Remote, serene, and exotic, Mauritius has long been on the bucket lists of intrepid travellers looking for sun and culture in equal measure.
It’s not every day that sugarcane gets the right of way on a national highway. But whizzing through emerald green, head high sugarcane fields, which sway and dance in the early morning breeze, it’s clear that the sweet stuff gets special dispensation here in the Indian Ocean’s Sugar Isles. It’s everywhere, in every corner, on every horizon, covering every hill and jutting up against the main road, which resembles a black python asleep in the cane.
Located off the coast of Madagascar, in the heart of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is a beloved by travellers from Europe and South Africa and almost unknown to those from Asia and the Americas. Together with its sibling isles, Réunion and Rodrigues, the three make up the Mascarene Islands and have been a favourite tropical holiday destination for well-heeled tourists for decades.
Mauritius is the name of the country as well as the main island, a vibrant, fertile, sun-kissed landscape punctuated by towering volcanic peaks that jut towards the sky, including Piton de la Petite Rivière Noirev, the island’s tallest point, at 828m. There are towns and villages scattered along the rocky coastline, where talcum powder sandy beaches slip into azure seas, but the majority of the island retains a tropical yet distinctly rural tranquillity, with sugar plantations clustered around tiny, colourful villages and the odd resort.
The island had been known to Arab, Malay and Phonecian sailors since the 10th century but it wasn’t until ships from the Dutch Second Fleet were blown onto the island’s idyllic shores in a cyclone, that the island was officially inhabited. The Dutch, then the French controlled Mauritius before the island fell into the hands of the British after the Napoleonic wars.
Mauritius achieved independence in 1968 but still holds its links to France close to its heart; English may be an official language but it’s French-sounding Mauritian Creole spoken in the markets and plantations, and the smoky, rumbling public buses which trundle down the island’s narrow highways display destinations like St Louis, Camp de Masque Pave, and Plein Bois. There’s little doubt that Mauritius is more French Riviera than Bristol.
Air Mauritius’ direct flights from Hong Kong arrive first thing in the morning, and we’re greeted by a captivating scene from the air; below, the island is a blanket of vivid greens with the occasional red rock slash of a farm road. On the fringes, a coast of black granite boulders dances back and forth with calm seas which glisten in the golden sunshine.
Driving through the sugarcane, I wind down the window and breathe in fresh air scented with spices, fertile earth, fruit trees and flowers. We see gaggles of school girls walking to school in spotless white shirts, and mothers dressed in bright summer dresses sauntering through sleepy villages, children perched on their hips. With no indigenous population, the faces of Mauritians testify to the island’s true melting pot status -there are Indians and Africans, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans and plenty of beautiful, exotic mixes.
The main highway seems to have been an infrastructure afterthought; it winds through the sugar plantations like a roller coaster, dipping, diving and changing direction erratically. Subsequently, although the island is only 20 odd kilometres across, nothing happens fast, and it still takes over an hour to get to our resort, the Constance Belle Mare Plage.
One of the largest resorts on the island, the Constance Belle Mare Plage is set on the beautiful east coast of Mauritius, overlooking turquoise seas. A favourite with golfers looking to get rounds on the adjacent Legends golf course, it’s also a perfect spot for honeymooners looking for sun-worshipping on the resort’s two-kilometre long white sandy beach, snorkelling on the nearby coral reefs, and some of the best cuisine on the island.
Our pool villa, located at the far end of the resort, is the kind of place you never want to check out of. With two bedrooms, a spacious living room, a private plunge pool, a shady pool sala, and direct beach access, the villa looks out across a strip of bright white sand to startlingly blue seas, accessed via a private path. Our Villa Master – a tropical take on the butler – serves welcome cocktails and takes down details about our dinner choices, preference for wake-up calls, and tee-off times.
We spend the rest of the day wandering down narrow paths between manicured gardens, exploring the resort. Designed in clusters around large swimming pools, all of which face the sea, there is always a quiet, sun-kissed corner in which to curl up with a book, a cocktail close at hand. Guests staying in pool villas have their own beach chairs, shaded by thatch umbrellas, or sun loungers in the poolside gardens.
As the last of the day’s light drains from the sky, we dine on Mauritian cuisine with European flair at the Deer Hunter restaurant, an alfresco eatery on the fringes of the resort’s Legends golf course. The air is alive with fireflies and in the distance, we can hear laughter and traditional sega music from a nearby village.
First thing in the morning we’re back at the Deer Hunter, this time for a quick breakfast before a morning round on the Legends course. From our breakfast table, we can spy members of the course’s resident deer herd, which number more than 50. The deer clearly know what’s going on; faces peer through the trees as you drive or concentrate on a putt, and groups of the beautiful animals frolic on the fairways but make themselves scarce before you tee off.
Despite the midday heat setting the air to a mild simmer, golf is a major drawcard for many travellers to Mauritius. They come for the long hours of sunshine and the stunning tropical scenery and many hotels offer complimentary green fees at neighbouring courses. There are many sunbathed and sometimes challenging courses to choose from, including Legends, adjacent to Belle Mare Plage, and the Ernie Els-designed course at Anahita.
