What it’s like being on a press trip in a luxury hotel in Mauritius

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What it’s like being on a press trip in a luxury hotel in Mauritius

Did you know there’s a Hotel group with resorts in Mauritius that is dedicated to offering the very best wine? We didn’t either, until we were invited to the sixth edition of La Paulée, hosted by Constance Hotels & Resorts. Digital editor, Annzra Denita Naidoo won the jackpot and was chosen to go to the 6 day event. She shares what it’s really like to attend an international press trip at a luxury resort in Mauritius.

We in the publishing industry know we’re not going to make bank. Don’t get me wrong, we’re paid well, but it’s not accounting, engineering or doctor money. I knew this going in and still chose this career. I always wanted an interesting job and this industry delivered. Plus, sometimes you get a dream assignment. They may be few and far between but, man, when they come around it’s worth it!

Covering La Paulée in Mauritius was one of these assignments. La Paulée is a French festival in Burgundy that celebrates the completion of the harvest. Drawing inspiration from this, Constance Hotels & Resorts hosts its own version in which they invite winemakers and experts from around the world to share their knowledge with hotel staff. They also host exclusive pairing dinners with the winemakers that hotel guests can attend. Essentially, I spent six days in paradise, drinking wine (winning), but it was not all palm trees and vino. Here is my unfiltered experience of the trip.

@wwtaste When your job involves attending a literal wine festival in Mauritius! Constance Hotels & Resorts hosted their annual La Paulée in Mauritius and it was an incredible week of world class wine and great food. Read more about it on taste.co.za #wine #holiday #mauritius ♬ original sound – WWTaste

When the hotel room is bigger than your apartment

I wish I was joking – but it’s true and I enjoyed every bit of that room. After a five-hour flight that was delayed by an hour, I arrived in Mauritius in the early morning. The only South African winemaker in the programme, Donovan Rall of Rall Wines, arrived at the same time and brought his family along (including two daughters under 6 years old). We packed into the air-conditioned (thank goodness) transport, and after the kids settled down, began the one-hour drive to the hotel. To say I was exhausted is an understatement. I was certain I’d be too tired to fully appreciate arriving at the hotel – but boy was I wrong.

We stayed at the Constance Prince Maurice, a five-star hotel that is the epitome of island luxury. It’s as pretty as a postcard and you can’t help but be in awe of the views. My room had a massive bathroom, a king-sized bed, a day bed and a little terrace overlooking the private beach. I intended to nap for two hours and then explore the hotel, but I passed out for six! Not only was the room grand, it was comfortable and proved to be my safe space, but more on that later.

Winemakers and sommeliers are built differently

I’ve covered wine events before, but they’re usually an afternoon in the Cape Winelands, not a week in Mauritius. This was a whole new level. I’m not exaggerating when I say we drank wine constantly. It occasionally felt like I was on a wine Contiki tour – albeit somewhat classier! There were five wine-pairing dinners plus a gala night hosted at various restaurants at the Constance hotels. As this is a French-inspired event, every dinner began with an aperitif. The wine glasses were never empty and this continued for around two hours. We sat down for a four-course pairing dinner around 8:30 pm with even more wine. The dinners often ended around 11:30 pm, and then the sommeliers would bring out more wine for blind tastings. The journalists were often the first to tap out, but the winemakers and sommeliers carried on long after we left. Even on our one night off, the winemakers chose to drink wine, while I opted for beer to take a break (it was piña colada flavoured and perfect).

At 8:30 am we’d get a shuttle to the Constance Belle Mare Plage hotel, where we would go for sommelier training at the Blue Penny Cellar. We did tastings and learnt about the featured speaker’s businesses. I was a fool for not spitting more in these tastings. All the sommeliers would arrive fresh and eager to learn. The winemakers were energetic and enthusiastic. And there I was, oscillating between hungover and tipsy each day. I swear they’ve built up an immunity to wine as they drink it so often.

Just a note, the Constance sommelier team has curated an impressive collection of wine that will rival any restaurant in Europe (I know this because the Europeans told me). I got to sample some remarkable wines, including a  €400 and a €600 bottle of wine during the blind tastings. I wish I could tell you the names of the wines, but I was pretty buzzed at that point and my note-taking went out the window (don’t tell my boss 🤫).

Pardon my (lack of) French

I’m just going to say it. I’m South African Indian. This means I pass for Mauritian. I also don’t speak or understand French. But French is widely spoken in Mauritius and the La Paulée was attended by mostly Europeans. This meant French was constantly thrown at me. From the airport to the hotel, everyone assumed I was Mauritian and addressed me in French. All I could do was look at them sheepishly and reply in English. The training sessions were also conducted in French, but I was kindly given English notes by the winemakers.

Sommelier tests are way more interesting than you think

The passion that the head sommelier, Jerome Faure, has for uplifting sommeliers in the Constance group (and in Mauritius) is incredible. He helps them study in France, brings them to South Africa and other winemaking countries and enters them in competitions. The La Paulée hosted an internal competition in which four sommeliers went head to head. I didn’t think I’d be invested in this, but gosh, it was like watching the Olympics. The sommeliers had to identify the domain of 20 wines from just the bottles in 5 seconds. They had to pair wine with cheese and explain their choices. They had to identify 10 spirits. They had a mock table to serve where they had to correctly carafe wine, serve it and present wine recommendations based on a menu. All these tests were timed. It was riveting.

One sommelier mistook the pieces of cheese as different cheeses when there was only one kind served. Another forgot to do a taste test before pouring wine into the carafe. Only one sommelier served water to the guests at the mock table – all the details caught my eye and I found myself getting increasingly nervous for the participants. Varsha Halkhory, sommelier at Constance Belle Mare Plage, took the title of Best Sommelier of La Paulée 2023, and it was so sweet to see her hard work pay off.

Social anxiety is real – but being in Mauritius helps

The thing about press trips is that they are full-on. The hosts want you to experience as much as possible. The plus side is you get to take full advantage of their offerings. The downside is that it can be super draining. I am an introvert, so I have to mentally prepare for social interactions. With events every morning and evening, I did feel somewhat anxious. Luckily, the group I was with was really lovely.

In my free time, I camped out in the epic hotel room, doing work. I know this sounds lame. I was literally in paradise, why did I not unwind on the beach? I find doing familiar tasks helps centre myself, and the only constant while on the trip was working (I may also be a workaholic). Honestly sitting on the patio, listening to the birds chirp, and looking at the little private beach was so awesome. In this setting, it didn’t feel like I was working at all. I would love to go back to Constance Prince Maurice and experience it at my own pace.

Photographs: Constance Hotels & Resorts, Marcus Johst, Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita Article by: Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita is the digital editor of TASTE. Eating good food is her absolute favourite thing and making good food is a close second.

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