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Mauritius – much more than just a beach break

Mauritius is all about perfect beaches, crystal clear water and luxurious resorts. And yes it is definitely all of those things, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the island had so much more to offer. I thought I’d share some of the things we did in the unlikely event you get tired of lying in the sun having ice-cold drinks brought to your lounger…

Grand Baie

We chose to stay at the LUX Merville Beach hotel because it is situated on the gorgeous Northern coastline in Pereybere and within walking distance of the village of Grand Baie. The hotel also allows a bed and breakfast rate, which means you can opt to eat in other places than the resort itself and we were looking forward to seeing what restaurants Grand Baie had to offer.

Grand Baie turned out to be smaller and simpler to navigate than I’d thought. It didn’t take more than a morning to explore most of the shops and check out potential eating places. It was lovely to walk around La Cuvette, which is a pretty bay surrounded by a sandy public beach. Vendors offer street food and handicrafts. There are a number of dive centers and tour operators that offer trips to the surrounding areas.

Over a few days we tried a few good restaurants other than our hotel: within walking distance  was Luigi’s Italian Pizzaria (amusingly pronounced “Wigglies” by a taxi driver) that quickly became our ‘local’. We had an outstanding dinner at La Botteghita – delicious food and a lovely atmosphere. Slightly more bohemian and off the main road we found Dalon, renowned for great burgers. For really yummy Chinese food we enjoyed the Hong Kong Palace. The Beach House restaurant and Bar is perfectly situated for sundowners and is known for great seafood.

I’d been to Mauritius some years before during the month of December when it was so humid that I’d found the air almost too thick to breathe. June weather however was delightful – hot enough to enjoy lying on the beach or swimming, but cool enough to slip on a light wrap in the evening.

Most afternoons were spent lazily reading our books under an umbrella. Geoff was more energetic and made an impressive attempt to windsurf and sail when the breeze picked up. We booked for snorkelling trips and got taken out by boat to a nearby reef. Quite beautiful!

We met Roberto, a taxi driver and tour guide when we were wandering around Grand Baie. He convinced us that a tour of the North was an essential part of our visit.

Roberto turned out to be a mine of interesting information. He was a bit focused on showing us what he thought we should see, rather than what we might be interested in doing – “Please trust Roberto”,  but he regaled us with stories that kept us amused and really, other than a slightly awkward stop over for “the best free coffee on the island” at the local Toyota dealer 🙈, we didn’t regret retaining him as there is no doubt we saw so much more than we would’ve done on our own.

Exploring the beaches of the North-west

We headed along the coast towards the west stopping at the beautiful beaches of Mont Choisy and Trou aux Biches, both softly fringed by Filao (Casuarina) trees.

 

 

 

As we drove along Roberto explained the meaning behind the horizontal stripes of the Mauritian flag:

Red for the blood shed by the ancestors

Blue representing the Sea surrounding the island

Yellow for the People and the bright sunlight

Green symbolising agriculture and fertility

Visiting a Hindu temple

Roberto took us to visit Maheswarnath Mandir,  a Hindu temple located in the village of Triolet. The temple was founded in 1888 and is the biggest and one of the oldest of its kind on the island.We paused to admire the gorgeous Banyan tree in the grounds. Roberto guided us through the spiritual place indicating purposefully where we had to remove shoes, move in a circle, or pour holy water – while continuously taking photographs of us looking a tad sheepish.

 

A Catholic Church is located across the road from the mosque and Roberto explained that for Friday’s prayers the overflow of worshippers park at the church and on Sundays, the mass-goers park at the mosque.

Next was a quick visit to the new luxury 5-star resort of Oberoi at Turtle Bay, where Roberto was keen to impress us with the opulent setting and views of the Indian Ocean, encouraging us to take morning tea and relax.

Port Louis

We then headed into the bustling town of Port Louis Harbour. It was crowded with cars, taxis and people. We wandered around looking at some of the French colonial buildings and the cathedral. We were impressed by the modern Cauden Waterfront with its lively shopping area. Roberto told us about the horror of the 2013 floods, where sudden rains caused flooding and a number of people were drowned when they were trapped in the underground areas. Lunch was a ‘farata’, a type of tasty roti freshly prepared from a street vendor and completely delicious!

Shepherded by Roberto, we walked away from the Waterfront to the maze of the vegetable market and admired the displays of fresh produce where we took lots of photographs. From there we wandered towards China Town enjoying the sights and sounds of the locals going about their day.

Tea tasting

Despite the fact that we were insistent that we didn’t drink tea, Roberto insisted that our trip would be incomplete without visiting Kuanfu Tea factory and proclaimed that “In Mauritius, it is never too hot to drink tea”.  We did enjoy seeing the range of processes, both modern and ancient, that involve sorting, grinding and baking the tea leaves.

Our tour was followed by a tea ceremony using exquisite porcelain cups and I have to say that the tea was refreshing and I liked the fact that there are considerable health benefits to drinking it. (Note to self : drink more black tea). The hard sell sales pitch thereafter, compelling us to buy either tea or a pricey,  gilded tea set, preferably both, was a bit uncomfortable.

 

The Citadel at Fort Adelaide, the race course and a Chinese Pagoda

Roberto drove us through the narrow streets of the old city, pointing out various neighbourhoods. From there we headed steeply upwards to arrive at The Citadel or Fort Adelaide (1834) with outstanding views of Port Louis. We wandered around taking pictures and admiring the view below.

