PARADISE FOUND, STATES NAMITA GUPTA AS SHE RECOUNTS HER WEEK SPENT IN THE PARADISE ISLAND OF MAURITIUS
BY NAMITA GUPTA
The stretch of azure blue skies, the languid, bright blue lagoons, sparkling turquoise blue waters, beautiful, soft, white sandy exotic beaches and tall coconut trees that add a picture-perfect element, Mauritius is clearly a paradise in the Indian Ocean. There’s never a moment or spot that’s not intriguing in the Republic of Mauritius, that was named after the Dutch Prince Maurice Van Nassau. On my exploratory sojourn across the east, west, north and south coast of Mauritius, I was on cloud nine feasting on some of the most stunning picture-perfect snapshots nature has to offer. The island’s white beaches are protected by coral reef which runs around the whole island, except for the southern coast that offers wilder strands and dramatic cliffs. From the northern plains, the land rises to a central plateau dotted by lakes and extinct volcanic craters. One of the most fascinating and diverse island nations in the world, Mauritian Urban air has been ranked by WHO as the second best in the world. What also makes Mauritius extraordinary, is that it allows you a laid-back vibe and privacy if you please, and every kind of thrilling adrenaline-fueled adventure activity, if that’s what makes you tick. You can also immerse yourself in art and culture at this travel-friendly destination, which is as seductive to honeymooners as it is for ideal family escape for all three generation.
SALT of Palmar: SALT of Palmar was a great start to the week ahead and my home for two nights. This boutique hotel’s strong commitment to sustainable tourism is its hallmark. It is located on the east coast with ocean facing rooms and has a private access to Belle Mare beach. There’s no paper work for check in, just download the Salt app and within seconds you have every possible information on your phone, including the room key, menu, drinks, signature activities around, rent a bike, immersive experiences, how to skill swap with the locals and more. It’s a fresh feast everyday here (no buffets) with French style of cooking besides cooking methods like charcoal, smoke, grill, wok, bake, tandoor and Josper that lends high flavours to every dish. Food is a huge part of Mauritian culture.
It says it all about this island’s story. It’s African. It’s Indian. It’s Chinese. It’s French. SALT of Palmer uses veggies and fruits from their pesticide-free farms and fresh catch from the nets of their fishermen. I loved my Josper-grilled fish fillet and also the Fish Vindaye, a traditional fish dish at The Restaurant, besides the freshest of artisanal breads baked in-house. There are three bars (Pool Bar, Beach Bar and Rooftop Bar) serving 10 signature cocktails. Also sip on their handmade rums in zesty flavours with views that will urge you to linger on to your drinks forever. You might like to try their moringa tea as well. The zero-plastic policy at SALT is commendable. Full marks for the 100% organic linen on Carpe Diem hand-crafted beds from Sweden and bathrobes made from organic coffee. Another step towards sustainability coming soon at SALT will be the Li-Fi, wireless communication using light. I have high respect for such keen detailing and sensitivity. No wonder they were awarded the Positive Luxury label.
Blue Safari Submarine Dive: When you’re in the tropical island of Mauritius, you know you’ll get your fill of nautical attractions. The Blue Safari Submarine is a great option if you want to indulge in the gorgeous marine world of Mauritius, taking you 35 m down the sea level among the Trou Aux beaches and Mont Choisy.
I love scuba diving, but I explored the ocean differently this time. Seated comfortably in the Blue Safari Submarine with the window on my right, I got a magnificent view of the Star Hope ship wreck, with sea creatures all around as I marvelled at the marine fauna and flora. The pilot navigated the submarine talking about the multi-coloured shoals of fish, coral reef and other rare species of marine animals everytime he spotted them. Underwater world is truly magical and one that must be explored in every possible and responsible manner. After 45 minutes under the deep ocean, I hopped from the submarine back to the ship and also received a diving certificate.
