Discover the sweetest side of life on the enticing beaches and dramatic mountains of this tropical jewel.
I was sitting at a table on the verandah of the Maison Eureka, an original early nineteenth century home in the hills south of the Mauritian capital of Port Louis, and was about to be served a meal that was quintessentially Mauritian. A traditional Creole dish of chicken entrails seared with garlic butter, lentils and rice came with a refreshing glass of “alouda”, a stimulating mix of basil seeds, milk, vanilla ice-cream and crushed ice mixed with a sort of gelatin made from wild sea vegetables, and all prepared in the same 1840s kitchen that once served breakfast to the Duke and Duchess of York.
Maison Eureka is a rare example of an early plantation home with a steeply pitched roof, a number of French-style dormer windows, a wraparound verandah, and roomfuls of original furniture that wouldn’t be out of place in the finest museum. There are no hallways here. Each room opens directly onto either an adjoining room or via a number of French doors onto the verandah, giving this grand old home its name: The Mansion with 109 Doors. In a country where much of the early built environment has been battered and bruised by 200 years of cyclones, Maison Eureka has triumphantly survived, sheltered in its own hollow protected by the surrounding Moka range. Its ‘hill station’ feel makes it a lovely respite from the tropical heat on a hot Mauritian day and provides an insight into colonial Mauritius when the country was traded variously between the Dutch, the French, and the British.
Less than an hour from the splendour of Maison Eureka is the tourist hot spot of Grand Baie on the island’s northernmost tip. Teeming with restaurants and accommodation options from basic to five-star it’s all set around the azure waters of the island’s most picturesque bay. Shops like the Avish Craft Market welcome you with complimentary rum and cokes, selling everything from African art to the signature hand-made model sailing ships that Mauritius is famous for. And if you can’t abide being unconnected, Grand Baie is well served by internet cafes such as my favourite, the Cyber Pirate Café, in the Espace Ocean Building on Royal Road.
For a ride on the wild side, ‘Wildthing Adventures’ is hard to walk past for an old biker like me, and the place to go for the hiring of both quad bikes and black, 300cc chopper-style motorcycles from South Africa which can be hired for AUS$46 a day. A must-do drive, whether by bike or car, is the 25 km drive along the coast road east from Grand Baie to the sleepy fishing village of Grande Gaube, past deserted beaches, inlets and estuaries where the gentle pace of Mauritius and the interconnectedness of its Creole, French and Indian communities will charm and delight you. Local boys herd fish through the shallows into their waiting nets, lovers casually wave hello from the shade of an overhanging palm, and boys sit on the end of makeshift wooden piers catching fish using nothing more than a typically Mauritian rod of whittled down bamboo and fishing line. Once you arrive in Grande Gaube, stretch out on the sand and take in the spectacular views of its offshore islands including Gunners Coin and Flat Island before taking the coast road back to Grand Baie or venturing inland through fields of sugar cane.
Understanding the impact sugar has had on the country’s social and economic fabric since the arrival of the first Europeans in the seventeenth century should be a part of any visit to Mauritius. A 90-minute tour of Sugarworld, a converted sugar factory just a few minutes from the must-see giant water lilies of Pamplemousses, will ensure you never see sugar or Mauritius the same way again. A photographic mural in the museum’s foyer shows container ships laden with sugar sailing in an unbroken conga line from Port Louis’ harbor in the 1940s, building the wealth that helped pave the way towards independence in 1968.
From Grand Baie I drove south through the capital, Port Louis, and inland to the mountainous Central Plateau region past the heavily wooded Black River Gorge to the town of Curepipe, the hub of the island’s tea and hand-made model ship industries. I was on a mission. My wife’s Mauritian family had asked me to try and locate the eccentric Aunt Jeanine, a longtime Curepipe resident, who had mysteriously dropped off the radar a few months before. I found her house but was told by neighbors she’d moved to the coast. They didn’t know which one.
With no further leads and my mission at a premature end, I headed to the Le Morne Peninsula on the island’s extreme southwestern tip, a pristine marine environment dominated by the brooding, 555-metre high Le Morne Brabant Mountain, officially given World Heritage status by UNESCO on July 6, 2008.
This isolated corner of Mauritius, once used as a hideaway by slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is rich in marine life and home to possibly the island’s finest stretch of powdery white sand beach, a 5km sliver extending from Pointe Sud Quest north to La Gaulette.
The Le Morne Anglers Club is a world-famous gathering point for deep sea fishing and the departure point for romantic, all-day catamaran cruises with lunches that include barbequed fish and fresh fruit as well as all but guaranteed sightings of dolphin pods and the opportunity to snorkel in the sort of pristine coral lagoons and waters that ensure Mauritius will always be at the top of anyone’s list of luxurious, tropical destinations.
Fact File – Mauritius
Air Mauritius has regular flights departing Australia.
Mauritius has a tropical climate with an average year-round temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. Humidity averages 78 percent. Summer is from November to April and winter from June to August with a rainy season from January to March.
Visa requirements for Australians and New Zealanders:
No visa is required for stay of up to six months.
No vaccination certificates are required.
Couples will Love:
• The array of resorts – from the sublime to the affordable. There are resorts for every budget, catering for the needs of the incurably romantic through to families and seniors.
• The food … French gastronomic influences still run deep in Mauritian cooking, from exotic wild boar and prawn dishes to rabbit in red wine sauce.
• The romantic and breathtaking inland scenery
• A drive up into the mountains that dominate much of the island’s southern interior should include a stop at Plaine Champagne and its breathtaking views over the Black River Gorge. Waterfalls here are aplenty and include the ten- metre high Rochester Falls, whose cascading waters have carved away beautiful columns of basalt rock, and the 83-metre high Chamarel Falls.
• A lovely half-day excursion can be had driving the beautiful coast-hugging road east from the Le Morne Peninsula, stopping at various beaches and coves where tourists are at a minimum and where you can lose yourself in the gentle pace of Mauritian village life. Along the way the high cliffs around Souillac offer plenty of privacy as well as majestic views of the Indian Ocean.
• Enjoy the gastronomic delights! Some notable French restaurants include La Cle des Champs restaurant in Floreal and the exquisitely romantic, 18th century Le Chateau de Bel Ombre, a former plantation home set in the foothills of Plaine Champagne mountain.
Find a range of luxury hotels and resorts and fantastic packages in our Mauritius directory.