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Join the Club that s all grown up
Cathy O'Leary, The West Australian Club Med La Pointe aux Canonniers, Mauritius.

Club Med has certainly grown up. There was a time when the original all-inclusive resort brand, formed 60 years ago, conjured up images of singles partying to the small hours, making the most of the resort's philosophy of all-you-can-eat and do.

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It was a step up from backpackers' holiday villages that catered strictly for the budget-conscious but there was still a feeling that you were on a school camp.

Worse still, there was pressure to join in group activities, like dress-up nights and singing and dancing to special theme songs at daily rituals around the pool.

I remember visiting the newly opened Club Med at Bintan, a ferry ride from Singapore, back in the late 90s.

As our party of two couples turned up before lunch we stood, welcome drink in hand, watching in horror as guests - or Gentle Members as they were called - were cajoled to join in a lunchtime dance to bellowing Ricky Martin tunes around the pool.

We shook our heads and vowed that the GOs - or Gentle Officers as the staff were known - would never get us joining in.

But 24 hours later we were doing just that, wiggling our hips to the Latino singer around the pool, although to be fair, only after a lot of pressure.

It was as if people were incapable of amusing themselves and had to be shown how to do it.

CLUB MED TODAY


Which brings me to more than a decade later, and a great deal of relief on a recent visit to two Club Meds, which shook off any lingering doubts about the iconic brand.

The decidedly up-market resorts we visited were actually not that far apart for the size of the relatively compact republic of Mauritius, which is a comfortable eight hours flying time from Perth.

The region is predominantly French-speaking, and most guests are assumed to be the same, although resort staff quickly fall into English when they see a blank look to a morning welcome of "Comment allez-vous?"

La Pointe aux Canonniers in northern Mauritius is located on a white sugar sand beach in the Grand Baie area, with lush gardens surrounding the ultra-cool resort.

It is marketed as particularly family-friendly but is still an all-inclusive premium product, with three gourmet meals a day, wine and beer with lunch, an open bar from lunchtime and all activities.

It is ridiculously good value, even offering bar snacks to have with pre-dinner drinks for those who cannot wait for dinner.

MADE TO ORDER


For people who imagine buffet-style meals as lots of mass-produced, pre-prepared food sitting in bain-maries for hours, Club Med surprises. Most of those meals are made to order, and at La Pointe many people take advantage of the freshly grilled fish of the day.

The seemingly endless access to alcohol is also a surprise. Not once did we see anyone looking worse for wear or becoming a nuisance from drinking too many margaritas or mojitos.

There are plenty of water activities, but my favourite was the hour-long snorkelling session out past the reef with a treasure-trove of brightly coloured fish that bobbed back and forth with the current.

After a few days of swimming, eating and drinking at La Pointe, it was off to Club Med Plantation d'Albion on the west coast of Mauritius.

We did the transfer by car, which meant an unavoidable drive through the town of Port Louis, a traffic nightmare, but a better option would be to take the sailing-boat trip that links the two resorts.

Albion is even more luxurious than La Pointe, although there are still plenty of families to be seen.

There is an adults' infinity pool, which nestles beside a cliff-top bar and a restaurant set away from the main bar and dining areas. Again, food and drinks are included.

The resort also offers snorkelling access via a quick boat trip past the reef, although the fish are not as spectacular as those on the northern shore. We also tried golf and archery, with beginners welcome at both.

Sleeping in wasn't a problem, with an impressive room service breakfast, with melt-in-your- mouth croissants and pastries, delivered to your door, minus the bill to sign.

THEME NIGHTS


There were still a few dress-up themes for the evening, one Club Med tradition that has not been dropped, but the themes were not that taxing - as simple as White Night, and again no compulsion.

Our final stop was southern Mauritius at the newly opened Sofitel So Mauritius, set on a magnificent picture-perfect beach. The hotel was trying hard to attract tourists but was uncomfortably empty during our stay and obviously needs a bit more time to find its niche.

At Sofitel, room prices start from $630 a night.

It was also the first time in a week we had seen menus with prices, and it was a shock. But on the plus side, the spa treatments at Sofitel are great, and the beaches were the best I saw in Mauritius.

But it brings me back to the distinct advantage of the Club Med approach. People can truly relax because they are not worried about the credit card statement awaiting them.

HOW MUCH?


And the price? It will depend on when you go and what sort of airfare deal you get, but expect to pay from $200 a night per person at the four-star La Pointe, and from $230 a night per person at Albion, based on a five-night stay.

You can pay more to upgrade your room, but a quick site tour of the resort gave the thumbs up even to the standard rooms.

And remember, everyone gets pretty much the same access to the facilities.

I'm thankful that Club Med has grown up and left Ricky Martin behind, but still kept the same unique value-for-money approach.

FACT FILE

• Air Mauritius flies direct from Perth to Mauritius weekly, leaving on Mondays and returning on Sundays. For details phone the Perth office on 9442 6070 or go to airmauritius.com.

• For information on Club Med's La Pointe Aux Canonniers and Plantation d'Albion in Mauritius go to clubmed.com.au or phone 1800 258 263.

• For information on Sofitel So Mauritius go to sofitel.com.

Cathy O'Leary travelled to Mauritius as guest of Club Med and Sofitel, with support from Air Mauritius.