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Lying in the shade of tall palm trees on a tiny desert island while sampling some freshly barbecued fish and watching the boats bob up and down on the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon, I realised that this was the ultimate island retreat. 

An island escape is the perfect holiday if you’re looking to relax and get away from it all, but I was actually on an island (Ile aux Chats, or Cat Island) off another island (Rodrigues) which itself is reached from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius – an island holiday cubed, if you will. 

Either this was the most relaxing place I’d ever visited, or I was in a vacation version of the film Inception.

Rodrigues, Mauritius' little-known neighbour, is the perfect holiday-within-a-holiday destination

Rodrigues, Mauritius’ little-known neighbour, is the perfect holiday-within-a-holiday destination

Located off the east coast of Africa, Mauritius is well-known for its stunning beaches, luxury resort hotels and year-round sunshine, but for those seeking a more remote island experience, its little-known neighbour of Rodrigues is the perfect holiday-within-a-holiday destination. 

It is the place where Mauritians themselves come to relax and is known for its tranquillity, its lack of development and its beautiful wildlife as well as the beaches, which rival anything Mauritius has to offer.

Just a 90-minute flight due east of Mauritius, this tiny island is just 42 square miles in size but is entirely surrounded by coral reefs – which cover an area more than twice that – which make it an ideal destination for diving and snorkelling or just soaking up the stunning scenery.

Named after the Portuguese explorer Diogo Rodrigues, the island looks as it has come straight from the pages of a travel brochure, with lush green hills inland surrounded by golden sandy beaches and the sparkling clear turquoise ocean. 

Sarah recommends staying at the island's Cotton Bay hotel, which is set by the beach. Pictured is the hotel's honeymoon suite

Sarah recommends staying at the island’s Cotton Bay hotel, which is set by the beach. Pictured is the hotel’s honeymoon suite

The island's 'Plage de l'Est' beach. 'This tiny island is just 42 square miles in size,' Sarah writes

The island’s ‘Plage de l’Est’ beach. ‘This tiny island is just 42 square miles in size,’ Sarah writes 

On the beaches, fishermen hang up fresh octopus to dry (pictured)

On the beaches, fishermen hang up fresh octopus to dry (pictured)  

Plastic bags are banned on the island and the island’s chief commissioner is keen to preserve the island as an ecological destination and restrict large-scale developments. A dependency of Mauritius with a population of just 38,000, Rodrigues is far less built up than its larger neighbour and is practically unknown to foreign tourists.

This means that there are just a handful of three and four-star hotels on the island – there are no five-star hotels yet, although the island is currently in discussion with several operators who are hoping to be the first five-star brand here – but instead, the island boasts dozens of excellent guesthouses. 

While the term might conjure up a dank B&B from a British seaside town in the 1960s, this couldn’t be further from the truth: in Rodrigues it can be like having your own boutique hotel, with individually-designed rooms, private pools and even sometimes a pair of giant tortoises for company.

Locals will tell you that you need at least five days to really appreciate the island, and while you would certainly be ultra-relaxed after almost a week on Rodrigues, a long weekend here is ample time to explore the delights of the island and get as much sun, sea and sleep as you need.

The spa at the three-star Cotton Bay hotel. 'There are just a handful of three and four-star hotels on the island,' Sarah writes

The spa at the three-star Cotton Bay hotel. ‘There are just a handful of three and four-star hotels on the island,’ Sarah writes

The view of the sea from Cotton Bay hotel. There are no five-star hotels yet on Rodrigues, but according to Sarah, the island is currently in discussion with several operators who are hoping to be the first five-star brand there

The view of the sea from Cotton Bay hotel. There are no five-star hotels yet on Rodrigues, but according to Sarah, the island is currently in discussion with several operators who are hoping to be the first five-star brand there

Cotton Bay hotel's swimming pool. Sarah says that an escape to Rodrigues is 'pure luxury'

Cotton Bay hotel’s swimming pool. Sarah says that an escape to Rodrigues is ‘pure luxury’

Sarah says that Rodrigues 'is entirely surrounded by coral reefs, which make it an ideal destination for diving and snorkelling'

Sarah says that Rodrigues ‘is entirely surrounded by coral reefs, which make it an ideal destination for diving and snorkelling’

I flew from Mauritius’ international airport early Friday afternoon and landed just after 3pm, my window seat giving me a great view of the sandy islands and vast lagoon that surrounded Rodrigues. By 4pm I was swimming in the sunshine in the outdoor pool at the Domaine de la Paix guesthouse, the number-one-rated guesthouse on Tripadvisor for the whole of Rodrigues.