L’Aventure du Sucre: Drive around 18 kms from Blue Safari for a luncheon at La Fangourin restaurant at L’Aventure du Sucre. Dine in the midst of greens and tuck in some sophisticated Creole cuisine. A lot of palm heart is used in Mauritian cooking and my salad of Babonne fish had a generous helping of this locally grown vegetable. After the main course of Fillet of fish with coconut and cauliflower emulsion and dessert, I visited the Sucre factory, where they manufacture 12 kinds of sugar and got to learn about the sugar making process. The visit to L’Aventure du Sucre includes free tasting of 30 products at le Village Boutik including 12 unrefined brown sugars, rums of the New Grove House, jams and honey.
LUX* Belle Mare: At walking distance from the Salt of Palmar is the luxury hotel LUX* Belle Mare, known for its vibrant energy and hospitality of authentic island life, with a stylish contemporary spin. The hotel boasts of several Instagram friendly spots all across the property, the largest pool in Mauritius and Café Lux, the first gourmet coffee brand of Mauritius. The beans roasted at LUX* Belle Mare are expertly transformed by the baristas and then distributed to all Café LUX outlets across the island. I kickstarted the day with the perfect morning fuel of many Mauritians.
Aapravasi Ghat: First stop was a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis, where the first indentured labourers arrived from India. The diaspora began in 1834, when the British Government selected the island of Mauritius to be the first site for the great experiment in the use of free labour, to replace slaves, as slavery was abolished in the British Empire then. Almost half a million indentured labourers arrived at Aapravasi Ghat for 86 years, to work in the sugar plantations of Mauritius. The buildings here explain the earliest manifestations of what was to become a multi-cultural society and global economic system of Mauritius. Around 68 percent of the total population of Mauritius is of Indian ancestry, owing to one of the greatest migrations in history.
Fort Adelaide: Get some breathtaking views on the ride uphill to Fort Adelaide, La Citadelle. Named after Queen Adelaide, the fort was built under the direction of William IV to protect the British from the fear of the remaining French settlers on the island. Today, it is a vantage point offering splendid views of Moka mountain ranges and the capital city of Port Louis, where old buildings stand in juxtaposition to modern-day skyscrapers and helps keep a watch on the harbour.
Caudan Waterfront: Le Caudan Waterfront in Port-Louis is a melting pot for local artistes and gourmands. Take a walk along the buzzing harbour, sip on a drink, meet a friend, listen to music, enjoy a meal, try your luck at the casino or admire artists’ work and indulge in some retail therapy at the scores of shops selling local fare alongside brands on each side.
La Rhumerie de Chamarel: A distillery that grows its own carefully selected sugarcane, La Rhumerie de Chamarel in the South West part of Mauritius is known to produce some rare rums. It is situated in the vicinity of the Coloured Earths of Chamarel and faces the island’s highest mountain, Piton de la. They grow two types of sugarcane out of the 12 existing kinds in Mauritius, grown exclusively for the production of the Chamarel Rums in the heart of a fertile valley.
I saw how the freshly harvested sugarcane is immediately transferred to the distillery to preserve its freshness and aromas. The first pressed sugarcane juice is then filtered and taken to stainless steel vats for fermentation of alcohol. With selection of yeasts and controlled parameters, under the aegis of the Master Blenders, a unique aromatic bouquet of rums is produced. I tasted eight kinds of agricultural rums each with a remarkable finesse after the distillery tour.
Hotel Dinarobin Beachcomber: An ideal setting for a luxury holiday, Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa is a perfect sanctuary to renew your body and soul. Each of the spacious and luxurious suites offer sea views and are in the midst of tropical gardens with exotic trees and cascading pools. Located on the most scenic shoreline in Mauritius with the spectacular Le Morne mountain acting as a dramatic backdrop, Dinarobin Beachcomber is elegant, intimate, comfortable and highly luxurious.
As a guest of Dinarobin Beachcomber, you have the choice to dine at any of the eight restaurants at Paradis or Dinarobin, two sister resorts adjacent to each other, renowned for their exceptional gastronomy in Mauritius. After an adventurous day out, one deserves to tuck in a hearty meal and what better than indulging in some fresh catch at the Fisherman’s Buffet at Paradis Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa. One of the most outstanding restaurants has to be Umami, a Pan-Asian restaurant at Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa, where every dish inspired by the best flavours of Asia was bang on and hit the right spot.
