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A (perfect) drop in the ocean: Mauritius
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
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House & Garden
A tropical island awash with cashmere and designer clothes where you can get up close with wildlife? Judy Ostergaard finds a patch of paradise in Mauritius.
I have a couple of friends who come from Mauritius so when opportunity arose for me to visit their island home in the Indian Ocean, I immediately quizzed them on things to look out for that the tourist guides don't mention. One immediately said try fresh pineapple with chili, and, if they're ripe, stop at roadside bushes to pick cherry guavas for a big vitamin C hit. The other said, buy some cashmere scarves or clothing. What! Cashmere on a tropical island? But yes, I was soon to discover that following tourism and the sugar industry, textile production is the next biggest earner on the island. And it's not just cashmere items, many prêt-a-porter garments for high-end fashion labels are produced here and can be bought at reasonable prices.
But Mauritius is full of surprises. For a start, Air Mauritius has direct flights from Melbourne, where I live, to Mauritius. It goes from Sydney to Melbourne and then it takes just 10 hours to Mauritius. There's another flight that goes from Perth direct. To my thinking, this makes it the perfect alternative stopover on a long-haul flight to or from Europe. Clever Europeans have been hopping down here for their annual dose of sunshine for years.
Situated off the large African island of Madagascar, Mauritius was uninhabited when it was discovered by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, but it was the Dutch who named it Mauritius in 1598 and settled in. They were largely responsible for introducing sugar cane from Java, for stripping the island of its ebony forests and contributing to the extinction of the dodo bird. After that the French took over developing the sugar industry and introducing slaves from both Africa and India. During and after the Napoleonic Wars, the French delighted in capturing the English trade ships and their wealthy cargoes sailing the long route from India – until the English invaded and took over the island in 1810 with the guarantee that they would respect the language, customs, traditions and laws of the locals.
Mauritius has been an independent republic since 1968. The main languages are French and Creole, though almost all people speak English. They drive on the same side of the road as us, primary education and health care are free and while the main religions are Hinduism and Christianity, all other religious are practiced.
The huge variety of things to do was also a surprise for me. When it comes to water activities, you name it and it's there: diving, snorkeling, sail boarding, yachting, fishing... the list goes on. During our stay there we drove to the north coast to experience the reef and tropical fish life, riding on a little two-seater submarine scooter designed and operated by Blue Safari Submarine. They also have a 10-seater submarine to take you down to explore the underwater world as a whole family or for those who are not-so-confident swimmers. As a complete contrast, we took a cooling walk through the world-renowned botanical gardens, the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Garden, named after the man who led the country to independence, to see the collection of both native and international plants.
Another day, we went inland and visited Ganga Talao, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, which is set on a high plateau and a lake said to be connected to the Ganges river in India. We explored the nearby 83m-high Chamarel waterfall, the multi-coloured lunar-like landscape of the Seven Coloured Earth and Piton de la Petite Rivière Noir (Black River Peak), the highest mountain on the island.
We also took in a guided tour of a La Rhumerie de Chamarel to discover how rum is made and then, of course, taste some varieties of the produce. The beautiful distillery was designed by local architect Maurice Giraud using natural stone, wood and water to create a holistic experience for visitors. There's also an excellent restaurant and shop there.
Perhaps the best part of my whole Mauritian experience was our visit to Casela Nature and Leisure Park where we met, hands-on, with 12-month-old lions, rode two-wheeler Segways to get up close and personal to zebras, ostriches and antelopes in a natural environment and, thrill of thrills, crossed hair-raising narrow hanging bridges to zipline across deep ravines, twice!
We stayed at two fabulous resorts that I would highly recommend: Heritage Le Telfair and Le Saint Géran. Both had excellent restaurants, spas, water sports and golf courses, but there is wide variety of three- to six-star places to stay. Our day trips were all organised by Solis Indian Ocean who were professional and couldn't be faulted.
A couple of tips: don't drive yourself as with the lack of road signs you'll end up lost and wasting a lot of time. Hire a driver or even better a driver guide (Solis can arrange this for you). Secondly, visit the market in the capital, Port Louis, for bargain shopping of, not just souvenirs, but designer clothing and cashmere – I bought some Dolce & Gabbana t-shirts and several cashmere scarves. And don't overlook roadside stalls at tourist sights to buy great bargain souvenirs, jewellery and sarongs.
The fine print
, 1300332 077
, +230 210 1545
Solis Indian Ocean
, +230 212 6918
Heritage le Telfair
, +230 601 5500
Le Saint Géran
+230 401 1688
Blue Safari Submarine
, +230 263 3333
Casela Nature & Leisure Park
, +230 452 2828
Rhumerie de Chamarel
, +230 483 7980
Judy travelled courtesy of
Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
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My wife & I have visited Mauritius 3 times and the place is just magical. the hotels are sophisticated and the service is impecible. we love the Constance Belle Mare Plage. it's next to the st Geran the writer talked about and IMO it's head and shoulders better and much less expensive. if you like golf it has 2 18 hole courses which you can play for free and they will arrange for you to play at the st Geran course free if you ask. the food is spectacular and generally the hotels are half board. we did the lion walk and it was amazing, so much so on our last trip to Mauritius we spent 6 nights in south africa and did a safari - best thing i've ever done! i'll agree Port Louis is worth a miss - that's the only thing that would match Bali which we hated. we do love thailand so know what 3rd world countries are like and i wouldn't put Mauritius in the same space.
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