It has eight individual rooms ranging from twin to doubles and family rooms as well as a spa treatment room and each is beautifully decorated with handmade furniture and artwork, one even boasting a whale skeleton. 

Guests tend to have their favourites, from the circular Harmony room, to Zenitude where you can gaze through the roof at the starry night sky. With the rooms scattered around its hilltop location hillside among the palms, passion fruit trees and colourful bougainvillaea, it was easy to see why it was so well rated by visitors. It has stunning views of the coast, a stone-built magnesium pool (no harsh chlorine here, just healthy mineral salts) and no passing traffic meant the only sounds were the wind in the trees or an occasional chirrup from a passing bird, making it a very relaxing place to stay.

Rodrigues' Anse Bouteille beach. According to Sarah, locals will tell you that you need at least five days to really appreciate the island

Rodrigues’ Anse Bouteille beach. According to Sarah, locals will tell you that you need at least five days to really appreciate the island

Air Mauritius has several flights a day between Mauritius and Rodrigues

Air Mauritius has several flights a day between Mauritius and Rodrigues

While owner Francois is happy to provide evening meals, I decided to go a little further afield and on my first night ventured down the road to the beach-side Les Cocotiers hotel to sample a traditional Mauritian buffet dinner and rum cocktails while watching a display of local dancing (inspired by Scottish, Polish and Russian influences), which delighted its Mauritian guests.

You can easily explore Rodrigues by car or foot – trekking through Rodrigues’ unspoilt countryside and hills is a popular activity here – but I was keen to see the island from the water and so the next morning, after an impressive breakfast of fruit, freshly-made bread, pastries, passionfruit and cooked eggs I headed to the stunning beaches at Port Sud-Est on the south coast to meet Gonzague, the skipper of a little sailing boat – my transport for the day.

Leaving the kite-surfers weaving and diving in the blue skies behind us, we chugged out into the lagoon for a morning’s snorkelling, greeting various scuba divers and octopus fishermen on the way (the fresh octopus is hung up on the beach to dry) before having lunch on the aforementioned Ile aux Chats.

A view of the spectacular scenery in Rodrigues. 'Trekking through Rodrigues' unspoilt countryside and hills is a popular activity,' Sarah says

A view of the spectacular scenery in Rodrigues. ‘Trekking through Rodrigues’ unspoilt countryside and hills is a popular activity,’ Sarah says 

A street in Rodrigues’ main town, Port Mathurin, where Sarah spent the final morning of her trip

The market at Port Mathurin. During Sarah's visit, the town was 'hosting a loud and colourful Creole festival, complete with market stalls and loud music'

On the left is a street in Rodrigues’ main town, Port Mathurin, where Sarah spent the final morning of her trip. Pictured on the right is the market at Port Mathurin. During Sarah’s visit, the town was hosting a ‘loud and colourful Creole festival, complete with market stalls and loud music’

The tiny island studded with palm trees and fringed with sandy beaches is called the island of cats due to its shape from the mainland (although we did see one friendly cat on the island too) and is one of a whole host of nearby islets straight from the pages of Treasure Island, such as the Ile aux Cocos, Ile au Sable, Ile aux Crabe and Ile Gombrani. They are all popular destinations for day trips with some, such as ‘my’ island Ile aux Chats, allowing barbecues.

While I lay in the shade and drank up the spectacular view along with the sunshine, Gonzague was cooking up a storm and soon returned laden with capitaine fish, sausages, chicken and prawn skewers (and had thoughtfully brought along a cool box full of wine, beer, water and Coke).

