When I told my friends that I was off to Mauritius, they queried why I was going to a honeymoon destination when I quite clearly hadn’t been saying any vows, apart from vowing to avoid all dating apps. But to class the whole island as just a place for canoodling couples, would be doing it a disservice.
Sitting in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar, the volcanic island (once home to the ill-fated dodo) isn’t all just white sandy beaches, luxury resorts and picture-perfect sunsets. Sure it’s flanked by palm trees and the waters are a sparkling turquoise, but it’s a mix of cultures, natural wonders, fishing villages, street food and friendly locals too. If that doesn’t have you packing your suitcases and searching for your passports already, then here are 9 more reasons why you need to visit this slice of dreamy paradise.
Culture and History
Having been colonised by the Dutch, claimed by the French and captured by the British, the island is a melting pot of different cultures. With each ruling country inhabiting the island with slaves, labourers, merchants and artisans, the modern- day population is primarily made up of Indo-Mauritians, Mauritian Creoles and Sino-Mauritians. And the mix of influences mingles across the country, on one corner you can get your fill of dim sum, on the next you can (if you’re so way inclined) stuff yourself silly with curry.
Ornate mosques, Hindu temples and Chinese temples all sit side by side. Creole and French are widely spoken but then English is the national language. They drive on the left but you’re not going to find them keeping two seconds behind the car in front, that’s for sure. For all the differences, though, there is a feeling of complete unity, as one local said ‘Mauritius is the island of humility’.
While I could have remained limpet like to my sun lounger working on fixing my pink under-cooked sausage like skin it was the lure of more food in the island’s capital city of Port Louis that got me to move. Sometimes overwhelming, it’s a feast for the senses, it’s here that you’ll get a real sense of the different cultures. Start downtown to see the web of ethnic quarters, colonial buildings, temples and mass of street food.
Next head up to the Central Market. First founded by the Victorians you’ll find stall after stall of souvenirs, fresh produce and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Be prepared to keep your wits about you and bargain for EVERYTHING. Crime rates are low, but still you will be approached and sold to at every turn. If Port Louis is a bewildering hive of activity during the day, at night it’s quite the opposite with only the waterfront and its handful of bars that tend to stay open, so don’t go expecting raucous nights out.
Food maketh the trip and Mauritians know how to eat well. Their national dish is Dholl puri, a simple but devilishly moreish yellow split-pea pancake served with different curries and sauces. Of course, being an island there is seafood by the bucket load, give the typical dish of fish vindaye a go, it’s made from fried, pickled fish with mustard seeds, ginger and garlic. Looking for quick snacks? Make sure you get your hands on gato piments, balls of fried split peas mixed with chilli and turmeric. They’re often served with baguette and sweet vanilla tea for breakfast.
If, like me, chili leaves you feeling all hot and bothered (less than ideal when the temperature is already reaching 30 degrees) then head to Port Louis’ China Town which is lined with modest street cafes and bakeries where you can try out boulettes (Chinese dumplings in broth), dim sum, sweet red bean dumplings (often made with black lentils) and glutinous, chewy sesame balls made from rice flour; given free rein and I’m pretty sure I would have soon resembled one. Often the easiest way to find the best food is just to look for the stalls with queues, but if you want to learn more about the history of the city and food then check out My Moris who run guided tours including a gourmet and history tour.
And what to drink whilst chain-eating deep-fried snacks? Vanilla tea! Tea was first introduced to Mauritius when the British ruled back in 1890…what a surprise and its popularity hasn’t waned, it’s still the drink of choice. For those wanting to learn more while exploring the island, there is a tea route that takes in colonial house Domain des Aubineaux, tea plantation, Bois Chéri and finishes at the early 19th century house, Saint Aubin house.
We, however, headed straight to the most famous, Bois Chéri for a tour of the factory, museum and, as we visited before the midday sun got too hot, we saw the fields filled with the workers picking the leaves. Trust me after seeing the work that goes into creating a single cup of tea, you won’t go wasting those tea bags again. Created in 1892, the plantation specialises in vanilla tea (although you’ll find many more flavours now) and with planting rising up to 500 meters above sea level it offers breath -taking views. Sit outside the restaurant and drink in not only the tea, but also the incredible Instagrammable landscapes.
With almost a 100 miles of beaches, you’re never going to be too far from a stretch of sand to flop down on book in hand after you’ve eaten one too many gato piments. For your classic white sand and turquoise water beaches then head to Trou aux Biches or Île aux Cerfs, where, depending on how active you’re feeling, you can take part in numerous water sports or just snooze under a palm tree. For those wanting to catch some waves, head to Tamarin Bay, admittedly it isn’t as picturesque as some of the others, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in being the island’s only surf beach and you’ve got a good chance of spotting dolphins – especially if you get up early before all the boats head out.
Staying in your resorts would be a real injustice to Mauritius if you’re going to do that you might as well stay at home, whack up the heating and sit in a sand pit with your feet in a bucket of water. One way to get a real feel for the island and get off the beaten track is on a bike tour. We headed off with Electro-Bike Mauritius, who offer a number of different full and half day tours around the island. The beauty of an electric bike? With the push of a button you’re surging up to the top of cliffs to look out across the sea, you’re pedalling along twisting lanes and up hills scattered with villages and four hours later you’re still cycling, Tour de France here I come.
