Trouble in Paradise: Saint Geran, Mauritius

I Visited the One&Only Saint Geran, Mauritius in Feb 2006. This is a belated review.

THE DREAM

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I am deeply immersed in a version of Heaven known as the Abercrombie and Kent website.
‘Acclaimed cuisine, polished service and golden beaches…’ croons the blurb. ‘A sophisticated and gracious oasis of style.’
Eager for more, I gobble gigabytes of online Mauritian travel porn. Prose poems display astonishing lyricism. Photographs depict deserted beaches canopied with picture-book skies and framed by film-set palm fronds. My own imagination kicks in, providing a frangipani-scented breeze and the chatter of tropical birds.
Picking up my credit card, my trance is unbroken by a short mention of the rainy season. ‘The showers tend to be rather brief,’ says the Saint Geran site without mentioning the word ‘cyclone’. Not that I notice this minor omission. There’s no cyclone in the photographs.

THE REALITY

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No mere nineteen-hour journey could dull the senses to a first encounter with the Saint Geran. The lobby, open to the air at each end and giving onto water-filled gardens at the sides, is lofty, cool and elegant. Huge vases of improbably gorgeous flowers are everywhere and a happy bustle of activity permeates the place.
Check-in is conducted in our suite, where we are also introduced to our personal butler – where ‘personal’ in fact means ‘shared with an indeterminate number of other rooms’. But Binda is a charmer. Nothing is too much trouble for him, though we refuse his offer to unpack for us. It seems too personal a task to delegate.
Our terrace overlooks the lagoon. A handsome Hindu temple shimmers across the water to the West but directly opposite us is a scrubby-looking shore, scarred by dead trees and piles of black volcanic rock. Not exactly a brochure shot. Nonetheless, we prefer this side of the peninsula on which the Saint Geran is built: it’s more private than the rooms overlooking the main beach.

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Facilities are good (free broadband access, a choice of pillows and a shower cubicle the size of a starter home) but the room is a little ‘chain’ for our tastes. This may not be the only One&Only but at this price it should feel as if it were. And the ‘multimedia entertainment system’ is a disappointment too: in order to get my iPod up and running I have to perform contortions around the back of the TV, an old-fashioned jobbie with a screen as bow fronted as a Dickensian shop window.
Time for a swim in that dreamy looking lagoon. Except, what’s this? The immaculate pinky-white sand transforms itself into muddy ooze under cover of the water. This may be an offshoot of the ocean but it feels distinctly lake-like between the toes.

Food & Drink
We lunch at the lagoon-side Paul & Virginie, one of three restaurants on offer. My fish curry, served with sixteen chutneys and condiments, is good though at £29 each for one course and a couple of local beers it feels like hostage pricing.

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Our doubts grow during dinner that evening. No quantity of white-hatted chefs can disguise the fact that La Terrasse (the half-board restaurant) is essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet writ large. But the range of choice is excellent and the food mostly good – though we could do without the flies around the serving counters.
An acceptable bottle of South African sauvignon blanc costs £20 though many of the other wines are pricey. Service is charming if a little over-enthusiastic, with frequent attempts to snatch our loaded plates from us at the buffet by waiters keen to carry them to our table.
The other guests are an interesting mix, with a few minor celebs on show: a French footballer, an English rugby player and the odd captain of industry. But in general there is an unexpectedly packagiste whiff to the whole thing, to which my travelling companion and I no doubt contribute significantly.

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It is at the pool-side bar that this package spirit is most evident. A cover band churns out Lionel Richie and to our horror, guests’ children are invited to take the microphone. We escape to the bar at Paul & Virginie. Now this is a real island getaway hangout, far quieter and more grown-up.

Beach and Bathing
Paeans have been written to the beach here but in reality there are some niggles. The sun beds are too closely spaced, for example, and by eight o’clock each morning the prime sites have been reserved by guests marking out their territory with sarongs. But the sand is clean, the water warm and the service excellent.
It’s a pity then that by day three the balance of sunshine to cloud-and-showers is shifting as a tropical storm brews. Nothing too serious, but there’s no sun forecast so we decide to abandon the beach for what we fondly imagine will be a day or two in order to try some of the other facilities.

