I do enjoy visiting exotic places but I need more than sun, sand and sea and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean definitely fits my bill.
I was accommodated at the all-inclusive Tamassa resort in Bel Ombre on Mauritius. It had everything I could wish for. Large gardens full of exotic blooms and cheeky birds – ideal for my early morning walk to breakfast. The friendly staff soon learnt my preferences and my vanilla tea with a jug of cold milk would arrive at my table soon after I sat down. A cool breeze filtered through the open sides of the restaurant while I enjoyed some freshly cooked eggs and contemplated the day ahead. If I was not going out I would already be contemplating a delicious lunch in the a la carte restaurant its stunning location on the beach for lunch.
I might even spare a thought for the evening buffet which never failed to impress before returning to my room. The large and airy rooms are situated in small separate blocks all with balconies or terraces overlooking the two circular pools in the gardens or the beach. If I was feeling energetic I may head for the well-equipped gym or I may just laze on my balcony.
I was happy to break free occasionally to explore and learn about the island. I did not know that Mauritius produced tea in any quantity and indeed most of it is for domestic consumption. It was fascinating watching the production process at the Bois Chéri tea plantation using effective but old fashioned red and yellow machinery. Tea was first introduced to Mauritius during the mid-eighteenth century but it was not produced commercially until the arrival of the British in the late nineteenth century and after a few ups and downs the the industry is currently doing well. A highlight a tea tasting in a chalet on the estate beautifully positioned on a hill above a lake with tea plants marching down to the water’s edge in even, regimented rows. We sat on the veranda and tasted an array of different flavoured teas.
We had been promised crocodiles and giant tortoises and made our way to the Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes nature park. It was lovely wandering around this nature park that was home to many interesting animals and featured a fascinating insect house. We watched the crocodiles being fed and strolled amongst a large number of giant tortoises. I discovered that they love to have their chins tickled and their heads scratched. At one time these tortoises were plentiful on the island but their numbers reduced rapidly due to intense harvesting by man for food and oil and their freshly laid eggs were stolen by non-indigenous predators. All the giant tortoises now living on the island are the descendants of related stock brought here from the Seychelles during the 1880’s on the advice of Charles Darwin. The park has a breeding programme to conserve these and other species of tortoise.
Our venue for lunch was the colonial restaurant in the Saint Aubin residence where we were served a lovely meal, a clever mixture of traditional and gourmet. This estate, originally a sugar mill, has preserved some of the original buildings which have been incorporated into a small manufacturing area were visitors can watch the the different stages of sugar production. We were shown round the artisanal rum distillery, visited the Vanilla House and admired the exquisite antirrhinums being grown there.
Heading to the capital, Port Louis on another excursion we were able to appreciate the beauty of this small volcanic island. It evolved around a central plateau and is ringed by coral reefs which have formed shallow lagoons fringed by white coral sandy beaches. None of its mountains are very high but they do offer protection from the strong winds that sometimes batter the island. Port Louis, the capital and largest port, was built in the lee of the Moka Mountain Range. On arrival we walked through the Le Caudan Waterfront a sophisticated stretch of shops, offices, bars a casino and a luxury hotel. Le Caudan Waterfront was named after a French settler on the island Jean Dominique Michel de Caudan who started a salt pan, now the Robert Edward Hart Garden close to the capital which was then known as Port North West and the island was known as Ile de France.
On the far side of the harbour is a heritage protected hall that houses the Port Louis central market. Mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high on stalls lining the corridors. Each item appears to have been individually polished and placed carefully next to its matching companions. The colour, grouping and symmetry was very pleasing to the eye as I strolled amongst the stalls watching the locals haggling with the stall holders.
