Magic Carpet Contrasts, From Istanbul To Mauritius

Magic Carpet Contrasts, From Istanbul To Mauritius

Angela Taylor from Oasis Travel’s Belfast Howard Street office jets into paradise as guest of Getabed and Turkish Airlines

As long-haul destinations have grown in popularity an increasing number of travellers are opting to break their journeys with a swift stop in a mid-way destination. It adds a different dimension to a vacation and, as I discovered on a recent trip to Mauritius via Istanbul, a blend of city and silver-sanded paradise adds up to perfection!

When you travel long-haul the choice of airline is all the more important – you’ll be spending plenty of time in the plane, after all.  I travelled Economy with Turkish Airlines which boasts one of the youngest fleet of aircraft in the industry and I was particularly impressed with the levels of comfort and standards of service en route from Dublin to Istanbul.

In Istanbul I had the opportunity to get an insider’s view of how airline staff train to deliver that exemplary service.  I visited the state of the art training headquarters for Turkish Airlines.  From food preparation and service to emergency service procedures, this is where the staff of Turkish Airlines (and others, for the facility is used by other major airlines) hone their skills.  In every area of training students must attain a pass rate of at least 95%; it’s a tough remit but one that reinforces the high standards of Turkish Airlines.

My high point of the visit was getting the opportunity to land a plane (thankfully a simulated exercise!) in a tropical rainstorm.  Lest said, the better, I fear.  The simulated flight facility is central to pilot training and all pilots/co-pilots must successfully complete this aspect of training every six months.

While that aspect of my Istanbul visit was very definitely a specialist invitation for travel trade only, there is no shortage of attractions for the curious traveller in this great city.

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople is still acclaimed as ‘The Queen of Cities’, the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, the city reflects the many influences which have shaped its often tumultuous history and many of its major visitor attractions are – very understandably – world class.  In the Sultanahmet district you will see marvellous Egyptian obelisks and the open-air Roman-era Hippodrome ich was for centuries the site of chariot races.  Don’t miss the fantastically gorgeous Sultan Ahmed or ‘Blue’) Mosque and The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia which features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics.  Check out the Spice and Grand Bazaars … and that’s just for starters. It would take many weeks to do justice to the main tourist attractions of this fabled city, but it is possible to pack a lot into a short stopover stay … bring comfortable shoes is my advice!

I stayed at historical 4 star Sultanhan Hotel in the heart of the Sultan Ahmet area, perfect for sight-seeing – and that convenience is extra-important if time is limited.  All very comfortable with airy, traditional-style décor and good food.

After just a day, it was off to Istanbul Airport (amazing shopping!) and a taste of ramped up luxury in the award-winning Turkish Airlines Business Lounge … a split level affair with a golf area, Scalextric Track, a grand piano, plus a wonderful selection of food and fabulous wash room facilities including showers and amenities.   Talk about livin’ the dream!

It was a relaxed preparation for an eleven hours onward flight to the laid back luxe of Mauritius. This was my first time in Mauritius which really is like an ad for hair shampoo or Bounty Bars!

Expect waving palms, soft white sands and turquoise waters, with near-perfect weather.  The climate in Mauritius is largely tropical and hotels are designed to allow guests to take full advantage of the wonderful weather and fabulous beaches.  Water sports facilities abound and I would recommend taking one of the super full day Catamaran Cruises.  It’s worth exploring on land too, and no visit is complete without a trip to the island’s capital, Port Louis which was a lot more built up and modern than I had imagined, but endowed with some super craft markets.

I would suggest taking a tripto Sacred Lake,  the crater lake tucked away in the secluded mountain area in Savanna, deep in the heart of Mauritius. It is considered the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius and many pilgrims still walk bare footed from their homes to worship at the shores of this lovely lake.

While the destination is considered very chic and high end, I was surprised to discover that there is an excellent range of accommodation to suit a variety of budgets.

The 3 star Coin De Mire on the north coast is one of the respected Attitude properties, with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  It is not a beach-front property and you do have to cross a busy road to reach the shoreline, but what a beach!  Truly beautiful with wonderful views all around.  The hotel would be perfect for a young couple on a budget. Its split level rooms circle a pretty, shaded pool area and there is a small spa facility.  Choices in the small restaurant may be limited but the food is good and the outdoor bar area features a local singer each night and the ambiance is really relaxed and pleasant.

Another 3 star choice is the Friday Attitude where management proudly claim that ‘Every day feels like a Friday’. Great beachfront location and a lovely open bar-and-relax area make this an attractive choice for people who prefer a ‘non-stuffy’ set up.  Great spot for families travelling with kids too.

The Belle Mare Plage by Constance is situated on one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.  This resort-style hotel has recently been refurbished to wonderfully high standards and offers Half Board or All Inclusive. Its Prestige Rooms which can sleep 2 adults and 1 child under 12, have pool entrance and are on the ground floor. The Junior Suite, Suite Deluxe can adjoin with the prestige rooms which is a great advantage if you are travelling with a larger family or even if you just want more space. The Belle Mare also offers villa accommodation with private pools. Facilities in this hotel are excellent, especially for families:  a complimentary children’s club for 4 – 11 years and, for older teens (and young at heart adults!) there is a vast array of watersports activities along with good sports facilities including tennis, table tennis, mountain biking and golf.  Indeed there are two 18-hole championship golf courses right here. There are also thirteen dining options to choose from – all of them offering excellent food in a variety of styles.

The 5 star Shangri-La Le Toussrock is just wow!  There are great facilities here for kids and teens but, to my mind, this is a perfect couples’ retreat.  It has a tastefully sophisticated décor throughout with a distinctly japanese/zen vibe plus a stunning spa facility.  Imagine yourself enjoying superb food as you sit outdoors, overlooking an impossibly blue lagoon, with two beautiful islands, exclusively available to Le Touessrok guests … you’re getting the picture!

The 5 star Heritage Awali is a particularly well-known hotel with a tribal/African flavour and shady interiors.  Its outdoor barbeque area surrounded by gardens is, perhaps, its major claim to fame. Baby-sitting services, kids and teens clubs, together with a good range of sports and water activities, make it popular with families.

Just a short buggy transfer away the 5 star, Heritage Le Telfair was my preferred choice from the Heritage Group.  I loved its grand colonial entrance with bright lobby, beautiful fresh flowers around and welcoming homely atmosphere. Le Telfair has a wonderful selection of restaurants and bars, a variety of land and water activities plus guests enjoy access to the chic C Beach Club which has two restaurants, a swimming pool and beach area.

The 5 star Le Prince Maurice Constance provided a romantic conclusion to my trip to Mauritius, a truly special hideaway in the North-Eastern corner of the island where unashamed grandeur is the name of the game.  Service was beyond fabulous and I couldn’t have chosen a better spot than its wonderful bar in which to dance away my final evening in magical Mauritius … made even better by the fact that it happened to be my birthday!  I just hope someone will give me a return trip as next year’s present!

To hear more about either destination get in touch with me anytime at our Howard Street branch in Belfast.