Sports and Spa
The Givenchy Spa boasts a beautiful pool as well as gym, saunas and every imaginable type of beauty treatment. Prices feel reasonable too, with a superb massage costing just under £60 for an hour. But where’s the hot tub?

Elsewhere, the list of (mostly free) activities includes a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, volleyball, Hobie Cats, water-skiing, glass-bottomed boats and kayaks. Bicycles are available too, so we pedal off to nearby Belle Mare to stock up on cola and tonic at local rather than mini-bar prices.

Stormy Weather

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The skies remain grey and day five sees a sudden rush to cut down coconuts and lash down trees. No one’s saying why, but there’s clearly trouble ahead.
During the night, winds build and rain gushes and daylight reveals a most un-brochure-like scene: the covered walkway that joins our room to the main body of the hotel is punctuated with yellow plastic ‘caution’ signs, for the good reason that it is lethally slippery when wet. We pick our way to the main lobby, where a crowd is gathered round a notice board showing the status of a new, improved low pressure system. The storm from two days ago has drifted away and in its place spins Cyclone Diwa, Category 2 but with ambitions. And she’s coming our way.
Another notice requests that guests avoid the beach and gardens (in other words, stay inside) and a third helpfully lists the major cyclones of recent years including one rather terrifying brute with winds over 175 mph. Later and perhaps wisely, this particular page is discreetly removed.

We do what any rational folk would under the circumstances: we get squiffy on the all-you-can-drink sparkling wine at the breakfast buffet. And very nice it is too. Very calming.

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The rest of the day is spent snoozing until, late in the afternoon, I decide to shake off my cabin fever by getting some exercise. Both pools are closed however, and rather bizarrely the one in the spa is filled with outdoor furniture. Apparently it’s the best way to stop things being hurled around by the wind…
By the next morning the weather is even more ferocious and we discover that a form of bunker has been opened: a previously hidden, deeply internal room where guests who cannot stand another day confined to quarters can sit and watch wide-screen sport. We opt for another sparkling wine breakfast and more sleep until lunch, which is ‘compliments of the house’ today. There’s something of a Dunkirk spirit to La Terrasse as everyone tucks in.

By evening it is clear that Cyclone Diwa has reconsidered her options and decided to holiday in nearby Reunion instead. To celebrate, we treat ourselves to dinner at the swankiest restaurant on site, the Spoon des Iles, which proves to be a marginal triumph of hype over culinary achievement though at £75 per person excluding wine it is very reasonably priced. If you ask nicely, they’ll show you backstage and I have to say that I have never seen a cleaner kitchen in my life. I really would eat my dinner off the floor.

Which means that we can probably pin my companion’s subsequent stomach upset on our earlier complimentary meal at La Terrasse. There is, as I remind the invalid, no such thing as a free lunch though the hotel nurse does hand out free rehydration salts and Imodium. A discreet silence is kept on the subject of whether any of the other guests have been affected though for reasons too delicate to mention, we have our suspicions.
Not that the patient misses much by spending the final day in bed. Cyclone Diwa’s rear end is wet and windy and it is with a heavy heart that I admit the inevitable: I have spent an entire week in the tropics without attaining a tan. The shame.

A Telling Moment
Our departure is very early the next morning and in my bleary-eyed state I manage to leave my credit card at reception. Not to worry. The hotel contacts our driver on his mobile and tells him that the card will be delivered to the airport before I leave. And it is, with a smile and no extra charge.
The Saint Geran may not be exactly what it’s often portrayed as: a traditional hotel in the grand style. And with a hundred and seventy five rooms it is simply too big to feel intimate. In fact it’s not really a hotel at all: it’s a resort. There’s a difference. But what it does offer is the most wonderfully friendly service. And it is that, rather than the ‘brief tropical showers’, that make it memorable

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~ by timashley on October 30, 2006.

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