When you see the word 'sustainable' etched into a brand's ethos, what does it mean to you? And how does it make you feel? Usually, there are two responses: passionate or disengaged. But Grazia is pleased to tell you that there is a middle ground, and it involves very little effort in exchange for helping the future of our planet.
Enter SALT of Palmar, a five-star luxury boutique hotel located on the east coast of the island of Mauritius. You simply don’t expect the words eco-friendly to be part of the deal, but they are. No single-use plastics are used, there’s no buffet (which equals no waste) and every guest is gifted a water bottle to refill at stations where you can add flavourings of fresh grapefruit, lemon and cucumber.
The hotel, an offering from hotelier Paul Jones of The Lux Collective, may only be a few months old, but don’t expect personality-free white walls and endless glass panels. SALT greets you with a terracotta exterior, and inside friendly turquoise, yellow and pink walls take inspiration from the colourful houses of the island. Somehow, the interior manages to balance between vibrancy and tranquility, and it’s a joy to absorb while checking in (which, disclaimer, doesn’t actually exist). Instead I sit on a sofas downloading the SALT app which unlocks my door and drink a delicious and refreshing mocktail of white basil, clove and papeda (tropical Asian fruit).
There are 59 rooms (the 60th was turned in to a library) and all have floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony. Inside, I’m directed to the room’s accessories: a beach bag created using recycled materials (and made by a 74-year-old local basket weaver called Reotee), mugs made out of homemade pottery, complimentary factor 30 sun cream and 12 books – eight by local authors on topics including Mauritian cuisine and places to visit, and four international best-sellers. There’s no TV, guests are encouraged to read, but there are tablets available on request if you wish (shame on you).
In the bathroom, there is no bath – it’s a waste of water – but the rain shower entices me with a selection of natural and homemade exfoliating scrubs, hair masks, shampoo and soap. This means they are suitable for all vegetarians, most vegans and are never tested on animals.
The hotel only has one restaurant, but it serves a varied menu of Mauritian octopus, burrata pizza and fish ceviche. A word of warning to beef fans, though: everything on the menu is local, which means it doesn't serve beef as it's imported to the island. However, while the food is truly divine, a detail ruffles my (free-range) feathers. In a time when so many are battling eating disorders, I believe dividing the menu into sections labelled ‘big,’ ‘medium’, ‘small’ and ‘healthy’ has negative impact, because as I woman, I feel pressure to choose from the healthy section, when actually many of the items across the menu were nutritious and healthy.
On my first morning at SALT I wake up to the gentle lap of waves – a welcome change from the busy Sheikh Zayed Road – and trot down to breakfast to consume a plate of local eggs, baba ganoush and sourdough bread slathered with homemade mango jam. I also study the itinerary I had previously glazed over, and realise I’m about to embark on a food tour. Oops. After a one hour drive to the capital, Port Louis, a tour guide leads me down derelict passages to hidden bakeries offering biscuits and pastries and fresh fruit market stalls. Amazing.
One evening is spent with the hotel’s family hostess, Mirella, and the experience is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Mirella works with the hotel (she sells the eggs I had for breakfast), and twice a week she also opens her home to SALT of Palmar hotel guests to enable them to experience Mauritian hospitality (most of the 1.3 million population speak English as well as Creole, a French dialect). We feast on chicken curry and caramelised pineapple and dance to old folk music, but her generosity doesn’t stop there. Mirella and her husband have four children together, and have adopted a further five from sad or troubled backgrounds. The aim of the evening is to discover the spirit of Mauritius, and I feel not only honoured Mirella has shared her world with me, but genuinely moved in being in the presence of such a selfless woman.
Dinner at Mirella’s is just one of the ways the hotel brings together guests and locals. There are also opportunities to be taught pottery, Mauritian cooking, fishing or basket weaving. Back to the hotel facilities, and there is a 25-metre lap pool – its emerald sun-loungers adorned with bright yellow beach towels under smart black-and-white parasols – a rooftop bar, yoga classes and an equilibrium spa boasting the island's first salt-therapy room.
My short but sweet trip is coming to a close. As the plane takes off and fields of swaying sugar cane and lush nature become swallowed by the Indian Ocean, I think how SALT of Palmar has proved that it is possible to lap up luxury in a setting that has the least negative impact on the environment. I recommend we all travel championing the hotel’s sustainable spirit going forward – and this advice is not to be taken with a pinch of salt.
SALT of Palmar, Coastal Road, Palmar, Belle Mare 41604, Mauritius. Rates start from Dhs735 per double room per night on a bed and breakfast basis. To make a reservation, call (+230) 401 8500 or visit saltresorts.com