When the lights flick on at sunset at Le Prince Maurice, on the island of Mauritius, there is a moment of dreamy confusion: Suddenly illuminated, the pools scattered throughout the lobby blend so completely with the gleaming marble floors that, in this chimera of light, you seem to be floating, perhaps aboard a ship, adrift. It's an altogether pleasant sensation, and an appropriate one, given the reality of the setting.
Mauritius is hidden away from the world--a speck in the Indian Ocean 500 miles east of Madagascar, off the coast of southern Africa. Despite the distance, Europeans have managed to find their way to this pristine island over the years. Before its independence, in 1968, the Dutch, French, and English colonized it and reaped its spices for trade. Now they escape to its beaches in winter. Since it is just a four-hour flight from Johannesburg, Americans too are discovering Mauritius, as a post-safari rejuvenation stop.
Sprawled across 148 lush acres punctuated by pools and lagoons, Le Prince Maurice is one of Mauritius' newest resorts. Opened in late 1998, it is the creation of Frenchman Patrice Binet-Decamps, who wanted it to be elegant but not ostentatious and to blend in with the island's topography--a pleasing green patchwork of tea- and eucalyptus-clad hills rising above sugarcane and spice plantations. And the Maurice does blend nicely, thanks to a liberal use of natural materials like stone, teak, and the dried sugarcane leaves that thatch the resort's sloping roofs. Overall, the decor is soothing and serene, rich but not fussy. The open-air lobby and bar has dark teak chairs and settees appointed with white silk cushions and pillows in shades of ginger, saffron, and sage. Carefully selected ethnic accent pieces, like the Balinese wedding trunks that line the entrance to the lobby, decorate the public spaces. The private rooms are handsome but pared down, with rattan and teak furniture, carved-wood beds, and teak floors.
The most prevalent aspect of Le Prince Mauritius' design, though, is water. The sight and sound of the fountain at the center of the lobby--streams spilling from four great stone bowls--are mesmerizing. The main swimming pool, an infinity design that extends outward from the lobby, seeming to blend into the ocean, is the heart of the complex. Three of the resort's 88 suites are perched on stilts, South Pacific style, overlooking a mirror-like turquoise lagoon.
But the best rooms have a more conventional relationship with water. The senior suites, with stone plunge pools just off the terrace, border a powdery, well-staffed beach. The largest and most private accommodation is the 1,200-square-foot Princely Suite, tucked away on its own secluded strand, with three terraces and two pools.
Meals at the resort's L'Archipel restaurant, an open-air pavilion surrounded by pools, reflect the island's rich ethnic mix: a hothouse blend of Indian, Chinese, African, English, French, and Creole. The chef makes abundant use of spices--saffron, ginger, coriander, cinnamon--along with tropical fruits and fish from the surrounding waters. (Mauritius, in fact, offers world-class deep-sea fishing for blue and black marlin, mako shark, and yellowfin tuna. For those who prefer peaceful coexistence, the teeming coral reef makes for excellent snorkeling and diving.) Standout dishes include mixed seafood with lemongrass, punchy mulligatawny soup, smoked marlin, and freshwater prawns in Thai green curry.
Even more memorable, for its setting, is Le Barachois, the hotel's casual grill. Crossing the lagoon on a winding, torchlit walkway to this collection of white-tented tables floating on pontoons feels like an escape from even Le Prince Maurice's little piece of civilization.
Rates, $720-$1,440. 800-735-2478; fax 230-413-9129; www.princemaurice.com.
Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.