There’s more to Mauritius… than sun and sand
A 12-hour direct flight from the UK is this spectacular Indian Ocean paradise with beautiful sandy beaches, sparkling blue seas and lush interiors. There are plenty of opportunities for swimming and snorkelling as well as numerous luxury hotels to choose from, making it the perfect wedding or honeymoon destination.
The small tropical island of Mauritius – only 2,040 sq km in size – is 2,000km off the south-eastern coast of Africa. Dig deeper and you will find there is much more to discover than just idyllic beaches. Once an important position on the trade route between Europe and the Indies, it has Dutch, French, Indian and British influences.
Our wish this year was for a peaceful holiday in the sunshine with time to relax, but enough history and landscapes to see. Mauritius seemed ideal for a 10-day holiday, so we chose a delightful boutique hotel called 20 Degrees South in the north of the island. Close to Grand Bay, it maintains an intimate and personal feel. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff. We upgraded to a large suite overlooking the bay with a huge balcony and bathroom. The only unavoidable downside was that as it was late May, when rain and the strong trade winds often affect the island. Nonetheless, it was still warm and nothing spoilt our enjoyment. The hotel’s dinner boat, the Lady Lisbeth, sat eight and provided a novel alternative to dining in the restaurant as well as an evening trip around the bay.
As Mauritius is small, it didn’t take long to gain an insight into the island’s history, to experience the changing landscapes of the interior or visit some of the many attractions. Hiring a car with a driver and guide is a great way of doing this. A highlight for us was the 25-hectare Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden at Pamplemousses. It is named after Mauritius’ first prime minister, following its independence from Britain in 1968. Seeing it by golf buggy made it a delightful learning experience without too much effort. The giant Amazon water lilies that we have only seen in Kew Gardens were amazing. There was an impressive array of specimen trees, many with incredible above-ground root formations. It was a surprise to see giant tortoises!
Another must is the Sugar Adventure Museum, which is one of the most spectacular attractions on the island, displaying over 250 years of history. Built around an old sugar mill, it is now an interactive, highly entertaining and educational facility for adults and children alike. It’s a great way to understand the importance that sugar played in the island’s economy. However, hearing that slaves accounted for 80% of the island’s population during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was distressing to hear.
Chateau Labourdonnais is a restored 19th-century mansion on a sugarcane plantation, owned by a prominent Mauritian family. Built in 1856, it was restored in 2006. It is worth a visit for its elegant colonial architecture and its surrounding estate, which is home to over 50 varieties of mango trees, spice plants and exotic fruit trees. The estate currently makes delicious rum, jams and fruit juices that visitors are invited to taste!
We also visited the colourful Hindu temple and sacred lake, with its giant statues of Durga (the largest statue of Durga in the world), Shiva and other gods. Followed by the Black River Gorges Nature Park, the island’s largest national park; the Trou aux Cerfs volcanic crater; and the ‘Seven Coloured Earths’ at Chamarel, a curious geological phenomenon created by volcanic rocks. We also visited a rum factory, and if you want to shop and are feeling especially extravagant, the cashmere is gorgeous.
We took some great memories away with us, especially the friendly and helpful people. It was a privilege to share Sunday worship with the congregation of the famous red-roofed church in the small fishing village of Cap Malheureux, ‘the unfortunate Cape’. Some say it was named after numerous ships foundered there, including the Saint Géran in 1744. Or perhaps by the French, who lost to the British when they landed there in 1810.
We gained a small insight into the history of this tiny but important dot in the Indian Ocean. What a great shame that the island’s well-known indigenous bird – the dodo – was hunted to extinction by the late 17th century!
Church on Cap Malhereux