Roberto pointed out the picturesque Champs de Mars racecourse that dates back to 1812 (it’s actually the oldest race course in the Southern Hemisphere which is something Mauritians are very proud of). One thing to know about Mauritian culture is that horse racing is BIG and I suspect that had it been a race day, Roberto would’ve had us admiring form and placing bets!

Next we got whisked down to visit The Kwan Tee Chinese Pagoda which is the oldest in Mauritius and apparently also in the Southern Hemisphere. Mauritius is culturally and religiously diverse with a significant amount of the population being Hindu or Christians, but Muslims and Buddhists are also prevalent.

We started to make noises about being ready for a swim and a lazy afternoon under an umbrella, but Roberto was deaf to this and determined to have us get our money’s worth from the excursion.

Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens

Our last stop for the day was the amazing Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, commonly known as the Pamplemousses Gardens. It is the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Firmly ejecting us from the car at the entrance, Roberto advised that he would collect us on the other side of the gardens in a couple of hours. I had been looking forward to seeing the giant water lilies and the lotus flower gardens, but there was so much more to explore. Tranquil and cool, amongst the lakes and trees, it was a delightful way to relax after the heat and hustle of Port Louis.

We managed to avoid Roberto for a day or two while we enjoyed relaxing at our resort. He was back soon though, proclaiming that we had yet to cover the south of Mauritius.

The mountainous centre

After breakfast, Roberto whisked us off to the sugar cane fields near the village of Creve Coeur. From here we had stunning views of the unusually shaped Pieter Bos mountain and Roberto entertained us with stories of the various legends surrounding the mountain.

We drove south towards the central plateau and through the reasonably affluent village of Floreal. Roberto incited us to have a quick look at a model ship factory, which was quite impressive and we managed to escape without having to buy anything.

 

 

Old volcanic crater and Grand Bassin

A kilometer or so from Curepipe our car climbed up to the dormant volcano, Trou aux Cerfs. 

We wandered around and took pictures. The basin and sides of the crater are clearly visible and it was beautiful and green with amazing views of the surrounding area.

Nearby we visited Grand Bassin, which is a crater lake about 550 meters above sea level with a depth of around 50 feet. Grand Bassin is now one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India and surrounded by images of Hindu deities including Shiva and Ganesh.  

In 1972 a priest from India brought sacred water from the Ganges and as part of a ceremony poured the holy water into the lake. From then on the lake has been known as Ganga Talao. Ganga for Ganges and ‘Talao’ which means ‘pool’. We strolled around Ganga Talao marvelling at some cats who were using the bread tourists had thrown for the ducks as bait to attract and then pounce on a fish. Their skill was something to behold, not to mention seeing cats wading comfortable up to their knees in water!

Something we really weren’t expecting to see was the Giant Statue of Shiva – At 33 meters high it is the third tallest statue of Shiva in the world. Impressive!

Black river gorges national park

Continuing south-west we spent some time in the lush rainforest that houses over 50 km of walking trails.

We took a stroll to the view site to see the spectacular Chamerel Waterfall. We also watched the Macaque monkeys playing close by. It’s a great area where you could spend several hours hiking and picnicking.

Terre de 7 couleurs

Roberto’s next surprise for us was a visit to the coloured earth centre in Chamarel. This phenomenon is caused by the uneven cooling of molten rock from the volcanic eruptions. Apparently if you mix the coloured earth together, they’ll eventually settle into separate layers. The area is cleverly designed with walkways through the trees and over the dunes of coloured earth. There is also an area for giant tortoises some of whom were over 150 years old!

A highlight of the day was the lunch that Roberto took us to at “Liverpool Snack” in La Gaulette. Wow. Great view of the water and the best meal on the island! We had a simple noodle dish of chilli, veggies and shrimp – but it was sensational. I would come back to Mauritius just for this meal.

Le Morne Brabant

Nestled at the foot of the magnificent Le Morne mountain, this area seemed to have even more perfect beaches than the rest of the island. We paused for reflection at the Slave Route Monument. This was established as a symbol to recognize and commemorate the impact and influence of slavery and the slave trade on Mauritian history. Roberto shared the horrific story that after the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, a group of soldiers and police went to the Le Morne area to let runaway slaves know that they were finally free. But the slaves, seeing the authorities approaching, feared that they were being recaptured and returned to their masters, and climbed to the top of the mountain summit and threw themselves off committing suicide by landing in the ocean. Whether this is true or just legend is uncertain, but it certainly was a sobering experience thinking about the days of slavery and severe human hardship.

In the late afternoon we spent some time enthralled by kite surfing. Le Morne Peninsula is situated on the south-western tip of the island and is one of the most exciting spots for kite surfers. The lengthy shallow and beautifully turquoise lagoon, with wind all year round, makes it a paradise for these super-fit athletes.

Although we were getting quite tired of touring, Roberto insisted on rounding the day off with a quick visit to Tamarind, Black River and Flic en Flac. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and it was perfect for photography as were the locations. We had lovely views of Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, the highest peak on the island.

Our week in Mauritius was an exquisite combination of beaches, food, culture and glorious nature. We had to acknowledge that we’d have overlooked so much if it hadn’t been for Roberto.

To quote our humble guide: “Avec Roberto tout est toujours beau!”

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