Sun-dazed and wind-swept from the boat ride back, it was bliss to cool off with a swim back at Domaine de la Paix before heading out to the lively beach town Anse aux Anglais for dinner. 

While there were dozens of family groups sitting at picnic tables on the beach enjoying the evening warmth, I made instead for the packed local corner restaurant La Plage, where I tucked into what was becoming my favourite cocktail, Ti Punch. This is a potent mixture of rum, limes and sugar syrup and was the perfect starter to my main dish, the famous ‘Bol renverse’ (upside-down bowl), a bowl stuffed full of stir-fried rice and vegetables and a fried egg, which is then upended in a perfect semi-sphere on your plate.

My final morning was spent exploring Rodrigues’ main town, Port Mathurin – which was hosting a loud and colourful Creole festival, complete with market stalls and loud music – and chatting to the island’s chief executive, Jacques Davis Hee Hong Wye.

A sailboat by the Rodrigues coast. Describing her own boat trip, Sarah writes: 'We chugged out into the lagoon for a morning’s snorkelling, greeting various scuba divers and octopus fishermen on the way'

A sailboat by the Rodrigues coast. Describing her own boat trip, Sarah writes: ‘We chugged out into the lagoon for a morning’s snorkelling, greeting various scuba divers and octopus fishermen on the way’

Trou d'Argent beach in the eastern part of Rodrigues. The locals are hoping to boost sustainable tourism on the island

Trou d’Argent beach in the eastern part of Rodrigues. The locals are hoping to boost sustainable tourism on the island

The St. Gabriel Cathedral, located in the town of St Gabriel. According to Sarah, you can easily explore Rodrigues by car or foot

The St. Gabriel Cathedral, located in the town of St Gabriel. According to Sarah, you can easily explore Rodrigues by car or foot

Pictured is one of the giant tortoises at the Francois Legaut sanctuary, which reintroduced giant tortoises to Rodrigues after they were hunted to extinction

Pictured is one of the giant tortoises at the Francois Legaut sanctuary, which reintroduced giant tortoises to Rodrigues after they were hunted to extinction

‘We want to boost tourism and the local economy, but to do it in a sustainable way,’ he explained. ‘We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of mass tourism elsewhere and instead want to position the island as an ecological destination.’

If you go for a week then the more active are spoiled for choice if beaches and boating are too relaxing. 

Options include ziplining 100 metres above the trees, visiting The Garden of Five Senses botanical gardens, crossing the hair-raising Indiana Jones-style suspended bridge, or going kayaking, kite-surfing, wind-surfing or fishing, or visiting the giant tortoises at the Francois Legaut sanctuary, which reintroduced giant tortoises to Rodrigues after being hunted to extinction in the 18th century.

I wasn’t able to squeeze in a trip to the giant tortoise sanctuary but the indefatigable owner of my guesthouse, Domaine de la Paix, had a solution – his very own pair of female giant tortoises that lived at his other villa across the island. As giant tortoises live for 150 years, these two were mere babies at 15 years old. Munching on colourful bougainvillaea flowers, the pair looked extremely content as they basked in the Rodrigues sunshine and I knew exactly how they felt. 

An island break is a real treat anyway – but an island holiday in the middle of another island holiday? That’s pure luxury.

Sarah Bridge is a travel writer and founder of the travel reviews aladyofleisure.com.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Getting to Rodrigues: Air Mauritius has several flights a day between Mauritius and Rodrigues and the trip lasts 90 minutes. 

Getting to Mauritius: Direct flights to Mauritius from the UK depart from London Heathrow (British Airways) or London Gatwick (Air Mauritius) while indirect flights from UK regional airports are with Emirates (via Dubai), Air France (via Paris) and Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul).

Where to stay in Rodrigues: Sarah stayed at the Domaine de la Paix guesthouse, 10 miles from the airport. Price per room starts from £150 with some minimum stay restrictions. Hotels on the island include Mourouk Ebony hotel and Cotton Bay hotel – both have swimming pools and beachfront locations. 

Visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mauritius/entry-requirements for the latest travel rules. 


An email from the Maldives authorities advising that my Covid documents are in order says: ‘Hope to see you soon on the sunny side of life.’

It is a pleasing human touch during what can be a stressful process. And there are few better places to take a walk on the sunny side than this tiny nation of scattered islands in the Indian Ocean.

And if there is urgency in the air, it is because the clock is ticking. Even if all the promises made at Cop26 are kept, the low-lying Maldives would still be at the mercy of rising sea levels.

Vibrant: The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives, pictured above, only opened in October, Max Davidson reveals

Vibrant: The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives, pictured above, only opened in October, Max Davidson reveals 

It is certainly a delightful part of the world, offering myriad subtle pleasures. There are 100-plus island resorts in the Maldives and, despite the horrors of Covid, new hotels continue to open.

After landing in the capital, Male, I take a seaplane to my final destination. A short hop over thrillingly blue waters dotted with atolls and I am on the beach with the sand in my toes and a glass of prosecco in my hand. The party can start.

The all-inclusive Cora Cora Maldives only opened in October. Finishing touches are still being applied. ‘There is no full-length mirror in my bathroom,’ I hear a guest yelp, as if she has found a snake in the shower. It is on its way, she is told.

Cora Cora is a class act, with no expense spared and friendly staff setting the tone. They are helpful without being obsequious: there is no bowing and scraping.

The setting is the Maldives in perfect miniature — a carless island you can walk around in 15 minutes. Soft white sand. Palm trees blown off-centre by the winds. A seascape of a thousand blues and whites. Honeymoon-worthy accommodation.

After landing in the capital, Male, Max takes a seaplane to Cora Cora (file photo)

After landing in the capital, Male, Max takes a seaplane to Cora Cora (file photo)

Half the rooms, including mine, are built above the water on a long, curving jetty. The other half are built along the shore, fringed with frangipani.

There is a resident artist at Cora Cora who gives painting lessons, but you would have to be a painter of genius to capture the fugitive beauty of this landscape: the sea rolling and heaving under an ever-changing sky; the dainty vegetation; the beneficent sun.

Exploring the island barefoot — even flip-flops feel redundant here — yields pleasures both expected and unexpected. 

The resort has 'honeymoon-worthy accommodation', writes Max. Pictured is a spacious Beach Villa bedroom

The resort has ‘honeymoon-worthy accommodation’, writes Max. Pictured is a spacious Beach Villa bedroom

An open-air bathtub in one of the resort's Beach Villas. Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa on an all-inclusive basis

An open-air bathtub in one of the resort’s Beach Villas. Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa on an all-inclusive basis

The view of the water - 'a seascape of a thousand blues and whites' -  from the porch of one of the guest villas

The view of the water – ‘a seascape of a thousand blues and whites’ –  from the porch of one of the guest villas

I was prepared for the infinity pool, the high-end spa, the bustling water sports centre, the pretty thatched restaurants, but not the historical museum next to the reception.

It has the most expansive collection outside the capital, and its artefacts, from Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company, are a reminder that, long before welcoming tourists, the Maldives sat on a busy East-West trade route.

Equally fascinating is the little archaeological site next to the museum. You can still see communal baths dating back centuries; traditional houses with carved wooden shutters; even the floor of an old mosque, through which a ginger cat saunters without a care in the world.

A bird's-eye view of the resort. 'Exploring the island barefoot ¿ even flip-flops feel redundant here ¿ yields pleasures both expected and unexpected,' says Max

A bird’s-eye view of the resort. ‘Exploring the island barefoot — even flip-flops feel redundant here — yields pleasures both expected and unexpected,’ says Max 

According to Max, you'll find 'soft white sand' and 'palm trees blown off-centre by the winds' on a stroll around the island

According to Max, you’ll find ‘soft white sand’ and ‘palm trees blown off-centre by the winds’ on a stroll around the island

Pictured is the resort's historical museum, which houses everything from 'Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company'

Pictured is the resort’s historical museum, which houses everything from ‘Chinese porcelain to relics of the Dutch East India Company’

Another essential site for travellers with an interest in history is Ghost Island, a neighbouring isle accessible by boat.

