Thanks to a $32 million makeover and pioneering interior scheme by Kelly Hoppen, the LUX* Grand Gaube set a new standard for Mauritius’ destination resort scene, after reopening in December 2017. Chris Allsop discovered everything that it has to offer.
Midday in Mauritius, and I’ve left my hat in the room. But Mario, my twinkly, middle-aged naturalist guide, is apparently too rapt with the LUX* Grand Gaube resort’s new landscaping to feel the 30°C heat. We stop for a singular, life-giving pause in the shade of a newly planted palm. In my peripheral vision, I can make out both the resort ice-cream stand and the gin and tonic bar. Mario points out the industrious nests of the village weaver bird, like rattan Thai kick balls speared on the tips of the fronds. “And that,” he says, pointing at a delicate brown dove waddling into shady grasses, “is the laziest nest builder. Three twigs is all it needs.” He throws up his hands (I feel an instant kinship with the bird), but Mario, a long-time employee of the resort and evidently a man who likes things done well, is revelling in the no-expense-spared, top-to-toe renovation of this honeymoon paradise that he calls “work”.
And it’s easy to see why, especially with LUX* commissioning design guru Kelly Hoppen to mastermind the six-month $32-million resort ‘”re-imagining” – a switch from thatched tropical cliché to modern, sophisticated informality, with enough white for an Apple megastore. Warm on-shore breezes ruffle the interior palms and ferns set amid the wicker peacock chairs of the central Palm Court restaurant and bar, with glittering columns adding dazzle to Hoppen’s calm neutral greys, taupe and silver pallet. Mauritian architect Jean-Francois Adam brought in more light and a sense of space by adding glass and raising ceilings on the structure, which dates to 1989.
“For me, when you go to a hotel, you want to feel amazing, you want to feel fantastic, you want the experience to be amazing,” Hoppen says about her work on the hotel. “Grand Gaube is about barefoot luxury – everything is about leaving a city and being in this total paradise.”
Arriving in my room, it’s a retro-chic, beach house breeze. The bold navy-blue lines on the walls transport the eye to the spacious balcony and the Instagrammable vista beyond that encompasses shivering palms, a crescent beach (one of two), glittering bay, and, on the horizon, the poetically named Flat Island. Beachy shutters are balanced by modern light fixtures, and the bathroom has some serious acreage of gorgeous geometric tiling. Silver and faux-ivory taps – quite literally – add polish alongside other decorative touches such as woven African baskets, wicker table and reclaimed Victorian bathtubs. Those looking for something extra special should book in to the romantic junior suites with outdoor bathtubs for two on the balconies, or claim your own peninsula with the LUX* Villa, which offers a private swimming pool and 24-hour butler service.
Refreshed by my bathroom’s rain shower and a swift visit to the stretch Mini Cooper ice-cream stand for a perfect hazelnut scoop (the icy goodness is made on site with Italian cream), I’m soon on a stand-up paddleboard gliding out of the powder-blue shallows. The sun soaks into my shoulders and a shoal of tiny fish skitter across the bay’s translucent surface. From the water you can really appreciate the sweep of the formerly tiki-tastic resort, positioned on the sunny north-east tip of the island, with the rugged hinterland rising behind. But it’s artist Camille Walala’s joyful, geometric mural that really catches the eye. The main beach’s new signature backdrop, it’s vivid beam of colour – like the fluorescent fish zipping beneath my board – underscoring the renovation’s airy, modern sensibility.
While the main beach is only noisy when there’s a DJ (the families, honeymooners and other guests all seem to co-exist harmoniously within the resort’s spacious grounds), there is a smaller, even quieter beach – with adjacent pool area – just for adults. Here you’ll also find, beneath the auspices of an immense banyan tree, a lunchtime burger shack, permanently parked van serving cocktails and milkshakes, and in the tree’s ample arms a Disney-like treehouse with a Magic Kingdom’s worth of local rum to sample. Silver-tongued Vishnu weaves a tale of island booze history as you stare agog at the 88 rum bottles lined up for tasting; in the end he mixes me a simple caipirinha to beat the heat, with molasses for an oh-so-smooth depth.
The resort has seven bars (Beach Rouge, positioned on the sand and doused in red light, becomes my digestif haunt) and six restaurants, but my stomach was rumbling loudest for INTI – the island’s first Argentinian-Peruvian restaurant. A pisco sour aperitif at INTI’s Pisco Bar, followed by starters of sharp tuna ceviche and a main of ruby-centred Wagyu tenderloin with moreish dips. Tick, tick, tick. INTI also offers an enticing taco menu with fresh seafood options like tuna, yuzu and green chili, or, for the more adventurous gastronome, milk-fed veal sweetbreads with teriyaki sauce as a main. But I think it’ll probably be Bodrum Blue that will linger longest in the memory, the resort’s preppy Turkish cuisine rotunda perched on a tiny peninsula. Mint, yoghurt and beetroot mezze paired with 300-degree views of the shimmering turquoise-hued seas? Why, certainly. Or maybe Bodrum Blue will stay with me most because of a scent memory: this was the first restaurant where, upon entry, I was face-spritzed with rose water.
Another, less surprising jasmine-scented face-spritzing occurs as I visit the LUX* ME Spa. During my too short stay, I fit in a couple of hour-long relaxing massages to keep the muscles loose for the marathon stints on the beachfront loungers. But the menu offers rich pickings for the more dedicated spa fly with Carita Haute Beauté anti-ageing, Ayurveda, and Chinese healing treatments (think cupping therapy and moxibustion), a daily programme of yoga and tai chi in its inner courtyard garden, and meditation expert Kamran Bedi of the Mind Body Method on hand to help you re-balance as required. If you’re feeling very energetic, you can rent a mountain bike and explore the neighbouring fishing village and wild beaches concealed through groves of filao pines, initiative that easily earns you another ice cream (pistachio).
But what I particularly enjoy about LUX* is its whimsical resort ephemera. Ticklish paintbrushes hang here and there for dusting off your sandy toes, there’s a “Tree of Wishes” with visual guide on how to fold your written wish into an origami whale, and red telephone booth from which you can make free calls home. And don’t forget the daily nature walk with Mario. He used to be the resort’s head gardener but who you will now find manning the resort’s Junk Art Gallery – a quirky shop and activity centre – near the tennis courts. The landscaping is the work of Chelsea Flower Show double gold medallist, Stephen Woodhams, who stuffed the grounds with bright bougainvillea, bulging bottle palms and essentially a botanical garden’s worth of tree species. Despite their pristine presentation, the gardens have an eye to inviting in the wild. The downy Pennisetum grasses (see, Mario, I was listening) bob with pairs of feeding Mauritian cardinal, the distinctive songbird’s vermilion plumage dipped in the evening’s incandescent sunset. It’s humid and watching these tropical robins is making me peckish. Fortunately, the ice-cream stand (coconut) is never far away…