By Chere Di Boscio
One of the best holidays I’ve ever had in my life was at a LUX* property. Actually scratch that–THREE of the best holidays I’ve had, because I keep going back to LUX* le Morne in Mauritius whenever I can.
The resort combines fun with luxury like no other place I’ve ever been: there are ‘messages in a bottle’ that allow the finder to win prizes like free dinners a deux or free cocktails. There is a secret bar, hidden in the form of a hollowed-out tree trunk, and if you find it, everything inside is free. There are organic gardens used by the kitchen that you can explore, smelling the fresh mint and basil and perhaps picking a ripe mango or two for a snack. At night, there’s a seaside cinema, complete with mushy beanbag chairs strewn around the sand and a free popcorn and candy bar. And all of this childhood-like fun is brought to you by the smoothest, finest service outside Paris’s top hotels.
On top of all of that, LUX* le Morne is a super-green hotel: they are planning for solar panels on their windows this year, they use grey water to dampen the gardens and they only change sheets and towels every third day unless otherwise requested. The whole resort group is also working on reducing their carbon emissions year on year through the implementation of various strategies and projects.
In short, it’s an eco-luxury editor’s dream come true. So when the chance came for me to stay at another LUX*–this time, on the African island of la Reunion–I couldn’t refuse.
La Reunion is where vibrant cultures converge with a mesmerising natural beauty. A unique fusion of raw nature and colonial elegance, LUX* la Réunion claims to be the only five-star beach resort on the island–odd, given the country’s abundance of sandy beaches and fabulous coral-sheltered lagoon of l’Hermitage, not to mention its rugged pulchritude, which includes thick, green cirques and an active volcano. No wonder this natural beauty led Réunion to be deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The island’s spectacular nature entices tourists into activities like snorkeling, diving, surfing and deep-sea fishing, as well as hiking, paragliding and horse riding. There’s much to marvel at here: the waterfalls at Salazie, the historic towns of St Paul and Hellburg, and of course, exploring the mouth of the island’s famous volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.
Although the outdoor life is spectacular, there is a long and dreary rainy season, which was on when I happened to be on the island, and unfortunately the hotel didn’t make the situation any more pleasant.
A Tale of Two Hotels
Whilst the le Morne resort has a lovely lounge area with a flat screen TV, several computers, board games, a well stocked library (including several gorgeous picture books) and full bar where complimentary homemade cookies are up for grabs and crepes and snacks are served for tea, there is no such common area in la Reunion, meaning rainy days are spent mainly in your room. And the rooms here aren’t all they could be: multiple scratches in the paint and wood on the closet could have easily been fixed, for example, and the beds are small, as though they were made for cramped 3-star hotels in London and Paris, where space is at a premium. Unlike those in le Morne, bathrooms here are nothing special, and there is no fabulous indoor/outdoor shower option.
So, rainy days were spent at the gym (adjacent to the parking lot, its location was also far from ideal) and the spa. Again, the latter is a far cry from what’s on offer at le Morne. In Mauritius, you enter the spa by crossing over a bridge and entering a floral-scented reception area, where you are served tea and asked a few questions about your health. After you change into a thick robe, the expert therapist then leads you to one of the treatment rooms, all of which are womblike: dark, warm and comforting. Therapists in la Reunion, on the other hand, double as gym instructors, and the treatment room is just that–a room. And yet prices for services are higher than those in Paris.
Culturally, all the islands of the Indian Ocean are colourful melting pots, blending culinary influences from India, Sri Lanka, Africa, France and China. Yet it seemed there was little variety on offer in the hotel’s three restaurants; in fact, the ubiquitous salads, fish dishes, burgers and pizzas seemed more geared towards the mainly French clientele populating the resort–many of whom were constantly blowing out acrid cigarette smoke, which, though outdoors, hung heavily in the humid tropical air.
Luckily, there are some alternative bars and restaurants a short walk from the hotel. Sunday seems to be the big night in the area, when live bands play and friendly locals come out to dance salsa and sega.
A Happy Ending
Of course, there were some other delightful highlights: as LUX* loves to surprise guests, they generously gifted me with some treats from the island (including local chocolate, vanilla pods and rum) one night, and brought a bottle of wine another. As with le Morne, all toiletries are made for the resort, and contain no nasty chemical ingredients. Most of the staff are cheerful and helpful, and the resident (outdoor) cat is a gorgeous creature who loves to cuddle. And then there is the beach: these crystalline waters surrounded by a coral reef are absolutely teeming with underwater life. With a simple snorkel just metres from the shore, we saw angel fish, some electric blue and silver fish, sea cucumbers, eels, and best of all, an enormous leatherback turtle, who swam serenely by, allowing me the thrill of touching her flipper.
LUX* produces great resorts with great ethics, but with plans for expansion in Dubai and China, they will need to be more consistent with the level of luxury, service, comfort and design throughout the chain if they wish to keep the brand strong. In short, LUX la Reunion is more like a 4 star hotel, relying heavily on the ‘five star’ natural environment that surrounds it.