The pool and relaxation area at the recently refurbished Veranda Tamarin hotel
After a 12-hour night flight which included a decent chickpea curry, my friend Jo and I gawp out the window at the paradise below. Writer Mark Twain said, “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then Heaven was copied”. And while never the Twain shall I meet, he deserves a pat on the back for his perfect summary.
Our home for the week is Veranda Tamarin, a small recently refurbished hotel, overlooking the mythical surf spot of Tamarin Bay on the south west coast, with La Tourelle mountain as the backdrop and a public beach unadorned with sunbeds, hawkers and bars, thankfully.
It may be nothing like the grandiose resorts commanding much of the coastlines of the north and east but behind its small facade lies a little gem of a hotel.We are invited to take part in a welcome ritual – basically licking a splodge of tamarind from the palm of your hand, followed by a glass of tamarind juice – an odd mix of sweet and salty but refreshing nonetheless.
Our Privilege room, which comes with exclusive use of theView rooftop infinity pool, is not huge but has a large bed with crisp cotton sheets, a mosquito net and space for our belongings. Relaxing on the corner sofa on our balcony, we watch locals queuing below at a street food cart – a reliable indication that the grub is good.
The polished concrete floors are cool on our feet, there is air con, towels and beach mats but there are no toiletries in the en suite shower.
But we don’t need to be bought by fancy amenities, there’s much more to Veranda Tamarin than that. Indeed, its tag-line “Deep Into Mauritius” neatly sums up its ethos.
While it is a 3.5 star hotel, the five-star care surpasses all that I have experienced at resorts. From the grounds-staff up, everyone is friendly, helpful – always checking that our every need is catered for.
Tourists can go dolphin spotting
All-inclusive resorts often seem keen to keep you in a bubble but not at Veranda Tamarin, which fits in with the locals rather than keeping natives at bay. Eating in the Crazy Fish bar is a chance to enjoy the food, drink and live music nights with the locals.
With a surf school, dive school and bike hire tucked away just outside the hotel, we quickly relax into a barefoot world of sand and sea.
But keen to explore more of Mauritius we booked a bike ride with David who at 19 is young and enthusiastic though happy to cycle at a pace that suits (bike hire from £12).We opt for a flat route for the seven-mile ride to the Black River Gorges National Park which means cycling a few miles along a busy road.
Eventually we hit a less travelled path where we are free to pedal alongside one another – the stunning landscape is a panoply of mountains and lush tropical forest.
Covering an area of 26 square miles, the island’s biggest park takes its name from the black stones that line the river. It is home to some 150 varieties of plants and three of Mauritius’s most endangered birds: the pink pigeon, the echo parakeet, pictured, and the Mauritius kestrel.
David was shocked that Jo spotted a pink pigeon as she nipped to the loo, as he has never seen one.
We ditch our bikes and head off on foot in search of a cool pool for a dip – the water is too shallow but shoes are removed to cool our toes.
Le Morne Brabant peninsula on the south-western tip of Mauritius
Stopping for a rest on our return journey, David tells us the nearby church, whose foundations were laid by slaves, was reserved for whites only – a reminder the island’s multicultural influences came at a price.The Dutch, English and French have all claimed ownership of the island – named after Dutch Prince Maurice of Nassau.
Next day I’m booked in for an 8.30am dive in the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean with Olivier (single dive from £38).The ponytailed local prefers to dive in the morning and take the afternoon off – and who can blame him? Unlike big dive centres with a large rotation of learners and vessels, Olivier has one small boat. I last dived in the Maldives and he’s apologetic that the waters are not as rich here.To see a turtle minding its own business within five minutes before swimming off into the blue, is anything but a disappointment.
The following day sees us rising before the sun does for a 5.15am start with Fred, a bronzed, board-shorts-wearing dolphin whisperer who hurriedly hands us snorkels and fins before marching us to his boat.
Steering one-handed he scans the horizon for spinner dolphins who come to the bay looking for fish to eat.
We are not alone for long as other boats appear – just as Fred spots 20 dolphins. Snorkelling up we’re privileged to see a baby tucked close to its mother.
More boats arrive and it’s clear why Fred was in such a rush to set off first thing as we speed off to another reef where we watch in silent awe at the magical sight as a pod of six perform spinning tricks in front of us and just one other boat (Dancing with Dolphins catamaran cruise from £60).
Rebecca in a buggy on one of Mauritius’s glorious beaches
Buoyed by our sea adventure, we take to the land and hire a beach buggy (a bargain at £51) through the hotel. Having never driven an automatic, the reception staff were entertained by the sight of us kangaroo-hopping our way to the main road. Luckily the influence of the British means the Mauritians drive on the left-hand side.
Our journey along the winding south coast road kisses the water at times but also takes us through villages. Hindu temples are dotted at random highlighting the Indian influence – Hinduism is the dominant religion.
Regular pitstops at gorgeous white sandy beaches include Brabout where the beach greets you with the call of the Roaring Forties – the strong westerly winds found in the southern hemisphere.
The waves are far enough out not to swamp an ankle paddler and loud enough to make you aware that the sea here is boss.
Our trip culminates at Gris Gris at the southernmost point of the island where the absence of coral reefs means the waves crash dramatically on to the cliffs.
It’s time to return to Tamarin and keen to avoid the 10 per cent charge for not returning the vehicle with a full tank, we load her up with a whopping £2.77 worth of petrol before driving home – for this is exactly what Tamarin Bay and Veranda Tamarin have become.
A large turtle floats in the wonderfully blue sea in Mauritius
One of the Privilege rooms at the Veranda Tamarin hotel
The bay, popular in the 1970s with surfers, lost its appeal due to changing wind patterns. But despite the wind of change, this hidden treasure has managed to retain its authentic and unique vibe.
B&B at Veranda Tamarin start at £70pp per night, based on two sharing a Comfort Room and £125 in a Privilege Room. Book at veranda-resorts.com/en/mauritius-hotel-tamarin. Bike hire, beach buggy rental, diving sessions and dolphin catamaran cruise can all be booked through the hotel. Air Mauritius flies direct from Heathrow to Mauritius from £729 return. Book at airmauritius.com or call 020 7434 4375.
Mauritius tourism: tourism-mauritius.mu/en-uk