Mauritius offers more than alluring island getaway

Friends have often commented about island holidays in my presence. They were unanimous in that there is nothing that can match an island holiday when it comes to rest and peace. What about the Bushveld or the Karoo, I would ask? To elicit a response of: “No, no, and no! In those places you can easily be seduced to go on a hiking trip and walk for days. On islands such as Mauritius and the Seychelles you are seduced to sit and stare and merely take strolls!  It is just not the same! “

So, it was off to Mauritius for seven days. I still had my doubts, I have never been one to lie in the sun for hours on end, and sporting the best tan around has never been important. The seduction was instant. How else if inviting adjustable sun beds and huge umbrellas to shade as much of your anatomy as you want shaded, are less than 20 meters from you bedroom. The view is unlimited and the sea invitingly warm, even in July, in the middle of an icy South African winter.  On the North-Western side of the island the wind is gentle, the waves almost nonexistent, the water just laps peacefully and lazily and you sit….and stare.

We chose Mauritius because of its early history links with outpost the Dutch India Company established there, hopeful that “development” could supplement supplies for ships visiting the Cape of Good Hope. Readers of Afrikaans literature will have read much of the Mauritius of the 17th century in Daleen Matthee’s Pieternella van die Kaap and also in historian Dan Sleigh’s monumental Die Buiteposte.  Why the Dutch settlers and the British and French killed of all the Dodos is a mystery, as the flesh of the Dodo was completely inedible. Of the lush forests described in early diaries and reports, nothing significant is left; it is sugar cane which today dominates. Ebony trees were already decimated by the end of the 18th century.

However, Mauritius is worth visiting for many reasons. It is most definitely a wonderful escape when you want to escape winter chill, be at peace and rest. Should you want to, you can be kept busy with diving, snorkeling, boat trips, games on the beach, skiing and a “walk under water”. Although I didn’t try it, I have my reservations about how much damage is being done to the coral reefs with walking on them. The view I had of the coral and sea life from a boat with a glass bottom was interesting and satisfying enough for me from the nearness it provides.

Photo Top: Pamplemousse Botanical Gardens / Bottom: Modern-day Port Louis

Mauritius treats its tourists as royalty. The service in all respects of the hospitality and tourism, were exceptional. Young families will be delighted to know here is a haven for young children. They are welcomed with open arms and catered for. Each hotel seems to have special activity areas, with carers in charge to cater for young families and make sure parents are not on the run all the time. Our hotel, situated south of Grand Baie on the west, in the Pointe Aux Biches area, had two swimming pools. One with a huge shallow area for the young ones, with plenty of space to run around and for mom and dad to lounge; and a separate deep pool for exclusive use in a quiet area of the hotel complex.  

The hotel restaurants offer and extensive buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinner. Bigger hotels all seem to have two or three restaurants to choose from. This can also be determined by the rate you choose to pay. We could choose to also eat in a much smaller à la carte-restaurant, with your toes playing in pure white, slightly gritty sand, while dining at a beautifully laid table - the restaurant floor following the “bare foot experience” of the hotel.

If you are inquisitive about the island and its people, there are several ways to explore this. We decided to do most of it via the public transport system. Busses run regularly and on time. The locals, as their counterparts in the hotel industry, are friendly and helpful. Although we had to change busses to get to the botanical gardens in the Pampelmousse area, our fellow bus passengers either instinctively knew where we were heading, or the got this information from the bus conductor. All passengers on both busses, on exiting at their required stop, assured us that we were on the right route and we will be looked after. Indeed, the conductor came to warn us when we were nearing the right stop and proceeded to ring the bell for us! The botanical gardens, surrounded by a beautiful and elaborate cast iron, Victorian fence and gates are delightful and interesting to stroll through. Guides are at hand should you wish to have one.

Interaction with islanders is easy and enjoyable. Their mother tongue is French-Creole, but they all speak French and English. All signage is in English and the daily newspaper is published in both languages. Their official language is French, but passing English in high school is compulsory.

Photo:The food market in Port Louis

A visit to Port Louis, the capitol of the island, is a very interesting and pleasant experience. We headed straight for the produce market. My favourite destination in all cities all over the world, should they still have this friendly home-cook necessity. The one in Port Louis is, in comparison with the wonderful Turkish and European air markets, small. It is under roof, well organized and doesn’t stand back in quality or variety when it comes to comparing it with the famous markets of Barcelona and Munich.

The displays are picturesque; the vendors realizing that are you a visitor are ready to share cooking tips for unknown vegetables on display. Spices are on offer and food stalls inside the market display and sell delicious traditional, spicy Mauritian stews and a selection of French pastries. French loaves are staple food in Mauritius.

Too lazy to rent a car and do driving, we booked a day tour to the southern and eastern side of the island. This took us to a tea plantation and factory which culminates in a tea tasting session. Mauritians are keen tea drinkers and they also produce a variety of flavoured teas, such as vanilla, ginger and lemon grass, and jasmine infused green tea.

Photo Vanilla beans

A visit to one of the French manor houses built late in the 19th century for the sugar barons, a rum tasting, a visit to a vanilla garden and a delicious lunch, which included palm heart and smoked marlin as a starter, and chicken with a vanilla sauce, rounded off with vanilla ice cream and tropical fruit salad, ended a perfect day in Mauritius. I recommend that you buy vanilla beans at source to take home for top quality. Two tips about shopping in Mauritius:

The duty free shopping at Mauritius airport can easily be the most reasonable of all. Their perfumes and toiletries are at least 40% cheaper than any other I have visited on my travels

For pure white leisure wear, 100% Madagascar sourced cotton, woven, exquisitely designed and beautifully made in Mauritius; look out for the Coton de isle label in shops in Port Louis and Grand Baie.

This is but a superficial glance of Mauritius. It’s people and how they live and eke out an existence; the way they live and eat, its history, geography and development can be written about in depth. As a holiday destination it has much to offer for those who seek more rest and less adventure!

Article by Gerda Coetzee

Published 09.10.2012

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