Mauritius and The Maldives: enjoy a winter break in paradise

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It may be a rainy afternoon at London Gatwick as you step aboard flight BA2069, but that really doesn’t matter. In less than 12 hours, you’ll be more than 6,000 miles away from those dark skies on the gorgeous and engrossing island of Mauritius, 20 degrees south of the Equator.

And if you invest in World Traveller Plus premium economy for the flight, you’ll be in good shape to plunge into the fusion of Asia, Africa and France, on an island that emerged from the Indian Ocean only 10 million years ago.

Designed for exploration

Luxury resorts are clustered around the west, north and east coasts of the island; the south coast is more rugged. But wherever you are staying, Mauritius rewards exploration.

Start at the capital, Port Louis, in the north-west, and the energetic market, selling “cures” for gout or cellulite, a rainbow of textiles and mountains of fresh fruit.

In the Natural History Museum, inside a beautiful colonial building on Chaussée Street, pride of place goes to a stuffed dodo: all that remains of the overgrown, flightless pigeon that thrived on the island until man arrived in Mauritius.

Inland, the most rewarding window on the island’s rich history is provided at Eureka — an 1836 plantation house, where 19th-century life for the wealthy Franco-Mauritian upper classes is recreated. Set amid well-manicured gardens, a trail leads to a gorge where whitewater tumbles over volcanic rock.

Flavour of paradise

The Maldives, in contrast, reward relaxation. As you approach this scattered archipelago, astride the Equator, you see the Indian Ocean is speckled with ragged circles of sand, all of them embroidered with palm trees and some with villas.

I like the Bandos Island Resort & Spa because it is accessible (10 minutes by speedboat from the airport), indulgent (beach villas with outdoor Jacuzzis), and fun — you can windsurf, kayak and learn to dive. If you miss the metropolitan life, you can visit the capital Male, which is crowded and conservative, but has a lively café life. More exotic resorts are accessible by seaplanes, and vie with one another for the quality of their spas. Or sign up for an island-hopping cruise and taste the different flavours of paradise.

And if you crave yet more Indian Ocean islands, British Airways starts flying from London Heathrow to the Seychelles in March.

Book a British Airways holiday with a deposit and pay the balance as late as five weeks before you travel (£150 per booking up to a holiday of £1,500). Terms and conditions apply. Visit BA.com/wintersun