This paradisiac island, in the Indian ocean, is quickly becoming a holiday spot with huge potential
Mauritius has its fans, and they’re not your everyday tourists. To start with, there’s Jacques Chirac, who’s stayed at Royal Palm, one of the island’s swankiest 5 star hotels. Or Valérie Trierweiler, former partner of François Hollande. Less in the public eye but equally privileged are the million or so tourists who descend on this tiny island – scarcely 65 km long by 45 km wide – every year. And the influx continues, despite the relatively sluggish world economy.
15% tax 85% charm
What is it exactly that attracts so many to this archipelago located between Africa and Asia? Undoubtedly its picture postcard beauty: the turquoise lagoon, white sand and ruby-coloured Royal Poinciana. Not to mention, the Mauritians who are renowned for their hospitability and their proficiency in French and English, the island’s two historic languages. And what about the climate? The weather is fine and settled, despite the disruption caused by cyclones, between the months of January and March. According to Brigitte Baranès, the Parisian owner of a small, charming hotel in Poste Lafayette resort, “they’re severe storms but they only last two or three days.” Despite having been here for years, the diversity of Mauritius continues to delight her; she loves the “Tamil temples, churches and mosques that co-exist peacefully side by side” as well as the food “with its range of different flavours, from Africa, India and Europe.” And a real bonus is the tax system which is every bit as accommodating as the island’s population, with an average tax rate of 15%.
Wild but not overly so
Mauritius or the Seychelles? Potential owners often ask this question before purchasing an island property in the Indian Ocean. According to Isabelle Corthier, Manager of Ter Cognita, an estate agency specialising in properties in far off, exotic locations, the difference between the two is obvious. “The Seychelles are magnificent islands, full of natural beauty, and are even quite wild in parts. Owners purchase second or even third homes here so they can enjoy exploring the hundred or so neighbouring islands on their boats. On the other hand, Mauritius is ideal for long-term stays. You can play golf all year round, go to the cinema or go shopping in Grand Baie, the local equivalent of Saint Tropez.”It’s clear that Mauritius is more appealing to a bon vivant than a Robinson Crusoe type, an observation that’s backed up by Lucile Savattier, international development manager for Marc Foujols agency: “Our customers mainly comprise large, well-off families. They’ve probably spent many years holidaying in the island’s large hotels before eventually treating themselves to a family home.” Your quest to find a civilized holiday island could easily lead you as far afield as the Bahamas, a favourite with Americans, but an island that lacks the French-speaking, Francophile dimension. So how about the Caiman Islands? Well, they are more known as a tax haven. Which leaves Saint-Barts, an island with an authentic French feel; however, the property market there is very well established, with prices reaching a record 20 million EUR. In contrast, Mauritian real estate starts at 2,300 EUR per square metre with a luxury property costing up to 5,000 EUR. It’s very much an emerging market.
The fashion for estates on the island
On the islands, as is the case in the UK, long-term leases are very much the norm. You can only purchase freehold properties through the Mauritian state-approved property programmes, notably the IRS and RES (see interview opposite with Maître Veerasamy.) Properties are purchased through an off-plan scheme (VEFA), comparable to the French scheme. The IRS estates, which are larger than those of the RES, are built on old sugar plantations, extending over several hundreds of hectares. These complexes, which offer both hotel accommodation, tourist facilities (golf courses, pools etc.) as well as residential property aim to provide high-end, luxury facilities. Some of the promoters are listed on the stock exchange and count important Mauritian families and land owners amongst their shareholders.
You can count the main estates on your fingers. They are Royal Park, Azuri, Mont Choisy park, Anahita, La Balise Marina, the Clos du Littoral and Belle Rivière, in particular. There have been rumours of a property glut following a fall in demand from Europeans. “Yes, that’s right, the situation has been more difficult than usual, but things seem to be picking up. We seem to be moving in the right direction,” states Artur Simes, Royal Park sales manager. “At the moment, high-end luxury properties are selling very well, better than mid-range properties,” adds Hugues Jannet, sales and marketing manager for Alteo Properties, the group that developed and built the 200 hectare Anahita site. The properties most in demand are those that overlook the sea or a golf course. They tend to be large split-level flats or second floor penthouses (the buildings are low-rise) or even villas with private pools. Plots of building land are sold very quickly: during the first half of the year, 26 plots of land in Anahita, on sale for 480,000 EUR, were sold within one and a half months. A split-level flat costs around 700,000 EUR. An average villa costs around one million, but can be as much as three or four million. A decorating package often completes the offer. Although largely contemporary, the architecture draws its inspiration from the traditional Reunion “varangue” which is simply an open-air veranda. On this land, surrounded by water, the relationship with nature remains paramount. For example, the villas perched on the site of La Tourelle mountain enjoy a commanding view of the sea. The first 26 villas, built as part of the programme, near Tamarin bay are on sale for an average of 1.3 million EUR (Pam Golding Properties agency).
A promising investment
Property management is gradually becoming an established part of real estate services, with turnkey rental management solutions at the cutting edge. Royal Park has just launched its first guaranteed rental service which has been well received. Azuri, for its part, guarantees 5% net return for the first three years. The tenants are mostly companies looking for a paradisiac location for hosting conferences, families with two or three children, and golfers in search of an exceptional green. In additional to rental profit, you can also add the gain accrued through the optimised resale of the property, a sum that is exempt from tax under the Mauritian system. Generally speaking, prices are on the up. The new band of properties in Le Parc de Mont Choisy are being marketed at a price which is 15% higher than previous residences. The projects are often vast. Mon Trésor Airport City is setting up on 400 hectares of land in the airport zone, to the south of the island. The plan is to develop an international business hub, a village with villas and a golf course, as well as a theme park on a site where the bones of the dodo – the now extinct bird which has become the island’s symbol – were previously discovered. The first phase of this monumental project for the island was the opening of the Holiday Inn Airport Mauritius. The villas should be on sale early in 2015.
Location plays a key role, as is the case with all coastal developments. In this regard, the large estates have secured the lion’s share of the coastline, setting up along the beaches with their breath-taking views. The North-West coast, the preferred location of the major hotels, remains the most sought-after on account of its lively atmosphere. Tamarin bay, to the south-west, is sought out for its sunsets and surf spots which, it seems, are the best in the island. While the Ile aux Cerfs coast delights tourists with its natural beauty and the range of water sports on offer. “In any event,” advises Isabelle Corthier, “the important thing about visiting Mauritius is not just to be in fields of sugar cane and nothing else.”