With its marina, multiple restaurants, lavish day spa and apartment-style accommodation, Anahita is an expansive complex located just south of Belle Mare Plage on the east coast of Mauritius. The Anahita course is the best on the island and is lovingly maintained, guaranteeing an awesome golfing experience, no matter what your score says at the end of the round. Many of the holes are flanked by turquoise lagoons and fringed with white sand beaches, and the luxurious clubhouse is the perfect spot for a meal and a cold drink after a morning in the sun.
We spend our afternoon at the Flacq Markets, the largest open-air markets in Mauritius and a 10-minute drive from the Constance Belle Mare Plage. Flacq is a sleepy but colourful town. A DJ outside a bustling supermarket plays sega music through massive speakers and the fast-paced beat finds its way into every corner of town.
Holes in the tarpaulin roof of the markets let shafts of bright sunlight beam through onto tables stacked with everything from plump eggplants and piles of lethal-looking bullet-sized chillies, to brightly-coloured sarongs and hand-carved jewellery boxes. There are Indian sandals, hand-woven bags in coral pink and green, and bottles of homemade chilli oil. Throughout the markets, there is a loud, happy ambiance as the stallholders bellow their best prices and village women gossip in the balmy, chilli-scented air.
We step into the blissfully air-conditioned supermarket in search of Mauritius’ second most famous product – rum. Where there is sugarcane, there is rum and you can buy local rum – especially the agricole style made from sugarcane juice that’s so popular in ex-French outposts) all over the island. Some Mauritian rums are white and come with a mule’s kick, and are best used in cocktails or, as the locals do, served with a dash of coconut water. Others are dark rums already infused with vanilla, cinnamon and raisins which bob away inside the bottle.
In the smaller villages, you can even find rum that’s freshly infused with long ripe sticks of pineapple and melon, the fruit glistening through the glass. Mauritian rum is very affordable and makes for great gifts, especially the older dark rums which have been barrel-aged, including Green Island‘s Flamboyant Vieux and New Grove‘s Oak Aged.
We decide to spend our last nights in paradise at Constance Le Prince Maurice, one of the island’s most acclaimed resorts. A favourite among couples, you’ll find far fewer children here. Instead, there is a tranquillity throughout the 60 hectares of gardens, swimming pools and beachfront. Located on its own peninsula, Le Prince Maurice feels more like a private estate than a resort and romance is certainly in the air everywhere you go.
There are 76 well-appointed and spacious junior suites, each with thatched roofs, eight of which are located above a natural fish reserve, but for true pampering, head to one of the 12 villas. The nine Senior Villas have direct beach access and heated pools, while three are located above the lagoon. All villas boast whirlpool baths and outdoor soak tubs, perfect for whiling away warm evenings with a bottle of wine.
Although the swimming isn’t as good as that at Belle Mare Plage, which boasts truly stunning snorkelling only ten minutes away by resort boat, the beach is blissfully quiet at Le Prince Maurice, the expansive infinity swimming pool inviting. You can easily lose the hours poolside on massive sun loungers, being waited on by white-gloved pool attendants, or being pampered in the resort’s Guerlain Spa. By evening, guests can dine under the stars as chefs barbeque fresh seafood coated in Creole spices while yachts anchor out in the tranquil bay.
On our final day in Mauritius, we decide to head inland, to the island’s mountainous, lush interior. Domaine de l’Etoile, managed by the same family that owns Anahita, is a truly unique experience and one that couldn’t be more different than sitting on Mauritius’s beaches. A working estate and farm, Domaine de l’Etoile also boasts an activities centre that offers everything from horseback riding, mountain biking and archery to thrilling quad biking.
Mounted on a powerful 400CC quad bike, my partner Maggie and I power up the steep dirt tracks behind our guide, crossing a plateau of – you guessed it – ripe, towering sugarcane, and through puddles of volcanic mud the colour of terracotta, before plunging into the lush jungle again.
At the mountain summit, the view down the south coast of Mauritius is mesmerising. There are jagged, teeth-like peaks and emerald green patches of cane, fields of red clay preparing for the plough, and finally the vibrant blue of the coastal lagoons.
Green, red and blue, the colours of Mauritius, and the colours of a destination that’s authentic, tranquil, and as tantalisingly to regular visitors as it is to the uninitiated.
Air Mauritius has direct flights between Mauritius and 19 international destinations, including Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, Shanghai, and London.
The Constance Belle Mare Plage is perfectly suited for families, with a range of room configurations, multiple restaurants and swimming pools and a wide range of activities. Families and couples will love the lavish pool villas. The Constance Le Prince Maurice is more boutique and intimate and is perfect for honeymooners.
The best golfing in Mauritius can be found at Anahita’s Ernie Els-designed course which is managed by the Four Seasons at Anahita. For horse riding, mountain biking and quad biking, head to the Domaine de l’Etoile.
The cooler months from May to October are the best time to visit.
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