Mauritius: beyond the beaches
Discover the little-known delights of this jewel of the Indian Ocean as it celebrates its 50th anniversary
As Mauritius celebrates its 50th year of independence, now is the perfect time to jump off the sunlounger and explore what lies beyond the beaches in one of the world’s most fascinating cultural melting pots.
While the island’s resorts offer an unparalleled experience for newlyweds, their allure can overshadow the rest of this stunning country, obscuring a culture and a people that have achieved great things during their half century of freedom.
When it became independent in 1968, Mauritius had few resources beyond sugar cane. Five decades later, its inhabitants enjoy living standards that are the envy of almost every other nation in this part of the world.
Much of that success is down to the tight-knit nature of this community. Living in such close proximity breaks down barriers, and mutual respect and tolerance are deeply ingrained here.
Indeed, spending just a few days on the island gives an insight into how Mauritius has achieved the kind of multicultural harmony that many nations can only hope for, despite being home to a wide range of different faiths.
Mauritius has the world’s third-largest percentage of its population identifying as Hindu, behind India and Nepal, and temples, mosques and churches are scattered across the island.
It’s impossible not to feel the spiritual connection of a place such as Grand Bassin, a crater the lake that is a centre of Hindu pilgrimage. Between the end of February and beginning of March, it hosts a series of events, with more than 400,000 believers converging there to celebrate the festival of Maha Shivaratri.
What to do?
To mark this year’s anniversary of its independence, Mauritius is holding a series of celebrations across the island, including ceremonies, live music and performances.
Of course, much of the festivities will be well spent enjoying the local cuisine, a sumptous blend of Creole, Chinese, European and Indian cookery.
It’s common for a combination of different cuisines to form part of the same meal, with fragrant curries served up alongside spicy bouillabaisses. Whatever is on the menu, the food is uniformly excellent, whether you’re eating Chinese, Indian, or something in between.
As with so many places, the island’s gastronomy provides a fascinating insight into its culture. Perfectly catering for those interested in the overlap between food and identity, the My Moris food tour of the island’s capital, Port Louis, offers a great - not to mention tasty - introduction to how Mauritian food and culture connect.
My Moris walking tour
During a leisurely three-hour tour, knowledgeable My Moris guides lead you by foot through the different quarters of Port Louis, explaining how the bustling city has been shaped by waves of migration as you stop at food stalls to sample local delights.
Highlights of the tour include wafer-thin puri pastries stuffed with a spicy lentil mix, and perfectly seasoned samosas. Explaining the history of the island’s Chinese migrants ends with a trip to a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant offering some of the best dumplings this side of Xinjiang.
Tours are held on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 9am to 12pm, and cost Rs 2,400 (£50) for adults, and Rs 1,200 (£25) for children
Electro-Bike Discovery tour
What My Moris expertly achieves in Port Louis, Laurent Marrier d'Unienville and his Electro-Bike Discovery tours manage across the island’s less inhabited areas. The ecologically responsible bike tours allow travellers to experience the unknown and the unexpected, from the comfort of a well-padded saddle.
Laurent's personal journey from being a high-flying executive to the founder of this social responsible company typifies the protective attitude that Mauritians have for their natural landscape. And with a range of bikes on offer, even the most nervous of riders can hit the road feeling safe and secure.
The six-hour Grand Port Tour costs Rs 2,780 (£58.40) and includes light refreshments and lunch.
Unsurprisingly given its setting in the south of the Indian Ocean, the history of Mauritius is indelibly linked with colonialism. Dotted around island are perfectly preserved colonial houses, of which Eureka House is a prime example. Situated just south of Port Louis, the Creole mansion is a veritable time machine, providing interesting insights into the island’s plantation past.
The main manor is a masterpiece of tropical construction, with an interior that stays wonderfully cool throughout the long, hot summers. But perhaps Eureka House’s most appealing feature is the stunning waterfall set just below the mansion’s gardens: the short clamber down to see it builds up the appetite for the wonderful food at the on-site restaurant.
Tickets to Eureka House mansion, garden and waterfalls cost Rs 380 (£8) for adult Rs 285 (£6) for children
Océane’s sunset catamaran cruise
The Mauritian sunsets are a riot of red, orange and pink hues that blend to paint a magical seascape. Océane’s catamarans offer the perfect way to soak in this magnificent sight, on one of their sunset cruises.
Passengers meet at 4.30 PM on the pier at Black River Bay, before setting off for a relaxing evening on the waves. As the catamaran glides over the tranquil lagoon, sip on a Mauritian cocktail, made with local rum. When the stars come out, the boat heads back to shore.
Océane’s sunset cruise costs from Rs 2,400 (£50) for adults and Rs 1,200 (£25) for children
Where to stay?
Maradiva Villas Resort and Spa
Nothing is too much trouble for the welcoming staff at Maradiva, and the private villas are sure to delight even the most discerning of guests.
Drawing on its Indian heritage, the resort features an award-winning holistic spa, as well as excellent cuisine and a private plunge pool in the grounds of every villa.
While hospitality comes naturally to Mauritians the island over, Maradiva’s staff offer truly world-beating levels of service. Add to that the spectacular views across pristine white sands and it is easy to see why Maradiva has become known as one of Mauritius’s best resorts.
Rooms from £523 in low season, and £700 in high season, on half-board basis
Le Touessrok Resort and Spa
Quite simply, Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort and Spa is picture-perfect.
Thoughtfully renovated, every room and suite at the beach-side resort features island themes in plush, contemporary designs, while the windows boast uninterrupted views of the sparkling, turquoise waters outside.
Le Touessrok also offers fashionable restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, and a wide range of bespoke experiences.
Choosing a favourite feature of the hotel is almost impossible, but the exquisite detail in the culinary options is certainly a highlight. The curries are cooked to perfection, and the lobster linguine lingers long in the memory.
Another major attraction is Ilot Mangénie, a paradisal island just off the resort’s shores, which is exclusively available to guests and features a beach club and on-island serving staff. Lounging around on Ilot Mangénie is probably the closest most of us will get to having our own private island, and it’s blissful.
Rooms from £283 per night.
How to get there
During the colonial days, Mauritius was known as the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, a nod to its strategic position. These days, the government is establishing the island as a hub for flights to mainland Africa.
National carrier Air Mauritius offers a good service, with passengers enjoying a warm welcome and the opportunity to start their Mauritian experience the moment they step on board the plane.
Economy Class return fares from £790 per person, including all taxes. Business Class return fares from £2,700 per person