Five-and-a-half hours away from Mumbai, I fly over the vast Indian Ocean to reach this tiny island. Colonised by the Dutch, French and British, and named after the 16th century Dutch Prince Maurice Van Nassau, the tropical island of Mauritius is picturesque. The weather here is warm yet very pleasant. A little laid-back – most places close by 5 pm – Mauritius is a wonderful mix of adventure, romance, history, mouth-watering cuisines and more.
With its craggy mountains and its strangely multi-hued earth, Mauritius showcases nature at its scenic best. It abounds in greenery, exotic flowers, colourful rare birds, indigenous trees and wildlife.
My first visit is to the North to the picturesque Grand Bay and its two beautiful beaches where I watch the leaping white surf as I stroll through the silvery white sands and collect tec-tec or small white sea shells. Les Vergers of Labourdonnais at Mapou with its wide variety of fragrant colourful rare flowers and tropical fruit trees is also a sight to behold. The Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam Botanical Garden stuns, with its exotic Victoria Amazonica lilies, fawns, turtles and indigenous trees.
Old yet new
Mauritius’s majestic chalet houses will fascinate you. I visit the magnificent Chateau de Labourdonnais and get a taste of how the rich in Mauritius lived in the 19th century. Inspired by Italian neo-classical architecture, the chateau stretches out on two levels. Built mainly from teak and with a double colonnaded gallery, the layout follows that of the private mansions of the 19th century, with a central hallway leading on one side to the dining room and on the other, to the main lounge. The bedrooms are situated upstairs. The chateau is encompassed by a vast green manicured garden.
Yet this isle is contrastingly modern too which is seen in its amazing polished roads, top-notch shopping malls including the very popular Bagatelle Mall, top-of-the-line brands and stylish jet-setters.
The 272 feet waterfall at Chamarel, is breathtaking. The nearby Chamarel village is also a must-visit with its seven coloured earth, the result of ancient volcanic activities. This place also houses a wonderful souvenir shop. I buy a dodo bird souvenir – after all, the dodo, though extinct, is the national bird of Mauritius.
Port Louis beckons
I am put up at the charming Le Suffren Hotel and Marina at Port Louis, next to the Caudan waterfront with its own water taxi that ferries hotel guests to and from the waterfront. Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, is buzzing with activities. It houses wonderful hotels, the waterfront where you can spot boats and ships docked rather neatly, and quaint little buzzing hubs where you can spot the Indian, Chinese and Creole culture at its ethnic best. There are shopping malls and colourful street shops where the rule is to haggle as much as you can. Port Louis has an amazing vibe which is infectious.
Medley of culture
Surrounded by the sparkling turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is a pot-pourri of French, Indian, Chinese and Creole cultures. No wonder, the mix of ethnicities have integrated magically into its culture, food and way of life. Though the language spoken here is predominately French and Creole, English and a smattering of Chinese, Hindi, Tamil and Bhojpuri are spoken too. The people are warm and friendly, the food, spicy yet sweet.
Rum ‘n’ song
Rum drinkers do note, there are rum factories galore. In fact, you must pick up a bottle in Mauritius from the Rhumerie de Chamare. Visit the factory to see how rum is distilled… and guess what, they also have tasting sessions for you to sip on the fiery dark liquid.
From hiking to hard-core adventure tours on land and sea, it’s all available here. For hiking, I pick the 6,574 hectare Black River Gorges National Park which incidentally happens to be the best hiking spot where you can spot wildlife through its indigenous forests. The clean crisp mountain air is invigorating and with a proper guide, hiking through the vast mountain is truly amazing. The La Vallée Des Couleurs Nature Park is where the adventurer in me peaks. I gingerly clamber over the mountain bike and practise but my guide decides I’m an adventure menace and insists on driving me through the precarious narrow mountain paths.
Up there, I pet a sleepy120-year-old turtle and watch a deer gambol off into the wilderness. The Nepalese Bridge there is the longest (350 meters) in the Indian Ocean – and that I manage to cross albeit with shaking knees and a wildly thumping heart. After that I fly through the third longest zipline in the world. The sea surrounds this beautiful island with its fabulous beaches, offering immense scope for water sports and scuba diving. Still need convincing??