Let’s go fly a kiteComment on this story
At the hotel’s watersports centre I watched a video about kitesurfing. Unusually, I began to feel myself suffused in happy thoughts. Here I was in Mauritius, staying in a gorgeous hotel and standing on a beautiful beach under sunny skies. This was a day on which anything delightful might be possible.
The video showed a man holding on to a kite and skimming over the sparkling waves as if he had wings on his heels. Why couldn’t I do that? Could I fly? “Before you try that, have a look at kitesurfing videos on YouTube,” advised a dour man standing next to me.
I have to admit I was flattered that he thought I might be capable of some “out there, on-the-edge kitesurfing”. After all, it’s not as if I look the adrenaline sports type. On the sporting spectrum I have a physique most suited to playing darts.
It could be argued that I get all the rush of adrenaline I need on a cross-trainer at the gym. But why should I be afraid of a bit of excitement? How hard can it be to hang on to a sports kite while simultaneously skimming along the sea on a mini-surfboard?
But while I was keen to try it, didn’t I owe it to my nearest and dearest to research the subject thoroughly first? So I trotted back to my room and fired up the laptop.
I had to presume that if there were videos of kitesurfing on YouTube, they were unlikely to be events with a happy ending. How right I was. The first result from my search carried the headline “Kitesurfer launched into building during Tropical Storm Fay”. Perhaps the video’s title says a lot about the sort of people keen to go kitesurfing: these are people who think it’s actually a good idea to go out during a tropical storm.
So I watched as, under leaden skies, someone called Kevin flashed across the screen clutching his kite handle, his legs flapping uselessly in mid-air about 20ft up. In the next scene, Kevin’s inert body was lying next to a concrete wall receiving attention from a first-aider.
Kevin was apparently up and about shortly after and ready to laugh about his unfortunate experience. Most of the people who watch the video are still laughing: “Gets funnier every time I watch,” observed someone called Brian Rayman in the comments section – his soul is clearly drowning in the milk of human kindness.
I suddenly felt nostalgic for the pre-internet days when you could indulge in crazy activities blissfully ignorant of the possible dangers. For example, when I was much younger, I was somehow persuaded to try parasailing in Pattaya in Thailand. This involved putting on a parachute and being pulled behind a boat at very high speed. One minute I was on the beach, the next I was 50ft in the air.
Having read this rough description, you are probably able to figure out there might be the odd potential risk. “Is it safe?” I remember asking the wily watersports entrepreneur before donning a harness. He was encouraging – not surprisingly given that it was his business. “Sir, extremely safe. Safe as all bloody houses.”
Being young and fancy-free, I succumbed. Parasailing is actually the second most terrifying thing I have ever done, topped only by going up in a hot-air balloon (I’ve done this twice – the second time was even scarier than the first, which I would not have thought possible).
TV shows such as You’ve Been Framed would find it difficult to fill the programme time without a steady supply of videos that show the full gamut of watersports accidents. Looking back, it’s fair to say that there is barely a single part of that parasailing attempt in Thailand that can be considered safe.
Incredibly, I completed the trip without incident; the next day, however, a hapless tourist landed on rocks behind the beach and broke a leg. Both of us were probably lucky not to break our necks.
But Pleun at the Club Mistral watersports centre at my hotel, the St Regis, assured me that I could safely dismiss any YouTube horrors. “In kitesurfing, safety is paramount,” she said persuasively. “You’ll be absolutely fine.”
“OK, I’ll give it a try,” I declared, once again suffused with life-affirming enthusiasm. “Ah,” replied Pleun. “No wind today . . .” Despite feeling as if I’d been given a death-row pardon, I managed to look suitably disappointed and promised to return when there were more favourable conditions.
What really enticed me to try kitesurfing was learning that the St Regis resort offers a kitesurfing “butler” to help novices such as me.
The St Regis group has made butler service something of a company hallmark. Getting someone to help you unpack your clothes on arrival and serve you drinks by your own private pool I can understand – but a kitesurfing butler?
I tried to imagine Jeeves and Wooster kitesurfing, which first involves inflating the kite’s built-in bladder so that it keeps its shape.
“Jeeves, pump up the bally kite, old bean.”
“As long as Sir is convinced of the wisdom of this enterprise.”
“Who was it who got all excited about the snail on the thorn and the lark being on the jolly old wing?”
“I believe it was the poet Browning, Sir, but the lark had the benefit of proper wings, not ones he had to inflate with a bicycle pump . . .”
The fast-growing St Regis chain decided that its first resort in the Indian Ocean would be in Mauritius rather than the currently more fashionable Maldives.
I bow to no one in my admiration for the top hotels of the Maldives, but in holiday terms, Mauritius offers a different experience.
In the Maldives, which operates on a ‘one resort per island’ basis, your hotel is your entire holiday world for the duration of the stay. I’ve never found this a problem, although I know it deters some people who fear there won’t be enough to keep them amused for a week.
However, when in Mauritius you have at your disposal everything the island has to offer. And while Mauritius is on the small side (it covers an area about an eighth the size of Wales), it feels big for a tropical holiday paradise.
Its significance as a country is also underpinned by a long history, much of it fairly tormented and brutal.
To get the most out of your visit, it’s worth doing a little advance reading. Mauritius became known to the world at the end of the 18th Century largely through the publication of the novel Paul Et Virginie, a love story by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de St Pierre, set on an exotic Indian Ocean island. It quickly became the literary sensation of the age.
The author had previously spent more than two years on what was then the French colony of Ile de France (it subsequently passed into British control and took the name Mauritius).
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre also described his experiences on the island in the book Journey To Mauritius. The unflinching descriptions of the cruelty of slavery played a key role in the movement that was eventually to abolish it.
In the 18th Century, four-fifths of the Mauritian population were slaves engaged in the production of sugar. The book makes the point that without the cheap labour of slavery necessary to manufacture sugar, it would simply have been too expensive for anybody to afford the commodity in France or Britain.
Those opposed to slavery asked whether so much suffering was necessary for the banal pleasure of sweetening food. “No cask of sugar arrives in Europe, to which blood is not sticking,” wrote the French philosopher Montesquieu. Today the island is still largely given over to the growing of sugar cane, but these days the sugar plays its part in tourism.
A short drive from the St Regis is the Rhumerie de Chamarel, a place that makes high-quality rum. Visitors can see the production process and also dine at its own highly rated restaurant.
Chamarel is best known on the island as the location of the Seven Coloured Earth – volcanic activity has created multi-coloured soil. Not exactly the Sistine Chapel, but the place is worth a visit to look at its giant tortoises and attractive waterfall.
Another oddity worth a look is the nearby Energetic Vortex, supposedly inhabited by Beings of Light, where you can rebalance your chakras and meridians. Spend 20 minutes in the magic circle of stones and you are supposed to be able to feel the vibrations of the Earth. Unfortunately, as I entered the circle I banged my head on a tree and felt mostly nauseous.
In truth the St Regis is so wonderful that you have really no reason to leave. It has great restaurants, especially the stunning Simply India restaurant overseen by chef Atul Kochhar, and a very fine spa. And, of course, it has kitesurfing.
If I tell you that, during my stay, the wind was never quite blowing in the right direction, will you believe me?
“Undoubtedly, Sir,” says my kitesurfing butler . . . - Mail On Sunday