Look! I’m a fish,” announced five-year-old Freddie excitedly. “Yes, but can you be a tree?” enquired Josh, ten, standing perfectly still on one leg. “More like a weed,” said Ben, nine, dryly, busily trying to get his foot to touch his ear. It was certainly a conversation that I never thought I would hear: my three lively sons enthusiastically discussing yoga positions.
Living with boisterous, adrenalin-junky, football-mad, Xbox-fanatical boys and an equally on-the-go husband, my life is usually short on tranquillity. So I decided that it was time for everyone to calm down. They were unexpectedly excited when I revealed my plan to try family yoga, especially when I told them we were bound for Mauritius and tempered it with the promise of water sports, dolphin-watching and lazy days on the beach.
The Shanti Maurice Resort nestles on the edge of a gorgeous coral sand cove in the wild south of Mauritius, where forest and fields of sugarcane meet the Indian Ocean. Wonderfully luxurious, the hotel blends into its natural surroundings with a plush decor that uses local hardwoods, rattan, thatch and stone. Proof of this
was the family of garrulous Indian myna birds, cartoon-like with vivid yellow beaks and feet, who had made themselves a comfortable home in the thatched roof of our stunning two-bedroom villa.
We’d dealt with the three hours’ time difference with a two-night stopover in Dubai staying at centrally situated Taj Palace where we’d had time to visit the Dubai museum, Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), and sail down the Dubai creek in a dhow. With a seven-hour flight from Dubai, we got to Mauritius feeling relaxed and keen to arrange our first family yoga session with Dheeraj, one of the Shanti’s two full-time yoga instructors.
Classes can be tailored to cater for the ages of the children and I opted to have four one-hour sessions during our-ten day stay, which proved just enough to hold everyone’s interest. I’d already engaged Freddie’s imagination by teaching him the Warrior pose and he was itching to show off. “Look at me! I’m a warrior!” he told Dheeraj, striking a rather wobbly Warrior One position. “That’s great, Freddie,” replied softly spoken Dheeraj, with his calm aura and unhurried movements, a little of which I was hoping would rub off on us all. “You’re an expert already, but first we need to chant Om three times with devotion.”
I could feel eight eyes upon me and I could read their minds (“Huh? Who said anything about chanting?”). But despite the bad karma channelled my way, “Om” was chanted that day – if not quite with devotion, then certainly with gusto interspersed with a few stifled giggles.
We opened the doors onto our terrace and felt the fresh sea breeze as we coaxed our bodies into positions, including Wind Release (cue the farting jokes!). Josh has an incredibly malleable back and was able to master the Cobra position with ease. Ben, who is something of a smart alec, said that he’d like to learn Corpse pose (lying on your back completely relaxed), which Dheeraj informed him was the most difficult pose of all. And Neil, wearing the “Real Men Do Yoga” T-shirt I’d bought him as a joke, discovered that real men aren’t perhaps as supple as they are strong, and that yoga is definitely not for wimps.
When we weren’t tying ourselves in knots, we paddled in kayaks out to where the ocean meets the reef; beachcombed for speckled cowrie shells; and swam in the pool under the shade of an immense Indian banyan tree. Children are well catered for at the Shanti Maurice with a club that organises activities from kite flying to treasure hunts, and my three easily dipped in and out of the events according to their mood. It was all very relaxed.
We could have easily never set foot outside of the resort. I was growing used to the zingy iced ginger beer served mid-morning and the fruit sorbets that appeared in the afternoon, while the boys couldn’t wait for the next round of iced towels to be handed out. “This is the life!” became a regular utterance.
The resort’s philosophy is built on a desire to encourage guests to use the hotel as a base to explore the real Mauritius and is keen to suggest a whole host of unique experiences. Following their advice, we hired a car one day and drove to Blue Bay on the east coast to go snorkelling in ice-blue water with Moorish idol fish, blotched groupers, orange-lined triggers and parrotfish, which scrape their beak-like mouths noisily against the coral. Another day, we drove up into the mountains where locals were out in droves picking guava – the exotic Mauritian equivalent to blackberrying – and joined in, quickly discovering the sweetest fruit were orangey pink, while the sourest were yellow. Anthony, the Shanti’s Recreation Manager, took us on a tour of the south, stopping to drink in views over the Black River Gorges National Park where white-tailed tropicbirds with long streamer tails glided like kites on warm thermals. We drank sugarcane juice (the sign said it helped with the growth of sexual organs, which greatly appealed to my sons’ schoolboy humour) and ate pineapple doused in tamarind juice and chilli to awaken our taste buds.
