Few places better match most people's idea of a tropical paradise than the Isle aux Cerfs, off the east coast of Mauritius. From a string of white sand beaches, a shallow turquoise lagoon stretches 400 metres to the Indian Ocean. In the safety of the lagoon's placid waters, shoals of brightly striped fish flit among the coral.
An island of 1.2 million people, 560 miles east of Madagascar, Mauritius is bigger and more developed than the Maldives or the Seychelles. In colonial days - Dutch, then French, then British - its fortunes were tied to the sugar industry. But while green cane fields still stretch for miles, the Mauritian government is trying hard to diversify the economy, and foreign property investment is seen as key.
Mauritius is a fascinating cultural mix. Half the islanders are Hindus descended from Indians, while creole culture encompasses Chinese, French and British influences. It's a friendly place, and the roads and other infrastructure are good.
The Integrated Resort Scheme (IRS) allows non-Mauritians to buy homes with a minimum price of £307,000 in specially developed resorts. More recently the Real Estate Scheme has allowed development of smaller properties away from resorts, too.
Since the first IRS development five years ago, their number has increased to about a dozen (the total number of IRS properties has been capped by the government at 5,000, to avoid overdevelopment).
"It rates very highly in terms of other long-haul destinations," says Charles Weston Baker, director of international residential sales for Savills.
Most promising is the wilder and less-developed east coast. Most ambitious here is the Anahita World Class Sanctuary resort looking across to the southern tip of the Isle aux Cerfs - a quiet spot but only an hour from the international airport. A project of Ciel, one of Mauritius's biggest companies, Anahita has seen cane fields and scrubby forest transformed into a smart resort.
A first phase of apartments and villas sits beside a golf course designed by Ernie Els. There is an attractive complex of shops, bars, restaurants, a kids' club and a diving and water sports centre, flanked by two huge infinity pools and a palm-fringed beach, and golf buggies ferry people through verdant gardens. Meanwhile, the southern half of Anahita has Mauritius's Four Seasons five-star hotel, with further restaurants and shops.
The first phase of 28 villas, Lunea, and 70 apartments in L'Adamante went on the market in 2006, selling out rapidly. The phase was finished in 2008 and there is already a healthy secondary re-sales market, despite the downturn in property values. This is due, in part, to the presence of a growing number of South African buyers. Capital returns are buoyant, with absolute returns on investment averaging 25 per cent for those who bought early and on discounts.
A new phase of 34 villas, Solaia, is now under construction. A 300sq m fully furnished, three-bedroom Solaia villa with infinity pool and garden costs £1.72 million, including registration and notary's fees. These villas include up to five bedrooms, and prices vary according to size and their views (sea versus golf course).
The resort is also now selling nine plots on the edge of the golf course under new rules that allow property buyers to arrange construction of their own home - the first such development on Mauritius. The Fairways plots, averaging 2,260sq m, start at £465,000 including all fees. Buyers then have five years in which to build - total building costs for a 300sq m villa are about £558,000.
* Buyers in all IRS schemes get Mauritian residency, benefiting from the island's low taxes: 15 per cent income tax, minimal capital gains tax and no inheritance tax.
* IRS registration duties of £43,000 and notary fees of 0.5 per cent of purchase price are included in Anahita's prices: anahita.mu
* Annual insurance, syndicate and utility fees of about £5,000 plus maintenance fees. Owners can let properties through Anahita.
'It is so friendly and we get the sunniest weather'
Brian Hamill decided to buy a three-bedroom apartment in Anahita in 2006 after many holidays there with his children and partner Kelly (pictured). "It's a long flight, but going out overnight you get more or less a full day when you arrive," said Brian, who runs a large head-hunting firm in London.
They had spent time in the Caribbean, too, but he said: "I think that compared to say, Barbados, Mauritius is better value and friendlier, and the food is good." They chose Anahita as the area has the island's sunniest weather, because of the "fantastic" golf course, watersports and the safety of the lagoon for children.
"The build quality of the properties is good," Brian added. They rent out their property for most of the year. The yield has been less than Brian had hoped for, due to the recession, but, he said: "It has washed its face."