By Stuart Forster
A combination of stylish beachfront resorts, tropical sunshine and soft sandy beaches mean that many travellers who make the overnight flight from London happily forgo sightseeing during holidays in Mauritius. Yet for those so inclined, there’s much to do beyond sunbathing, sea swimming and sipping cocktails mixed with locally distilled rum.
The modest size of the main island means that journeys between even the most distant points rarely take more than 90 minutes. Consequently, practically anywhere is accessible during day trips.
My temporary base was a sumptuous villa with a private pool and terrace at Maradiva Villas Resort and Spa by Wolmar on the south-west of the island. The region is celebrated for its vibrant sunsets and on my first evening the sky glowed gold and then deepened to a magnificent red.
The next morning, I sipped coffee while observing redwhiskered bulbuls flitting between the outdoor breakfast tables. They helped themselves to departed guests’ leftovers before the attentive staff had a chance to clear tables. Afterwards, over at the spa, the resident Ayurvedic doctor outlined the holistic philosophy of the ancient Indian medicinal system and recommended a relaxing full-body massage to ease me into my stay.
Glistening with spice-infused oil, I headed straight to the chef’s organic garden to learn how to cook local dishes including Mauritian chicken curry. The outdoor demonstration included an insight into traditional ingredients followed by lunch with fellow guests
Afterwards, while plodging in the coral-strewn water of the Indian Ocean I gazed towards nearby Le Morne Brabant, one of several mountains jutting above the shoreline. Hiking is a way of exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose steep sides and dense foliage once aided people escaping slavery to maintain their newfound liberty.
The country’s only other world heritage site is Aapravasi Ghat. By the waterfront in Port Louis, the capital city, it is similar to New York’s Ellis Island in that many of the country’s residents can trace their ancestors’ arrivals via the complex. The visitor centre explains that, after slavery was abolished in 1835, around 462,000 indentured labourers were shipped to Mauritius to work on plantations. That indentured labour system – which the centre portrays as barely more humane than what it replaced – was subsequently introduced in other British colonies.
Among the dark grey basalt stonework of a long-disused kitchen, I spotted ‘COWEN’ imprinted on yellowy firebricks. The firebricks are a legacy of global trade during the days of the British Empire. They were transported from the now-demolished Blaydon-on-Tyne factory that inspired Firebrick Brewery’s name.
To gain my bearings in Port Louis, I headed to Fort Adelaide, a historic citadel with fine views over the Mauritian capital, including the neighbouring Champ de Mars Racecourse. The ramparts’ volcanic stone radiated summer heat, leaving me longing for one of the iced cocktails I’d been enjoying each evening back at my resort’s Breaker’s Bar.
Instead, I cooled off downtown thanks to the airconditioning in the Bank of Mauritius Museum. Digital screens tell the story of the island’s money while cabinets showcase banknotes and coins dating back to dinars used centuries ago by Arab traders.
For outdoor adventure, I headed to La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park. When the now-extinct Bassin Blanc volcano last erupted, 100,000 years ago, minerals and gases tinged lava with 23 colours – hence the park’s name. Straddling a quad bike, I twisted along a hillside track, pausing at a waterfall, before descending nearly a mile along the longest zipline in Mauritius for a bird’s eye view of the multicoloured landscape.
After striding out in Black River Gorges National Park, which has trails for hikers of all levels, I took on liquid – but not necessarily the sort recommended by nutritionists after hiking. I enjoyed a liberal rum tasting at the Rhumerie de Chamarel, a distillery within view of Black River Peak – the highest mountain in Mauritius.
On my final day in Mauritius, a speedboat tour of islands off the east coast brought the thrills of thumping across open water at high speed and a close encounter with a pod of dolphins.
Enviously I looked on at the seemingly smiling sea creatures as they arched through the water, aware that they would still be enjoying the Indian Ocean long after I’d returned home.