One of the greatest joys in life for those who love to travel is to tick off another destination on your “must see” list. However, it is quite another thing to discover a place that you had never even considered before. On a recent trip to Mauritius, I had never really thought what this simply stunning island might have to offer. Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with great food, great rum, powdery white beaches and some of the most beautiful scenery and fascinating history that I had ever seen!
Our journey begins with a 6.30am alarm on a blazing hot July morning in Dubai. We had just spent a wonderful few days enjoying the sights of this millionaire’s playground (read all about how I got on in my previous post, Dubai during Ramadan, what you need to know). So now we were about ready to relax and take things a little slower in Mauritius. Being a quieter time of year, our flight with Emirates was not very full, so we had plenty of space to stretch out on the 6.5 hour flight.
Landing 20 minutes early into Mauritius, we passed through quarantine, customs and immigration fairly easily and were given the friendliest and warmest of greetings by Vanessa from our ground agent, Summertimes. We were given our itineraries, along with bottles of chilled water and a fresh towel, and were introduced to our driver, Kieran. He took our bags and made sure we were settled and comfortable, before showing us a map of the island and where we were headed.
On the journey, he showed us lots of different points of interest along the way. He explained how Mauritius has always been a big player in the sugar industry and showed us a number of disused sugar mills. The Mauritians always try to leave the chimneys behind as a reminder, so they are quite easy to spot. As we passed through different small towns, Kieran showed us the different temples, churches, mosques and synagogues in each settlement. I found it to be a real testament to how tolerant and friendly the people of Mauritius are to see how everybody from all faiths live together peacefully. Indeed, most holy buildings are just across the street from each other or even next door. Overall, however, Mauritius is primarily Hindu, with just under 52% of the population practicing Hinduism. This means there are plenty of stunning temples to visit and I would highly recommend doing this for a sample of real culture. The Tamil temples are very easily spotted, as they are bursting with colour and adorned with hand-sculpted carvings of the Gods.
Being in the southern hemisphere, Mauritius has its winter during our summer, however, it is warm year-round. It does get a little windy during winter and you are likely to see a few showers, but it is still comfortable for swimming and sunbathing. Daylight hours are a lot shorter – as we arrived at our hotel at around 6pm, the sun was already starting to set.
As the vehicle stopped, we were greeted by the very courteous staff at the wonderful Constance Belle Mare Plage. We climbed the steps under the thatched roof into the beautiful reception area. At its centre was a peaceful water feature with floor candles; we took a seat while the check in staff organised everything for us and treated us to a refreshing welcome drink and some cold towels enriched with essential oils. It was at this point we were met by the hotel’s Guest Relations Manager, John Narain. This man was the jewel in the crown of the hotel. He’s the most genuine, friendly and funny man I have ever met. From the moment we arrived it felt like we had been old friends for many years. He saw to it that everything was perfect for us before we went to our rooms to change for dinner. John said he had a surprise for us at dinner but we had to wait and see…
The rooms at the Constance Belle Mare Plage and indeed at many of our hotels in Mauritius are of an old colonial style, with lots of wood and slatted shutters. The room we were lucky enough to stay in was the beachfront junior suite. It had a spacious lounge area, a very comfortable bed and a large bathroom with a big bathtub and a separate shower room. As we had arrived in the evening and it was now dark outside, we could hear the waves lapping against the beach but could not see the view from our balcony. The view would have to wait until the morning…
Once changed, we met John in reception. It was there that he revealed to us our surprise: he had made a reservation for us to eat in the hotel’s fine dining restaurant – The Blue Penny Cellar. The food here is exquisite, with Mauritian and European specialities. The highlight, though, has got to be the impressive wine cellar, with space for 22,000 bottles and 1,650 different references. The restaurant offers wine tastings during the day and the sommeliers are always on hand to offer the perfect accompaniment to your meal. Dessert followed with a trip to the ‘Dessert Library’ where we could pick from a range of eclairs, pastries and mille-feuille. It was at this point that John offered us a nip of 25-year-old, barrel-aged Mauritian rum. It was fantastic!
After a comfortable night’s sleep, I woke early to catch the sunrise from my balcony and to take in the sea view that I missed on my arrival. I was not disappointed. Palm trees, white sands and crystal-clear ocean was slowly illuminated by the rising sun. We had breakfast and headed off to pay a visit to one of our other hotels close by: The Long Beach.
The Long Beach is a more contemporary, artistic hotel that has great family facilities. The centre of the hotel has a sort of village square where the restaurants can be found. Guests can dine inside or out on the terraces of the restaurants where they can view the evening entertainment. There are loads of activities on offer – we tried our hand at a spot of archery and some rock climbing. For those feeling a bit less active, there is a stunning spa with tranquil outdoor treatment cabins and very knowledgeable staff.
Returning to the Constance Belle Mare Plage, we were feeling a little tired so headed to the bar for a pick-me-up. The barman suggested he make us one of his own energy drinks with pineapple, guava, mango and chilli. That certainly did the trick!
The next day had us meeting up with Kieran again for a tour of the south of the island. We started off with a visit to Chamarel, where we saw the magnificent Chamarel Falls plummeting from the stunning, mountainous terrain. From there we headed to the Terres des Sept Couleurs or ‘Seven Coloured Earths’ – the site of a volcano eruption that began to set into different colours as it cooled at different temperatures. The sight of these colourful sand dunes is something special to behold. All around it is lush, green vegetation that suddenly ends as the dunes begin. It’s completely other-worldly! The volcanic soil around the slopes of Chamarel makes for some fantastic coffee-growing conditions, and you can get your hands on some local Chamarel coffee in the small gift shop within the national park.
After visiting the Seven Coloured Earths, Kieran took us off to lunch at one of the most special restaurants of Mauritius. An unassuming path leads you through beautiful gardens as you reach La Varangue Sur Morne, a restaurant that has served the likes of former French President Jacques Chirac and Prince Edward. The cuisine is unpretentious, hearty and unmistakably Mauritian, with delicious curries best enjoyed with a glass of the local beer, Phoenix. The most impressive thing about Varangue Sur Morne is the stunning views – it overlooks the Black River Gorges National Park and its surrounding mountains.
As our final evening approached, John had one last surprise for us in the form of dinner at the Deer Hunter, the hotel’s restaurant overlooking the Belle Mare golf course. The theme is that of an African game lodge and the views are of the water traps where the native deer like to come in the evenings to drink. It was a truly special way to bid farewell to such a special island.
What made Mauritius special for me has got to be the people. They are the friendliest bunch you’d ever meet and everyone is so eager to share their passion for their home with you. The stunning scenery and the colonial culture is another huge draw, not to mention the crystal-clear waters and dazzling beaches. Mauritius was never a destination ‘on my radar’ before, but now I find myself longing to return just to see more of what this paradise island has to offer!