With its crystal blue waters, powdery beaches and a tropical climate, Mauritius is a magnet for honeymooners and affluent jet setters, seeking the holy trinity of sun, sand and surf. But there's so much more to this idyllic paradise, situated off the south-east coast of Africa, than coconuts and days upon days of snorkelling!
Venture beyond the luxury of your resort and Mauritius will enchant you with its mix of culture, wildlife, golfing greens, delicious food, great shopping and a pulsating nightlife. There's alluring history too. The island's roots go back to include descendants of African slaves and Indian labourers, and a legacy of Dutch, French and British colonisation resulting in a charming mosaic of cultures, cuisine and warm people.
A comfortable seven-hour Air Mauritius flight delivers me blinking into bright Mauritian sunshine. After driving for an hour along the island's palm-fringed coast, I reach the western tip of the island ~ a scenic peninsula that is home to the Dinarobin Hotel. Flanked by a staggering volcanic mountain range, the property nestles at the foot of a towering, purple-hued lava peak called Le Morne.
The hotel's ocean-facing suite, glassy water bodies straddling boardwalks, as well as a raft of restaurants, encourage me to lead a convalescent life. A scenic stretch of white coral sand fringing a sporting playground includes an 18- hole international-standard golf course here.
Golf buggies purr around the grounds while cardinal birds chatter, exuding exotic serenity. My double-storey suite contains everything I could wish for from a wellappointed five-star resort , including an insect-repellent body lotion although I never saw any insects.
History & culture
Cradling in a natural basin, the Capital city of Port Louis is well worth negotiating through dense crowds. It is an interesting mix of colonial architecture, atmospheric bazaars, the historic Champ de Mars racecourse, Le Caudan Waterfront, a shopping plaza and Chinatown. Port Louis is also the wealthiest city in Africa peppered with spiffy boutiques, stylish eateries, handsome hotels and a lively marina. I amble around the marina bustling with cruise ships, shoppers, honeymooners strolling around hand-in-hand and selfieclicking tourists.
I next drive down to Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, one of the most visited attractions in Mauritius. Located near Port Louis in the district of Pamplemousse, the garden was initially the private garden of the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago. Later, it morphed into the national botanical garden of Mauritius.
The gardens are oases of peace and tranquillity with a soundtrack of chirping birds playing in a loop. Stretching over endless acres, they showcase over 650 varieties of rare plants, including the famed Baobabs, the Palmier Bouteille, Giant Water Lilies, medicinal plants and herbs and a substantial spice garden. Over 85 different varieties of palm trees ~ brought from different corners of the world ~ add to its allure along with a trove of indigenous species of plants.
Next on my list was a trip to Chamarel, one of the most amazing natural wonders in Mauritius, where sevencoloured earth exists in a lunar-like landscape. Due to the tropical weather conditions, all water-soluble elements such as silicon dioxide have been washed out on the ground here. The result is the sedimentation of reddishblack iron- and aluminium oxides which create shades in blue, cyan and purple. Apparently, over millennia, the rocks here were pulverized into sands which settled into distinct layers. Rains have carved beautiful patterns into the Chamarel hillside, creating an effect of earthen meringue. At first one notices shadows on the hills, creating a chiaroscuro of different hues. But on closer inspection, you realise that the colours are real and the shadows were the illusion! Indeed the wonders of Mauritius are too many!
Being a foodie, Mauritian cuisine interested me enormously due to its multiple influences. From Creole stews to Indian curries, sushi to noodles as well as continental fare, the island satiates one's every craving. The exquisite Hotel Heritage Le Telfair in Le Ombre even offers an innovative barefoot dining where one can eat overlooking the ocean and a pool! At the hotel's Gin'ja restaurant, which specialises in flavoursome Asian cuisine, a delectable lobsterthemed dinner had me tucking into dishes revolving around the crustacean. There was a feast for the eyes too ~ nubile sega dancers serenading us to the strains of mellifluous music! The next day, Chef Deepak tantalized my taste buds with Indian cuisine at Zafaran. Bharwan Alloo, Mahi Tikka Achari, Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh and a trio of desserts ~ rasmalai, kheer and halwa transported me to culinary heaven.
Neeta Lal is a Delhi-based Editor and Journalist