It’s all well and good being seduced by pristine beaches and turquoise waters but Mauritius has a lot more waiting to surprise and delight you. Andy Mossack reports on just where to find it.
“You here for the golf?” asked Vincent my taxi driver as we pulled away from the airport. Not so much of a strange question when you realise the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open was taking place that week. A prestigious tournament attracting many top golfers from Europe, Africa and Asia and taking place at Heritage Resorts in Domaine De Bel Ombre. Much as I love the idea of being mistaken for a professional golfer and as we were heading for the Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Wellness Resort, I was tempted to keep the dream alive. Common sense prevailed though, and I duly confessed I was there to cover the event and to explore Mauritius’s less-famous side. I’d leave the competing part to the professionals.
As we cut our way through the island’s interior, I noticed we were driving on the left. “Courtesy of the British,” said Vincent. “But all our towns and signs are in French, courtesy of another former owner.” Then, suddenly we were scaling mountains. Vincent again, “Going over the mountains is quicker than the coast road, trust me.” Much as the thought of seeing Mauritius’s famed beaches was appealing, my priority to get a shower and change as quickly as possible. But right on cue we dropped back down and turned on to the coast road, and finally drove past miles of deserted picture-postcard beaches wrapped in the arms of the Indian Ocean.
The sheer natural beauty was a sensory overload. Mother Nature was clearly in a very good mood when she created Mauritius. Protecting her beaches from the open ocean by surrounding them with the world’s third-biggest natural coral reef, the shallow lagoon waters stretched out more than a kilometre. A diver’s paradise for sure.
Heritage Resorts is tucked away in the south-west of Mauritius, well away from the busy hub of the touristic north. The landscape here is rugged and undeveloped; ancient fishing villages interspersed with jagged cliffs and rolling green hills. A perfect golfing landscape you might say. And the Heritage Golf Club takes full advantage of it, a beautiful course which fully justifies its status as one of the best courses on Mauritius. Heritage Resorts also comprises two high-end spa hotels, the five star Le Telfier Golf and Wellness Resort and the all-inclusive Awali; 2,500 hectares of oceanfront luxury.
Despite the obvious attractions of staying put, I managed to tear myself away from the golf and the beaches long enough to spend some memorable time exploring what else Mauritius had to offer. And she didn’t disappoint.
Mauritius’ capital, Port Louis is a complete contrast to the rest of the island. It is a busy working city, but that said if you have the time it is worth a few hours exploring this melting pot of cultures. Port Louis is a true reflection of Mauritian history. Bereft of indigenous people, the island became home for African, Indian and Chinese labour brought here by French and British colonists who could see vast profits in cultivating sugar cane.
Eager to explore, I took a walking tour of the capital with local guide Yianna from myMoris cultural tours. This was no touristic treadmill, rather a peek into a traditional way of life slowly eroding as modernity beckons. Ateliers and artisans demonstrated skills from days gone by, a printing company proudly defying digital by stubbornly using letterpress lead characters on ancient rattling Heidelbergs to print out leaflets. The 200-year-old Central Market on Queen Street, once the beating heart of Port Louis, was still relying on local fishermen and farmers to keep the dream alive. We visited ornate temples, incense-scented cultural centres and historic buildings with fascinating stories to tell.
But for me, it was the delicious street food that showed me how much of a melting pot of Mauritius really is. Lining up with the local office workers on their lunch break, we tucked into steaming dumplings in broth, dhal puri – Indian rolled pancakes filled with spicy vegetables and gato pima, deep-fried chilli cakes. Chinatown on one side of the street, Gujerati spice shops on the other.
Close to the waterfront was the most unlikely museum to find in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The Blue Penny Museum celebrates the history and culture of Mauritius, but it is also the home of two famous stamps dating back to 1847, the Blue Penny and Red Penny stamps. These stamps are so rare they are only lit for ten minutes every hour.
After my tour, I came away with a far better understanding of what makes Mauritius tick and a feeling that perhaps, slavery might just have found some kind of happy ending for once.
Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth
On our way back south, I dropped in to witness a natural phenomenon that has intrigued geologists the world over. An extraordinary gathering of brightly coloured rolling sand dunes created from the island’s volcanic birth have created a rainbow-like lunar landscape. The dunes’ distinct red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow colours were formed by the original basalt lava transforming into clay minerals over millions of years. There are various theories about what makes this occur (magnetic polar opposites being perhaps the strongest argument) but, as yet, it remains something of a mystery. Despite storms and strong winds, the sands relentlessly continue to shift and separate into their respective colours.
Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth is part of the Chamarel geopark, an 8.5-hectare spread of tropical rainforest ringed by the Black River mountain range. There are many walking trails to explore here as well as a spectacular 100-metre-high waterfall which I took a moment to view from a look-out point on the way up to the sand dunes.
Rhumerie de Chamarel
Perhaps rum is your thing and let’s face it, sugar cane was, at one time Mauritius’ main export, just a few minutes’ drive from Seven Coloured Earth on a plantation in the middle of a fertile green valley, you can take a tour of the island’s premier rum distillery. The tour took me through the complete rum-making process from raw cane to real rum and, naturally, included the obligatory tasting session at the end. Lunch at the restaurant here was very enjoyable with some fine Mauritian dishes on offer.
Le Morne Brabant
On my back to Heritage Le Telfier Resort I had to visit Le Morne Brabant, a stunning World Heritage protected peninsular topped by a 600-metre high flat-top mountain. All this beauty but tinged by a sad backstory. During the 19th century, the mountain top was a traditional refuge for runaway slaves but following the abolition of slavery on 1st February 1835 the police sent a patrol to the mountain to inform the slaves they were free men. Unfortunately, as the police arrived, the slaves tragically thought they were there to arrest them and took suicide over capture by jumping off the summit to their deaths. Although no factual evidence has ever been found to corroborate the story, the date is celebrated by Mauritian creoles as the Annual Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery and the Morne is a symbol of oppression. There is a moving memorial in the park at the base of the Morne and I found it quite a spiritual place set amongst such a beautiful peninsula.
Mauritius is a colourful piece of paradise that will always be a haven for honeymooners and beach lovers. And why not? Her spectacular coast is achingly beautiful. But away from this spectacle, there are some fascinating places to uncover and well worth venturing into her interior to uncover them.
Images (c) Andy Mossack and MTPA.
Tell me more about Mauritius
For a complete guide to all the destinations and attraction Mauritius has to offer please visit the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority.
MyMoris walking cultural tours : MR 2,500 (£56) pp Children under 18 MR 1350 (£28) pp
Getting to Mauritius
Getting to Mauritius has never been easier with two scheduled carriers flying direct from the UK. Air Mauritius flies 4 times a week from London Heathrow whilst British Airways flies 5 times a week in winter and 3 times a week in summer direct from London Gatwick. TUI also fly direct from London Gatwick every Sunday. You can also fly indirectly from most regional airports with Emirates airlines. The flight time to Mauritius takes 12 hours overnight with a three-hour time difference.