I could have spent the rest of the day there but it was time to move on and up as our bus slowly ground its way to the top of Petite Montagne hill and the Citadel, or to give it its formal name, Fort Adelaide . The fort was named after the wife of William II and was built when the British occupied Mauritius during the nineteenth century to give security to the British Army and provide shelter for the woman and children should the island ever be invaded. Never used for its original purpose the fort is now a popular venue for weddings and other events and also a good view point over the city below including a clear view of the Port Louis race course, the Champ de Mars. Mauritians have a passion for horse-racing and, from June to November, the Champ de Mars (also called the Hippodrome) is crowded with enthusiastic horse racing fans and clients. Originally designed by the French in 1740 for drilling their armed forces the area was converted to a racecourse in 1812. Racing is organized by the Mauritius Turf Club, the second largest Turf Club in the world, and is very popular with both locals and tourists
After a delicious lunch at the Restaurant Rêve d’R we made our way to the Pamplemousses Gardens – the formal names is the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden after the first prime minister of Mauritius following its independence in 1968. These large gardens are populated by more than 650 varieties of plants including the famous Baobabs, bottle palms, medical plants and a large spice garden. The latter is fenced to stop visitors helping themselves to the spices and in particular the nutmeg. We saw some amazing plants but my favourite was the Victoria Amazonica a giant water lily that has huge leaves and a flower that lasts for just 48 hours during which time it changes colour and sex!
Our South Island tour was a complete contrast and included a visit to the second largest town on the island, Curepipe. The origin of its name is just as it sounds ‘Curer sa pipe’ means ‘clean your pipe’ in French and according to legend Napoleon’s soldiers and other travellers would break their journey here to clean their tobacco pipes. Curepipe is also renowned for its model ship building, an industry that started in the 1960s and is now so successful that there are several workshops on the island and around 150 models available including replicas of famous ships including HMS Victory, HMS Bounty and the Golden Hind. These model ships are made by hand and exactly to scale. In one of the workshops I watched the deft fingers of a woman worker putting the sails and rigging on a tall ship model. The detail was impressive.
Just outside Curepipe we paused to enjoy the views around the impressive volcanic crater of Trou aux Cerfs. Further down the road we encountered another aspect of the island – Hinduism – in the form of a a giant statue of the Hindu god Lord Shiva. At 108 feet high this statue of Lord Shiva, a copy of the one that stands on Sursagar Lake in Gujarat, India is the highest statue in Mauritius.
This statue guards the sacred lake or Grand Bassin which is also known as Ganga Talao (a pool of the Ganges) – a very important place of worship for the Hindu community on Mauritius. This crater-lake is situated in the heart of the island. Statues of Hindu gods and temples dedicated to them grace its shores. The lake is the focus on many pilgrimages to collect its water to offer to Lord Shiva in local temples. It is a special place.
Our journey round the southern half of the island featured two visits to the Black River Gorges natural park a beautiful area criss-crossed by trials and home of the impressive Mare aux Joncs waterfall which we viewed from the far side of the gorge.
Our final visit that day was to Chamarel where we saw a small area of sand dunes of seven different colours. The sand is formed by the erosion of basalt (volcanic rock) into clay that is further eroded into soil containing two main elements, iron and aluminium. It is these elements that produce the colours. These dunes display two interesting characteristics. The first is that they spontaneously settle in different layers according to their colour. We could not test the phenomena by grabbing some different coloured sands and mixing them together to see if it separated into the different colours as the whole area is fenced off and we had to view the dunes from a walkway.
There also are many opportunities for trips on catamarans to visit beautiful beaches on the many off-shore islands; to go deep sea fishing and to attempt to find dolphins to swim with. I do enjoy these trips but prefer to organise a private trip to avoid the flotillas of tourists bobbing around the island every day. Certainly the best to see dolphins both for the creatures themselves and the visitor is an early morning private charter – available through the Tamassa Resort.
For more tales about Mauritius see my blog.
I went to Mauritius on a holiday organised by Solos Holidays. For me as a solo traveller it is ideal as I like to have company in the evening but to please myself during the day. We stayed at the fabulous all-inclusive Tamassa Resort. We flew there with Air Mauritius.