[STANDFIRST] Solo travel is more popular than ever - but would you venture to a romantic hotspot alone? Abi Jackson tries an Indian Ocean island holiday for one.

A dense wedge of cloud stripes the horizon, sprouting a quiff of powdery wisps that sweeps across the sky. I'm sat on the beach in Tamarin - a traditional fishing village on Mauritius' west coast - watching as the dipping sun backlights the scene with a soft golden glow.

It's my first Mauritius sunset, and I'm pleasantly surprised. Not by how beautiful it is. This is an Indian Ocean paradise - of course there'd be perfect sunsets. But it's also a destination synonymous with romance and I'm travelling solo. I'd half expected to be tip-toeing around mounds of smug couples to find a spot on the shore.

To be clear, solo travel is familiar territory for me. But bustling cities and organised adventures are one thing. Rocking up to a honeymoon hotspot alone, that's a whole different ball game. Would it be, dare I say it, awkward?

Right now though, watching the ocean grow silvery in the dimming light, awkward is the last thing I'm feeling. Sure, there's some romance going on - a middle-aged man and woman ambling hand-in-hand through the surf, a lesbian couple huddled beneath a rug. But there are also other solos dotted about, local families enjoying the evening, a group of surfers being, you know, all cool and happy.

Much more than just 'nice beaches and hotels'

"We've certainly seen a rise in solo travellers in recent years," Dimitri Vaulbert, manager of Veranda Tamarin Hotel & Spa - where I'm staying - says, when I quiz him on the topic. It's not the only change he's clocked. "People used to think of Mauritius as just nice hotels and beaches. It's so much more than that. It's fantastic for outdoor activities and sports too," he adds, noting there's also been a shift in demand from guests eager to explore beyond their resort walls - ideally with some physical exertion involved.

Happily, this shifting trend is a good fit for Mauritius. Around 45km wide and 65km long, it's a mere dot on the map compared with neighbouring Madagascar - but true to its volcanic roots, the island's landscapes pack quite a punch.

It has five distinct mountain ranges for starters, a mix of stretched out hills, characterised by a bouffant of bushes and trees, and craggy points and peaks. They're not particularly high (the tallest, Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire, stands at 828m above sea level) but there's plenty to please walkers and hikers. Cyclists, divers, swimmers and paddle sports fans are well catered for here, too.

And it's a good fit for Veranda, which has weekly activity programmes (some you'll need to pay extra for), or you can arrange activities directly with the sports and leisure team, who can provide kit and guides. They also work closely with the Boathouse next door, which houses a surf school and diving school and stacks of boards, kayaks and snorkel gear. It's also a good fit for me, because as much as I love sand and sun, there's only so long as I can sit still for.

Beyond the sunlounger

My exploring starts with a bike ride to Black River Gorges National Park. The nearest entrance is about a 10km bike ride south of Tamarin (it's slightly further if travelling to the main entrance by car). Covering around 68-square-km, it's the island's biggest and most important conservation site. Mauritius' once fervent forest cover has shrunk significantly over the decades as industries have evolved, and much of what remains is within the park parameters. It's also home to more than 300 flowering plant species, monkeys, deer, important birds - such as the endangered Mauritius kestrel - and thousands of fruit bats.

Once inside, my guide Ryan and I park up our bikes and head deeper into the forest on foot. You could explore for days and there's little in the way of danger - no scary snakes or crocs - which is good news as I'm keen for a dip. We find a spot of river with a natural plunge pool where I take nearly 10 minutes to psyche myself up to leap off a rock. When I finally muster permission for my feet to leave the ledge and bomb in, it's probably less than two seconds that I'm under the surface, but I bob back up overflowing with joy.

Back at Veranda, I have no trouble filling my days. The hotel underwent an extensive refurb in late-2018, giving it a fresh, boho-boutique update - think dreamcatchers, rattan chairs and ethnic-style cushions - and it feels a lot more luxurious than its 3.5-stars rating might suggest, especially the chic pool area (there's also a rooftop bar and infinity pool for guests with 'privilege' rooms) and spa.

There's a choice of restaurants: Tribu, which does an a la carte menu of local specialities, while Ye Man, the main restaurant, serves a daily buffet of salads, fish, meat and veg curries, alongside pasta, pizza and the likes. Crazy Fish Bar also does a lunch menu, plus there are two stalls just outside the hotel, grilling up the catch of the day.

The spirit of Tamarin

What really gives Veranda Tamarin its edge though, is how much a part of its setting it is. Having deliberately moved away from the closed-off resort model, it's bang in the heart of the village across the road from the public beach - a hub of local life. Crazy Fish Bar has become one of the island's key go-to destinations for live music, and the flow of local professionals and surfers dropping in for coffee or beer at the end of their days bolsters the hotel's laid-back vibe.

There's an infectious energy to Tamarin. It's in Veranda's relaxed, generous hospitality. It's in Aurelie's rooftop yoga session at dusk, as the sky fills with stars and bats dart across the corner of your eye. It's in my clunky broken-French-English chats with local fishermen, as they string nets along a wall so they can sew up rips. It's in the warm, salty breeze and the constant, low white-noise rumble of crashing waves.

It'd be easy to spend the week not venturing far, but I book myself on a food tour in the capital Port Louis, located around a 28km drive north of Tamarin. Veranda's teamed up with local company Taste Buddies, who guide small groups through the city's traditional street food hotspots; a fun way to soak up the atmosphere and learn a little of its history as you go.

The rest of the time, I happily fall into a rotating pattern of pool/beach/restaurant/bar/sleep/repeat. It's glorious. I lounge in the sun with my book for as long as my restless limbs can take, then mosey to the Boathouse. I kayak through the nearby mangroves, stand-up paddle board for a whole afternoon around Tamarin Bay, and even do some scuba diving and spot giant turtles. A real highlight is an early morning snorkel, while a big pod of spinner dolphins is out for their sunrise frolics.

By the end of the week, I'm an absolute pro at those solo sunsets. To be fair, all I have to do is sit and watch while Mother Nature works her magic. Mauritius may have blown my expectations in a number of ways, but I was right about it being romantic. Even if it's just you, you'll probably fall slightly in love...

How to plan your trip

Rooms at Veranda Tamarin (veranda-resorts.com/en/mauritius-hotel-tamarin; +230 483 3100) start from £65pp per night (two sharing) with breakfast.

Air Mauritius (airmauritius.com; 020 7434 4375) is the only airline offering direct non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Mauritius, from £629pp return