It is not surprising that Mark Twain once remarked that God modelled Heaven on Mauritius, because this jewel of the Indian Ocean is truly paradise on earth.
This relatively small picture perfect island (smaller than Shropshire!) has calm crystal lagoons, lush mountain peaks and palm fringed beaches encircled by coral reefs. The exotic mix of Indian, European, Chinese and Creole influences gives a feel of a “world-in-one-island” that is reflected in its history, food, culture and architecture.
Mauritius is famed for its vivid coral reef, world class golf courses and luxurious accommodation but the island offers so much more once you can tear yourself away from the palm fringed beaches. There is a warmth and generosity of spirit that the Mauritian people display that is hard to find elsewhere and this is one of my enduring memories of my first trip Mauritius in 2003.
It’s capital, Port Louis, Africa’s wealthiest city has a distinct charm, it’s crumbling buildings with a historic past and a cosmopolitan waterfront form a perfect contrast for leisurely discovery. The spice and fruit market is perhaps the biggest draw where once can see mounds of watermelons, pineapples and lychee and smell an air filled with fresh tea leaves and frangipani.
Once night falls, the air fills with the sound of Sega the national dance of the island, originally introduced by African slaves in the French colonial period. This exotic and sometimes erotic dance said to be a cry from the soul trying to transcend the miseries and heartaches of life, while at the same time expressing the universal human desire for joy and happiness. Today the Sega and its beat are a part of every Mauritian’s life.
Further inland, take a trip to the Pamplemousse Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere to see Giant Amazon water lilies, bright bougainvillea and hibiscus. The gardens are home to one of the largest species of palm in the world – the Talipot which blooms every 60 years. The stalk can bear over 20 million tiny cream flowers so it is well worth the wait if you are lucky to see it in its glory!
2012 saw the 200th anniversary of the famous Turf Club in Mauritius, the oldest racecourse in the Southern Hemisphere. It has an enviable location on the West Coast at Champ de Mars with a backdrop of mountains on one side and sea on the other. Crowds of up to 30,000 gather each Saturday from May to November to enjoy the electrifying atmosphere, entry is free but it is worth paying a small charge to sit at The Lodge for a bird’s eye view of the finishing line.
The excellent sea conditions and beautiful coral reefs make Mauritius a perfect place to scuba dive, the reefs have not been bleached or affected by the warming of the ocean, so the crystal clear waters and abundance of fish life provide magnificent backdrops for underwater photography. Lagoons on the North East Coast where the sea is protected from trade winds have the best tropical fish life and coral reefs and provide safe and enjoyable dives to suit all abilities. Artificial reefs have been created by sinking old Japanese fishing trawlers to provide exciting and unusual dive sites.
Many people immediately think of Mauritius as the perfect place to celebrate their nuptials (as I did for my own honeymoon nearly 10 years ago), and whilst Mauritius still proves an excellent choice for weddings and honeymoon, few places beat it for a family holiday. The weather is hot without being unbearable and the island offers lots of activities both on land and sea for children and adults alike. With a plethora of family friendly hotels famed for having exceptional service it is no wonder Mauritius is considered one of the safest and friendliest destinations in the world.
When one considers the year round climate, chic hotels, sophisticated cuisine, powder soft beaches and gently swaying fields of sugar cane, it is easy to appreciate the wisdom of Mark Twain’s words.