Mauritius :Rainbow Nation
When opposites meet, often there is a magical, alchemic reaction. And where Mauritius meets the sea where the volcanic island touches the shimmering aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean there is a miraculous seam of palm-fringed beaches.
Words by Mark Parren Taylor
That ribbon of beaches runs along much of Mauritius’ coast, a 177km-long seaboard where land and water seem to ever-so-gently merge. It’s no wonder: Mauritius is protected by coral reefs that keep big waves (and big fish like sharks) away. It is those reefs in part that end up as the fine, pearlescent sand on the beaches.
You could be forgiven for thinking of Mauritius as the treasure island. Spend long enough on a beach – with talcum-soft sand between your toes, casuarina trees, and palms gently swaying in the breeze – and soon enough thoughts come to mind that there might be a buried chest nearby.
But there are other riches to be found around the edges of the island. And local fishermen, whether professionals or hobbyist anglers, have long profited from the abundant waters. From early in the morning, you find them pulling their catch ashore in the shadow of Le Morne, a 556m-high basalt monolith in the extreme southwest. On the opposite side of the island, they stand out in the shallows until late afternoon, rods poised, waiting for a bite.
That’s on the eastern coastline, which wiggles and curls like a hooked grouper. The coastal road meanders alongside, passing a succession of hidden coves and bays that are interspersed with luxury resorts next to sweeping beaches.
Follow the road all the way to the northernmost point and find a magical spot where yachts and dinghies bob in the water and the grassy shore touches the lapping waves. It’s called Cap Malheureux (‘Cape of Misfortune’) but it’s hard to equate the name with how lucky you feel that you’re there.
Capital city Port Louis is sited on the west coast, approximately midway between the ‘unfortunate’ cape and UNESCO World Heritage Site Le Morne. It’s the flip side of the tiny seaside settlements that predominate, but it is an exciting opportunity to explore the island’s mingling of African, Indian, Chinese, and European communities – and in the process its unique culture and cuisine.
A wander through the city’s streets takes in the merchants of the Central Market district, Jummah Mosque (a Moorish-style oasis dating from the mid-19th century that is painted the colour of the surrounding seas), and buzzy Chinatown. You’ll discover rooftop pagodas, Indian sweet shops, grand Victorian-era buildings, and the 16th century Citadel which looms on a craggy hilltop and offers fine views across the reassuringly compact city centre.
On the north side of the bus station, at the end of Dr Sun Yat Sen Street, little Trou Fanfaron food market satisfies commuters’ cravings with a variety of Mauritian titbits. Look out for Ameenah’s stall in particular. She handmakes roti flatbread, which she then tops with chilli paste (sweetened with apple and orange), mashed broad bean, brede songe (stewed taro leaves) and rougaille (the iconic Mauritian spicy tomato sauce). It’s a superior snack that exemplifies the island’s fusion cuisine, which is in turn a manifestation of the mingling of cultures, languages, and outlooks.
If the big city and high-end hotels dominate the island’s extraordinary coastline, its interior is evidence of Mauritius’ geological beginnings and colonial yesteryear, with lush mountains and steamy valleys, villages and vintage villas,
fruit orchards and sugarcane estates.
As well as sugarcane, the Bois Cheri plantation (saintaubinloisirs.com) specialises in tea and vanilla, and you can get a taste of both in its Saint Aubin restaurant, evocatively set in an old-world mansion dating back to 1819. Alternatively, the antique interior of Maison Eureka, an elegant villa from the 1830s, is a snapshot of its era, and the attached restaurant is a good spot to sample island creole cookery. There’s even a rather handsome statue of a dodo, the long-time extinct flightless bird which was native to Mauritius.
It’s back to the beach at the end of the day, for a walk through the waves that wash over the warm sand. As ocean blues turn golden with the setting sun, it’s hard to imagine anywhere more enchanting than this place where
land and sea kiss
Jakarta to Mauritius
Codeshare route WithKenya Airways via Nairobi
Frequency 7 ﬂights per week
From Colours January 2020
5 Senses – Sight
Near by Le Morne UNESCO World Heritage Site, ‘Seven-coloured Earth’ is a curious collection of sand dunes located in the heart of the tropical forest. The distinctly hued dunes are formed from the dust of different volcanic rocks. Not so far away, Chamarel Waterfall is an impressive sight, as is the sweeping panorama from the nearby viewpoint which takes in Le Morne and the southwestern seaboard.