas (which come with a personal pool and personal bicycle for getting around) we make our way to sunset cocktails and dinner at The Lighthouse. The menu was a delicious selection of what the island has to offer.
We wrapped up the magical evening with stargazing under the night sky with a drink in hand as the dramatic clouds rolled in.
ONE OF the cozy beds at Four Seasons Desroches. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
ONE OF the cozy beds at Four Seasons Desroches. (photo credit: AMIR LESHEM)
The next day we experienced the conservation work that happens on Desroches, from monitoring the native turtle and bird population to giant tortoise management and as climate change continues the fight for coral reef restoration.
The Seychelles’ islands have a commitment to the environment like few other places, with protected spaces and rules to look after the land. Hotels appoint staff to try to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
On our second day on the island we had a guided buggy tour of the island by Ilu Bhatia Assistant Marketing Communications Manager at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. We learned a little history of the place which used to be a farm for coconuts in colonial times.
The oldest inhabitant on Desroches is George, a tortoise who’s over 120-years-old. The island is also home to the most unique activity in the world: Yoga on the runway.
“The only way to know Desroches is to be on Desroches.” Bhatia told The Jerusalem Post. “You have to feel the energy here.”
The author was a guest of Air Seychelles, Beachcomber Hotels and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.