As the country’s birthplace of tourism, Grand Baie was always regarded as the St Tropez of Mauritius. When Sunset Boulevard was built on the waterfront in the 1990s, there was nothing else like it on the island. In its heyday, the streets buzzed with Mini Mokes (a new trend then), Suzuki four-wheel drives and bicycles, and visitors included everyone from Princess Stephanie of Monaco to then-president Jacques Chirac and Prince William (on a gap year in the late 1990s). But 30 years later, the resort became a bit shabby, as investment failed to keep up with the reputation the area had built for itself.
The island’s main motorway, from the airport, only reached Grand Baie a decade ago. Five years ago, the north acquired its own golf course, Mont Choisy, which although not directly on the sea is counted among the top four courses islandwide. The Mont Choisy Estate, with villas near the beach, brought wealth into the area, which is known for its white sand beaches.
A new beginning
“When we arrived five years ago, Grand Baie was stagnant and no one wanted to invest,” said Paulo di Giovanni, “but businesses are now upgrading, there’s a waiting list for real estate projects from abroad and I have never seen so many Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris being driven around.”
Paulo and his wife, Olivia, quit their careers in corporate finance in Monte Carlo to come and live here. They looked for somewhere to enjoy a night out by the beach, as they were accustomed to on the French Riviera. Unable to find anywhere that was quite what they were looking for, they created boho chic beach club N’joy, on La Cuvette – the prettiest cove in Grand Baie – which opened in December.
The latest luxury hotel
And now, another new kid on the block has set the bar even higher, in the form of LUX* Grand Baie. This ambitious new development of suites, villas, residences and a penthouse aims to redefine luxury on Mauritius, as the island’s first boutique-style urban retreat. If you are looking for Riviera luxury at island rates (especially from April onwards), whether for couples or families, this is a great bet.
My own family lived on Mauritius in the late 1970s. As a teenager on holiday from boarding school, I spent hours swimming, hunting for shells and picnicking on the powder-soft beach (one of the area’s best) where LUX* Grand Baie now sits. It was our favourite place on the island.
I was excited to hear that the lead architect of the hotel was Mauritian born and bred Jean-François Adam, who also spent childhood weekends and holidays diving, fishing, snorkelling and sailing in Grand Baie. He remembers a time when fishermen in colourful pirogues plied the bay and walked barefoot on its streets with their fishing rods. His love of boats inspired the contemporary architecture of LUX* Grand Baie, which, using timber, concrete, stone and galvanised steel girders, breaks away from the traditional mould of hotels in Mauritius. Giant curved thatched panels resemble the sails of a yacht, and the bare timbers of an upturned pirogue cover the skywalk, which now forms the northern gateway to Grand Baie.
On the steps of Beach Rouge, I spotted Alicia Rountree modelling a monochrome coconut palm-print swimsuit that she designed for the hotel, made in Italy out of ghost fishing nets scooped from the sea. Patrick Mavros also has a gallery space featuring one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by the island’s nature. The resort offers a speedboat trip for a plant-based breakfast on a secret beach on Flat Island, where white-tailed tropical birds shoot the breeze, and hermit crabs amble in the sand.
Swish interiors and a sceney restaurant
With USPs such as Olympic-standard running tracks on the rooftop, a hydrothermal “bath journey” below sea level, and the services of interior designer Kelly Hoppen CBE, Mauritius hasn’t seen anything like this. There is no danger of forgetting where you are, either, as every time the magnetic key slots into your suite, a high-tech reveal reminds you that you have one of the best ocean views on the island.
Hoppen created chalk-white whipped cream staircases in the villas, made to look like designers’ holiday homes in the tropics, and monastery-like ceilings in the spa. She “rolled everything up and liquidised it” to produce the bold red and white stripes of Beach Rouge, a Miami-style beach club.
The resort’s signature restaurant Ai Kisu (which means flame in Japanese) was designed to come up to the standards of top restaurants in Tokyo, Milan or Dubai. Pitched “somewhere between Zuma in Knightsbridge and Hakkasan’s Ling Ling”, and decked in sumptuous black and gold, with semi-circular booths under a mirrored ceiling and a firepit reflected in the pool outside, it is top-end Mauritius at its best.
There was nowhere to get a good laksa, or Beijing duck with caviar, in Mauritius before it opened, and when I went during the first week of opening, it was abuzz with the island’s well-heeled residents, mostly 50-somethings. Its speciality is warayaki straw fire cooking, but the theatre begins with the first course: a plateful of sushi enhanced by the services of a soy sommelier (homemade sauces are infused with yuzu or shitake mushrooms) and someone to grate your wasabi.
A culinary revival
Visitors to Mauritius have traditionally not had much variety when it comes to eating beyond their resorts, but the rise of Grand Baie has led to a flurry of cool new (including Mauritian-owned) openings. At Bloom, with its Cape Town vibe, you can have eggs Benedict and a coffee (made from freshly roasted beans) for breakfast, surrounded by wallpaper depicting coconut palms and flying toucans. I enjoyed an al-fresco candlelit dinner with live music in the garden of Correspondances, among murals and paintings by the owner.
Back at the hotel, over a sunset spritz at Bisou, the rooftop bar and restaurant, I watched the sun fade over the Mauritius Riviera and the infinity pool turn electric blue and hot pink, a fashionable young woman on a swing dangling over it.
“Grand Baie will never be Mykonos,” says Paul Jones, the visionary British hotelier and CEO of the Mauritian-owned LUX Collective, who lived on Mauritius himself for more than 30 years. “But in five years it will have changed [some more], and in 10 years, it will be significantly different.”
He believes, as I do, that for Grand Baie really to rise, some of it needs to go the way of the Merville, LUX* Grand Baie’s previous incarnation – to knock it down and start again. “We are the vanguard,” Jones says. “And we hope to embolden others to follow.”
How to do it
LUX* Grand Baie (00 230 209 2200; luxresorts.com/en/mauritius/hotel/luxgrandbaie) offers junior suites from £284, including breakfast. Susie Freeman Travel (01488 668821; susiefreemantravel.com) offers a seven-night stay from £4,200 for a couple sharing a junior suite, including half board, return economy flights and private transfers
Vaccinated travellers from the UK must prove their vaccination status and present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the last point of embarkation, or proof of recovery. Unvaccinated tourists must quarantine for 14 days on arrival in an official quarantine hotel. All visitors must have evidence of sufficient health or travel insurance for Covid-19 related expenses