But for all the spectacular views and lush scenery, it was the snippets of everyday Mauritian life that we glimpsed that made the sweaty cycle worth it. The smell of curry drifting out of windows, children playing in the street, the party atmosphere because it was Independence Day, men up to their waists fishing in the sea, dogs snoozing in the sun, women dressed in brightly coloured saris wandering down the street and the sound of reggae from car radios.
Another way to explore the island is of course, off land by boat. To be fair to them Fyre Festival had a nifty promo video and you can recreate it without any worry of how you’re going to import bottled water with your own catamaran tour.
Situated in Black River Bay, JPH Charters offers a range of tours and excursions and for two hours they let me live out my semi-real influencer dreams. We set out just before sunset, stopping to snorkel, before climbing back on board, cracking open the beers, cranking up the music and feasting on BBQ skewers whilst we watched the sun go down. We returned as the sky turned a milky purple, the clouds darkened and the bats came out to play. It’s probably the closest I’m going to get to feeling like a celebrity, which is why I took about 1001 photos, that should keep my imaginary fans happy for a while.
Mauritius’ beauty doesn’t just lie in its coast line or imposing volcanic rocks, head inland and you’ll find the Black River Gorges National Park. If you’re pressed for time, then make a beeline straight up (albeit a twisting mountain road) to the Gorges viewpoint to take in the sheer vastness of the land – it’s a real ‘I really am just a dot on this earth’ moment. As with any photogenic spot, head there early to avoid the numerous tourists and their selfie sticks and watch out for opportunistic monkeys. They aren’t trying to be your friend, they want your phone – don’t learn the hard way.
To the west of the park is Chamarel, a mountain village which is famed for its impressive waterfalls and seven-coloured earth, while they have made an attraction out of what is essentially sand, clever, if you’re short of time I would give these a miss as they’re a little underwhelming.
Picture this, the sun is shining, the sky a glorious blue and you’re in a garden filled with vibrant flowers and tropical fruit sipping on rum. Sounds like the antidote to any London woes doesn’t it? Lucky for you, once you’ve been to chase the waterfalls and see the sand (or not) of Chamarel, you’re a coconut’s throw from Rhumerie de Chamarel. This sunny spot makes cultivates their own sugarcane (a rare occurrence) and hosts tours where you can discover the distillation process and try the rums.
Since 2006 when the government lifted a ban restricting the production of rum, Mauritius had set about making smooth rums and maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the setting but I have a feeling not, it really was just an excellent rum. They’ve also got a fine dining restaurant, L’Alchimiste, which far from being a money making extra, is worth a visit in its own right – it makes an excellent curry.
Where to Stay
After a twelve hour flight, walking into Veranda Tamarin was nothing short of a dream, with the biggest Mauritian welcome. The new hotel (it only opened last November) sits on the edge of Tamarin Bay, I’m pretty sure with enough oomph I could have jumped from my room right onto the sand. The property made up of 116 rooms has laid back chilled island vibes. Hammocks are strategically placed so you can flop into them for a nap after lunch at one of the two restaurants or after a swim in the rooftop pool. And that is the gem of the hotel, a rooftop infinity pool looking out into the bay. A rooftop bar means you’re always just a stretch away from a cocktail and there are always enough sun loungers.
We were staying a Privilege Room meaning we had sea views, at night we could sit on our balcony and watch men out crabbing and in the morning, pinky sunrises would wake us. The rooms are paired back but chic, think white washed walls, stone floors, hits of sunny yellow, ferns and big mirrors. Rooms come with beach mats and towels, baskets and cool boxes – everything you need for a day’s exploring. And with rooms starting at just £70 it’s an affordable way to stay without compromising on style.
We then moved onto majestic, 5-star, Lux* Le Morne. Nestled at the foot of the rugged Le Morne mountain, the hotel is fringed by beautiful coastline, facing out onto the lagoon. As soon as you step inside, they wrap you in an orange-scented luxurious embrace and it doesn’t stop. Rooms have a colonial feel with dark wood interiors, king beds and private terraces, but the pièce de résistance was the outdoor shower, there’s something rather thrilling in showering in your own private courtyard.
There are three restaurants on site, East, a taste of Thailand, The Beach offering Mediterranean dishes and the main restaurant, The Kitchen. My best piece of advice: get up in time for breakfast because I have never seen a breakfast like it, there is everything you could think of, from matcha croissants and pancakes to noodles and potatoes. Even the fussiest of fussy eaters can eat. Adventurous eaters can also take part in sunset urchin masterclass. Set up on the beach and served with champagne, the urchin master will catch and prepare urchins right in front of you. It’s a unique experience which shouldn’t be missed.
As well as a spa, health and fitness centre and tennis courts, there are also plenty of water sports included the stay such as snorkelling, paddle boarding and pedalos – all I can say is pedalling through clear water, topping up my tan certainly beats dodging the crowds and rebel ducks on the Serpentine.
On our last evening we joined the hotel team on the beach for their weekly meet and greet with guests where they serve complimentary cocktails. The evening finishes with a fire show on the sea’s edge. It was a magical way to end the trip.
At the risk of fan-girling over Mauritius, it is my new favourite country. It’s a modest, humble country, with a big sense of comedy, warmth and good food. Whether you’re looking for luxury, authenticity, adventure or utter relaxation, Mauritius has it all – whether you’re married or not.