Hotel Insider: Wake up to the sound of the Indian Ocean crashing outside your pool villa at this family-friendly destination spa.
Shanti Maurice, Mauritius lives up to its rebranding as a family resort
I came to this hotel when it first opened four years ago as a destination spa, part of the Ananda brand. Last autumn it repositioned itself with a new name as a hotel for families and, thankfully, it is not just glib marketing speak. No sooner were we out of the car than my eight-month-old granddaughter was in the arms of one of the staff. While we drank tamarind juice, Naomi was presented with a pink linen rucksack with a silky soft monkey, in which she immediately buried her face. All children get presented with the same gift on arrival, the only difference being the boys get a blue kit. We had come with my daughter and son-in-law intending to share child-care duties, and there was a cot in both rooms, plus the correct size nappies, bottle warmer and baby toiletries. As we unpacked my daughter rang through squealing with delight to say they had been upgraded to a villa with its own pool and garden terrace.
Mauritius is only about 50km long and 35km wide and the main tourist areas are in the north and along the west coast. Shanti Maurice is on the largely untouched south coast near the small town of Saint Felix. A day trip by taxi to the capital, Port Louis, costs about 2,500 Mauritius rupees (Dh322).
Shanti Maurice has 61 suites and villas and they all face the Indian Ocean. Built on two levels, the rooms either open directly on to the beach or are above with a balcony. I loved the view upstairs but the idea of lugging the buggy up the stairs persuaded us to go for the beach option. The rooms are described as suites, but there is just the bedroom and it isn't huge, although the French windows lead to a private outdoor space that serves as a sitting area. The design is a contemporary blend of Mauritian and African style and the grandest part was the large marble bathroom with its indoor and outdoor shower, vast bath, double basin, wardrobe area, dressing table and a closed-off toilet. It was so big and comfortable that we used it for the baby to sleep in at night.
Mauritius is not particularly known for its high standards of service, and the hotel's re-launch transforming it from a quiet resort (often only 30 per cent full) - to a bustling hotel with very high occupancy must have created some challenges for the staff. But the general manager, Paul van Frank, is a man with a reputation for turning places around and generally it was fine. Room service took longer than advertised - it sometimes took until the afternoon to get our room cleaned - but there is no doubting the genuine warmth of the largely local staff.
Relaxed with a real mix of nationalities. Most guests are there with a purpose, whether it is a romantic break, time with the family or to detox at the spa that, as a legacy to the hotel's previous life, is the biggest and probably one of the best in the Indian Ocean. Housed around an attractive tea pavilion surrounded by lily ponds, Nira Spa has an extensive menu of treatments, including a two-hour coffee and mint body wrap for 6,700 rupees (Dh863). Guests can still visit the same Ayurvedic doctor as before; a half-hour consultation costs 1,355 rupees (Dh161). The spa has its own pool and is a child-free zone, but walk past it and there is now a Kids' Club.
There are three restaurants at Shanti, although you can also picnic or eat on the beach. The head chef Willibald Reinbacher's signature restaurant is Stars (it is only open for dinner and the tables outdoors are romantically lit). The contemporary "Cape cuisine" dishes include salted chilli squid (850 rupees, Dh110), seafood broth with coconut, (850 rupees, Dh110) and karoo lamb shank (1,250 rupees, Dh161). My favourite was a side dish of cauliflower cheese at 200 rupees (Dh25). The all-day dining restaurant, Pebbles, has a mix of Mauritian, Asian and European food. The Pebbles salad with sautéed shrimps with palm hearts (740 rupees, Dh95) was delicious. A burger costs 650 rupees (Dh83) and the Indian dishes between 410 rupees (Dh52) for dal and 1,500 rupees (Dh193) for mappas, prawns simmered in coconut and tamarind sauce. Twice a week, a remote part of the beach is turned into a rustic restaurant offering barbecued fish. Old fishing boats are used as tables for salads and fruits and guests help themselves from the barbecue as dancers perform the sega, a traditional Mauritian dance.
The infinity pool with its fountains and taking my grandchild for a swim in the shallow lagoon created by the reef; the sea barely came over my knees for the first 45 metres and was never higher than my waist. I also loved going out early one morning to Tamarind Bay to swim with the dolphins, and watching the sun set into the Indian Ocean. The spa was simply superb.
The only thing the hotel forgot in its conversion to family-friendly is the impossibility of wheeling a buggy up stairs. The place is designed for beauty, not for easy access. There was also the odd mosquito.
On an island full of five-star hotels, Shanti Maurice has a unique appeal. It's on a beautiful beach and has all the advantages of a destination spa but children are made to feel welcome and honeymooners, or indeed any married couple, can have an indulgent romantic break. The hotel is big enough to have lots of facilities but small enough to be intimate.
The bottom line
A junior suite costs from €510 (Dh2,661) per night and villas from €1,125 (Dh5,871). Shanti Maurice, Rivière des Galets, Chemin Grenier, Mauritius (www.shantimaurice.com; 00 230 603 7200).