About Time: You Explored the Best of MauritiusBy Patrick Mcaleenan
Mark Twain once wrote that ‘Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius’. For the most part, it’s true: Mauritius is deservedly famed for its glistening sapphire waters, sun-kissed white sands and luxury resorts but this paradise island is full of endless possibilities, with fantastic food, wonderful hospitality, arts and culture as well as a hidden treasure of activities for those with a more adventurous spirit.
Mauritius: The Cuisine
Visited by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, and subsequently colonised by the Dutch, French and British, the island’s fusion of cultures has left its mark on the country’s cuisine, which is a blend of European flair, African tradition and punchy Asian flavours.
Gastronomic highlights include The Rhumerie de Chamarel’s rum distillery’s chic in-house restaurant L’Alchimiste which boasts an impressive menu of flavourful Mauritian favourites whipped into eye-pleasing dishes such as braised wild boar cooked in Chamarel rum.
Overlooking the capital city Port Louis’ harbor, you’ll find the Asian fusion delights of Yuzu at the Labourdonnais Waterfront Hotel which brings together the best of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. The stunning open-air setting overlooking the luxurious Four Seasons Resort’s lagoon provides a magical backdrop to the mouth-watering contemporary Italian cuisine of Acquapazza. Try the seared local scallops and the unforgettable Vincisgrassi Lasagna parma ham, porcini and black truffle (an adaptation of a 15th century recipe).
The island’s street food stalls are also not to missed with their cheap, spicy and tasty roadside offerings available at every turn.
Mauritius: The Culture
Port Louis (por loo-ee), the island’s capital and largest city, is a good place to feel the pulse of the country away from the island’s rarefied world of resorts and private beaches. Most interest lies amidst the bustle of the streets, which were bursting with up to 300,000 people (a quarter of the population) every evening for the island’s first 3-day international arts festival in Dec 2015.
Porlwi by Light saw the city transformed into the luminous capital of the Indian Ocean with streets pedestrianised for the public to marvel at the spectacular art installations, sound and light shows, projections, theatrical and musical performances, street food and storytelling. It was a luminous feast for the eyes and thankfully set to return in 2016.
Early December every also plays host to another popular annual event for the Mauritian population – International Jockey Weekend. The Mauritians are a nation who love their horse racing and gambling, but most only place no more than 100 rupees (about £2) on a race. Inaugurated on 25 June 1812, The Mauritius Turf Club (Champ De Mars Racecourse) is the oldest horse racing club in the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world.
The island is home to the third largest percentage of Hindus in the world after India and Nepal. Temples, mosques and churches are scattered across the island and the most sacred of all is the Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao, a sacred lake and one of the most important hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India. With several temples dedicated to Shiva and other Gods, one has to admire the impressive statue of the god Shiva – 33 meters tall and known as the highest statue in Mauritius.
From the worship of Gods to the worship of rum – the tipple of choice across the island. Visitors to The Rhumerie de Charmel in the southwest can take a guided tour of the distillery and learn about the rum-making process from plantation to bottle. Beguilingly smooth and sweet, you won’t be able to leave without a few bottles to take home.
What: Porlwi by Light Festival
Where: Mauritius Turf Club
Price: Free entry
Where: Grand Bassin
Where: The Rhumerie de Charmel
Price: £7 per person
Mauritius: The Luxury
With its palm-fringed white sandy beaches, clear waters and seemingly endless sunshine, many see Mauritius as the ultimate holiday destination, whether it’s five star luxury or a beachfront hammock you’re after.
Meaning “islander” in Creole, Zilwa Attitude is a rustic, chic hotel offering an authentic yet luxurious taste of island life. Located on the island’s Northern tip, the hotel has a choice of restaurants, sunset spa treatments, and stunning views. Enjoy a delicious buffet lunch on Gran Zil private island, take a dawn boat rode with a local fisherman or enjoy Creole lessons under the trees. The rustic rooms are contemporary with rough-hewn walls, wax-coated floors and driftwood-inspired furniture, with Creole riddles on the wall and art work and poetry inspired by Mauritian artist, Malcolm de Chazal.
Situated on the east of the island, once the sugar plantation of Deep River Beau Champ, the Four Seasons Resort is reached down a long drive through tropical gardens flanked by an Ernie Els-designed golf course. This hotel can take your breath away with villas designed in tropical modernism, with masses of chrome and glass, furniture in noble wood and natural fibres, and wonderful installations such as the outdoor shower gushing from a stone channel high on the garden wall. Simply lounge on a chaise longue under a palm tree or in your private pool and let the resort’s waves of impeccable, yet unobtrusive service wash over you. Other options include watersports, a visit the Resort’s excellent spa and eating at one of the hotel’s several top-notch restaurants.
Where: Zilwa Attitude
Price: Couple Junior Suite Beachfront: from £139 per person per night
Price: The Sanctuary Beach Pool Villa: from £1,050 per night
Mauritius: The Adventure
Visible from much of southwestern Mauritius, the iconic Le Morne Brabant (556m) is a stunning rock crag from which this beautiful peninsula takes its name. Shaped like a hammerhead shark, the peninsula itself has some of the island’s best beaches.
The best way to explore Le Morne is on a guided hike with the friendly and knowledgeable Yan from Yanature. A nature enthusiast, ultra-marathon runner and local man, Yan grew up at the base of Le Morne and knows its snaking trails by heart. The best time to hike is just after sunrise and do wear the right shoes and clothes as you will get a little dusty and dirty. The 360° views from the peak are jaw dropping and guaranteed an Instagram multi-like.
If hikes to heights are a head spinning thought, the clear, warm Mauritian waters play host to world-class diving and snorkelling. The Four Seasons Resort has a partnership with global marine education and conservation specialist WiseOceans that allows guests to discover (and donate) more about the rich marine life in the mangroves and coral reefs of the surrounding Indian Ocean waters. Take a thrilling 30-minute speed ride with Marine Educator Jo from WiseOceans out to the coral reef for a guided snorkel to uncover the secrets of its beautiful and breath-taking marine life.
Mauritius has endless adventure possibilities including bird watching and hiking through magical forests and up mountains, boat trips to Crusoe perfect islets and trips to fabulous and colourful botanical gardens and colonial plantation houses.
Price: £30 per person
Price: Guided WiseOceans reef snorkel: £270 per boat (up to 5 people)
Patrick flew to Mauritius with www.airmauritius.com. Flights from London start at £740 per person.