We also discovered Gris Gris, where the sea crashes against basalt rocks, got lost driving through sugar plantations and went to marvel at the coloured earth at Chamarel, ending the day at La Vanille Reserve, home to 2,000 Nile crocodiles and over 1,000 giant tortoise, the largest numbers in captivity. For a few Mauritian rupee, we bought veggie treats to tempt these prehistoric creatures with and, once we got them up and moving, the boys hopped on their shells for a ride, which Josh described wittily as “shell-raising”.
Afternoons spent at the hotel soon took on a familiar rhythm. At 3pm, my sons would head to the children’s club to play tennis or wait for the pool guys to knock off work and give them a game of footy, while I nipped off for an hour in the spa, one of the largest in the Indian Ocean region, for a silent dip in the outdoor thalassotherapy pool. Other days, I indulged in an Africology massage or facial enjoying the idea that a host of African plants that sounded more like a shopping list, such as rooibos (most commonly used to make bush tea), African potato and marula (an aromatic fruit the size of a plum), could make my skin feel so wonderfully rejuvenated.
We had lots of opportunity to convene with nature. The Shanti Maurice’s location means that you’re as likely to meet a hare hopping back to the forest as a crab scurrying under a rock on the beach. Rodrigues fruit bats flew obligingly over a full moon and made the boys squeal in delighted terror, gargantuan iridescent dragonflies dive-bombed us in the pool, but our most amazing encounter was with a pod of spinner dolphins. Dolswim, a small eco-friendly company that cruises out from Tamarin Bay, work wonders coaxing nervy swimmers (me, in this case) into the sea. I held hands tightly with Josh as we snorkelled along, gazing down as the 50 or more dolphins cut effortlessly through the shafts of sunlight that pierced the ocean creating natural spotlights. We listened to the high-pitched calls of their otherworldly chatter, and discovered that it’s hard to grin with a snorkel in your mouth. The experience left us gibbering like idiots, “Amazing, that was amazing, absolutely amazing!” over and over again.
While the boys languished in bed after evenings spent dancing the traditional sega on the beach at the atmospheric Rhum and Fish Shack (barbecued seafood and rum cocktails, bonfires and sea spray),
I skipped happily along to the yoga class that’s held in a picturesque pavilion at 8.15 every morning. Open on all sides, and set amidst indigenous hibiscus, anthurium and alamanda trees, it certainly made a refreshing change to do my sun salutations to the actual sun rather than to a wall in my local leisure centre. Such an authentic experience was mirrored in the food that was on offer, too. From the Cape cuisine at the Shanti’s signature restaurant, Stars, to the Indian flavours served up in Pebbles and barbecued lobster on the beach, we were spoilt for choice. But one evening we were invited to dine with Grandma and we jumped at the chance. Grandma’s Kitchen is the chance to eat with a Mauritian family in their home. Rimala and Moorgen were the perfect hosts, genuinely happy to have us, interested to talk to us about Mauritian culture, their Indian Tamil roots and in return to hear about life in Britain. Best of all was Moorgen’s mother’s home cooking – aubergine fried in the lightest of batters served with fresh mango and chilli chutney; hearty vegetable dhal garnished with coriander; coconut chicken curry; and, my favourite, a milky rice pudding flavoured with aromatic cardamom.
On our last day Josh, Ben and Freddie flew solo in the children’s yoga class, held each Saturday morning. Something of experts now, it was a proud moment as all three mastered the tricky Tree position, balancing on one leg. I’m pleased to see that yoga is continuing to play a role in our lives now we’re home. Josh enjoyed the gymnastic elements and is keen to join a club; Neil is devising ways to get supple at the gym; Ben’s still busy mastering Corpse pose; and only yesterday I discovered Freddie sitting on the loo chanting “Om”, with more than a little devotion.
Seven nights’ half board in two Junior Suite Ocean View Rooms (children’s room complimentary) from £2,670 per adult, and £910 per child, including transfers and flights departing September 17. Visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk. Return flights via Dubai with Emirates from £872 per adult and £665 per child. Visit www.emirates.com