Magical Mauritius

HR-prince-maurice-architecture-1Mauritius celebrates 40 years of tourism this year. Nicki Grihault explains why this Indian Ocean gem is as popular as ever

Mauritian painter and poet Malcolm de Chazal enthused that “Mauritius seems to have been sculpted and painted by a giant with taste…”. With sun-kissed sandy beaches and an azure lagoon against a picture-perfect backdrop of bleached sugar cane and miniature mountains, this gem-shaped tropical island is associated with exclusivity and style.

Mauritius claims to have more luxury hotels than any other island – and the best service in the Indian Ocean. Plentiful watersports, top-flight golf courses, world-class spas and gourmet restaurants lure guests, while leading hotels offer helicopter transfers, private plunge pools and 24-hour butler service. But there’s more to Mauritius than palm trees and Green Island rum.

An isolated outpost 1800km off the coast of Africa, Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Island volcanic chain that includes Réunion and its sister island Rodrigues. Uninhabited for thousands of years, dodos and giant tortoises once roamed the island’s ebony forests. It’s still a biodiversity hotspot – home to some of the world’s rarest birds, and, surrounded by the planet’s third largest coral reef, it shelters a rich marine life.

Four centuries of colonisation have also created a rich cultural heritage, and a potpourri of people – French, Creole, Indian and Chinese – reflected in religious festivals, colonial architecture and the hip-wiggling séga dance, as well as colourful markets, its unique fusion cuisine and a genuine hospitality.

Grand Baie, once a sleepy fishing village, is the island’s only real resort, with evening entertainment and excursions ranging from an underwater walk to a tandem skydive. The breezier, tranquil east coast, is ideal for watersports, with many exclusive hotels set along beautiful white sand beaches, while the calm golden sands of sheltered Flic en Flac on the west coast, is a favourite with families. The south, stretching from the ancient capital of Mahébourg to the ‘green southwest’ and Le Morne, is Mauritius’ wilder, less touristed side.

At 45km by 65km, everywhere in Mauritius is within a couple of hours’ drive, making the island easy to explore. Nature lovers can trek some 170km of walking trails in the forested Black River Gorges National Park or take a ranger-led tour past giant tortoises and the pink pigeon on the tiny island of Île aux Aigrettes.

Many vast sugar estates (once the backbone of the economy) are now eco-playgrounds, with quad biking, ziplining and horse riding. At Casela eco-park, safaris take in imported ostrich, zebra and giraffe and you can walk with African white lions in the wild. An islander once told Mark Twain, “Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius”. He may have been right.

Visit
Northern Islands
Snorkel over pristine coral gardens, visit stunning beaches, take nature walks and enjoy a beachside BBQ on a catamaran trip to tiny Îlot Gabriel or the exclusive Île Plat.
Mahébourg
The ancient capital is charming and authentic, with wooden Creole houses, a lively Monday market and views of Lion Mountain from its waterfront promenade.
Black River Gorges
The only inland national park has rare endemic birds and plants and the island’s highest peak, as well as Grand Bassin, a crater lake sacred to Mauritian Hindus.
South Coast
A drive along the south coast takes in deserted beaches, surf-sculpted cliffs and Creole fishing villages, and leads to UNESCO-listed Le Morne mountain, where runaway slaves hid in the 19th century.
Rodrigues Island
Take a short flight to Mauritius’ serene sister island, with superb hiking past secluded beaches, rustic guesthouses and charming Creole culture.

Taste
Creole cuisine
As a blend of French, Indian, Chinese and African influences, Mauritian cuisine is unique. Tasty, classic dishes include Poisson Rougaille (a spicy tomato sauce with hints of thyme and chilli) and Vindaye (deep-fried fish coated in turmeric, ginger, chillies and mustard seeds).
Smoked marlin
It was the world record for Blue Marlin that put the island on the deep sea fishing map. Smoked marlin is a speciality – traditionally served with fresh palm heart salad.
Rum Mauritius
Artisanal gourmet rums produced at Saint Aubin and Château Labourdonnais estates have received international recognition. Homemade rhum arrangé, infused with island produce from coconut to chilli, is served at traditional bars.
Mauritian street food
Street food is readily available – try dholl puri (griddled pancakes stuffed with yellow split peas), gâteaux piments (deep fried split pea balls with chilli) and alooda (milky drink made with agar and flavoured with basil seeds and vanilla).

Sleep
Lakaz Chamarel Exclusive Lodge
This daringly different inland eco-retreat twenty minutes shuttle from Le Morne beach has twenty individually decorated suites with large plunge pools in flower-filled gardens, and relaxed, five-star service.
Piton Canot, Chamare | Tel: +230 483 5240 | www.lakazchamarel.com | Doubles half board from US$262.
20 Degres Sud
Charming Relais & Châteaux adult-centric boutique hotel on a tranquil white sand cove near Grand Baie. Owner-run, by a Belgian couple – rooms are in white-painted buildings under thatch with sumptuous suites. Gastronomic experiences include a cruise on vintage motorboat Lady Lisbeth, and Governor’s House restaurant in a nineteenth-century ruin on Flat Island.
Pointe Malartic | Tel: +230 263 5000, | www.20degressud.com  Doubles from US$290.
Constance Le Prince Maurice
Blow the budget at this recently-renovated, romantic hotel in spacious grounds with stunning wooden suites on stilts along the mangrove. Private and peaceful, and with top-notch service and facilities, it also has the island’s only floating restaurant and bar.
Choisy Rd, Poste de Flacq | Tel: +230 402 3636 | www.princemaurice.com | Junior Suite from US$429 B&B.