It is barely half a mile across, but used to be home to more than 3,000 people before it was devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Only two islanders lost their lives, but the damage to buildings was so extensive that the entire population had to be relocated, leaving behind a crumbling urban landscape redolent of Pompeii.

A rabbit hops through the ruins of the old hospital. A mouldy teddy bear lurks beneath a palm leaf. In the school, the light falls on fading mottos on classroom walls. ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ ‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’ Poignant stuff. Heart-warming, too. There is much to ponder as I return to base for the inevitable perfectly-mixed cocktail at an equally perfect sunset.

The high-end spa at Cora Cora. Max reveals: 'In the spa, I spot a woman deep in a book entitled How Not To Get Old, which somehow feels like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time'

The high-end spa at Cora Cora. Max reveals: ‘In the spa, I spot a woman deep in a book entitled How Not To Get Old, which somehow feels like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time’

Pictured above is the poolside Acqupazza eatery, which Max describes as an 'excellent Italian restaurant'

Pictured above is the poolside Acqupazza eatery, which Max describes as an ‘excellent Italian restaurant’

Diving off the coast of Male. A 'sophisticated interactive app' enables guests to book snorkelling trips at Cora Cora

Diving off the coast of Male. A ‘sophisticated interactive app’ enables guests to book snorkelling trips at Cora Cora 

For me, being the gregarious type, it is often the people as much as the scenery or the food which make a holiday memorable, and my fellow guests at Cora Cora are a gloriously eclectic mix.

I meet a synchronised swimmer turned movie actress, a diving-mad Mexican, a Russian family who ask me to sing Beatles songs, and pun-loving Julius from Germany, who orders Caesar salad for lunch. ‘I have to, with my name. I actually hate salads, but I love carrots.’

The salad is superb, like everything that emerges from the kitchen. 

There is an excellent Italian restaurant and an even better Japanese one.

At breakfast, I am faced with everything from fresh fruit to blueberry muffins to Maldivian fish curry, which is so good I want to take some home in my suitcase. 

Pictured is My Coffee - a bar and snack shop at the resort. Max is impressed by the 'pretty thatched restaurants' at Cora Cora

Pictured is My Coffee – a bar and snack shop at the resort. Max is impressed by the ‘pretty thatched restaurants’ at Cora Cora

TRAVEL FACTS

Simply Maldives offers seven nights in a Beach Villa at Cora Cora Maldives, on an all-inclusive basis. 

Features return economy flights from London Heathrow to Male on Qatar Airways, and return seaplane transfers. Cost from £3,000pp based on two adults sharing (simplymaldives holidays.co.uk, 020 7481 0804). 

The resort is not just car-free, but largely paper-free. A sophisticated interactive app enables me to book everything from spa treatments to snorkelling trips.

I spend one memorable afternoon kayaking along the shore, another making a scented candle to take home.

Nobody shouts. Nobody rushes. Nobody looks stressed or care-worn. In the spa, I spot a woman deep in a book entitled How Not To Get Old, which somehow feels like a metaphor for life on this island paradise suspended in time. One morning, the wind gets up, to the delight of a small boy, who runs along the beach, is knocked off his feet, gets up again and is blown over again, before collapsing in giggles.

‘That boy could be a president or prime minister one day,’ reflects a local man, smiling at his antics.

‘We want to send him away with such happy memories of the Maldives that we won’t be forgotten at future Cop meetings.’

Amen to that. Barely half a million people live in the Maldives. The ruling regime is not to everyone’s taste, but the country remains on a pedestal all of its own when it comes to aspiring holidays.

As I board the seaplane for my return journey, I cast a long, wistful look over my shoulder, my reverie only broken by the splash of a woman falling off her paddleboard.