La Vanille Nature Park: La Vanille Nature Park is a stunning idyllic park spread across 12 acres of lush tropical countryside and an exciting wildlife, nestled in the south of Mauritius. Enjoy an unforgettable experience of walking amongst the largest group of captive-bred giant Aldabra and Radiata tortoises in the world. Get up close and personal with the large family of 1000 giant tortoises and feeding the 100-year-old tortoise, Domino.
You also get to hold a one-year-old baby crocodile, if you please and watch 2000 congregation of Nile Crocodiles jostling for their share of meat of the day. The park is home to many monkeys, iguanas, bats, deer, geckos, eels, wild boar and more. Also visit the Insectarium with over 25,000 species, making it one of the biggest collections in the world, an aquarium and fossil museum. La Vanille Nature Park tops the list for doing their bit on conservation of nature and welfare of animals in the midst of a magical setting. It has been designed to make it look how Mauritius looked like hundreds of years back, with an aim to protect and care for these endangered species.
La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park: Drive up 18 kms from La Vanille Nature Park to an exotic wonderland called La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park, home to a unique geological landscape with 23 surreal shades of Earth dating back millions of years following the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano. Explore nature’s beauty on a quad bike or a buggy as you ride up and down the magnificent landscapes of Vallée des Couleurs. I rode into the deep unspoilt wilderness of Vallée des Couleurs, riding the trails on the quad bike. It was a whole new world of adventure along zig zag paths, as I watched nature come to life in all its glory.
If you’re a lover of flora and fauna, you can spend an entire day at this park, spread across 450-acre of varied landscape ranging from mountains, valleys, plateaus and plains. The Siddharth Malhotra-Shraddha Kapoor Bollywood starrer Ek Villain was shot here. Straight after quad biking, I got my adrenaline fix from the flight across the Vallée along the 1.5 km long zip line – the third longest in the world. Nothing can beat my ziplining experience with the stunning bird’s-eye view of majestic waterfalls cascading into shimmering pools and tree top heavens. With so much beauty to absorb, I won’t be surprised if this destination for eco-tourism in Mauritius, soon ranks amongst one of the world’s best resorts and theme parks.
Curious Corner of Chamarel: If you’re around Chamarel, do stop by at the Curious Corner of Chamarel located opposite the Seven Coloured Earths. The gallery features dozens of interactive optical illusions.
Mauritius Glass Gallery: These glass blowers at the Mauritius Glass Gallery blew my mind away. On my visit to the Glass Foundry at Vacoas-Phoenix, I witnessed the team of glass-makers blow, mould and shape glass creating waste to art, before my eyes. These artisans handle molten glass straight from the furnace with their skillful hands, crushing and recycling waste glass into useful objects. Preservation of the local environment was the motivation for creating this company, by the former Mauritius Breweries Ltd and Phoenix Camp Minerals where they recycle glass waste from the two companies.
Flying Dodo Brewing Company: Craft breweries are dime a dozen in the US, Europe and my home city Bengaluru, but Flying Dodo is the first microbrewery for artisanal beers in Mauritius. I tried the full-flavoured Blonde, Nation Ale, IPA and the Belgian Wit. They add new flavours every month. I learnt about their brewing process while waiting for my lunch order of a hearty seafood pizza.
InterContinental Mauritius Resort: Sega dancers gave a warm welcome at the InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort that stretches across one of the most stunning parts of the island, overlooking the Bay of Balaclava and instantly lifted my spirits. The hotel has a chilled-out island vibe and is located just north of the capital city of Port-Louis and a I5-minute drive from the shopping, entertainment and restaurant district of Grand Baie. It has 100 Deluxe Ocean Facing rooms, 40 Prestige Ocean View rooms, 20 Deluxe Room with Private Jacuzzi, 40 Two Bedrooms Family Room, 10 Presidential Duplex Suite complete with private hot tub and roof top terraces, beautifully designed and by far the biggest suites I’ve come across during my travels across the world, with stunning views of the Indian Ocean from every single room.
Food is something that we all hold close to our hearts. Mauritius is one destination where you can experience the best of world cuisine. Chef Himanshu won us over with his specialty Indian dishes at the Indian restaurant Veda. Each of the restaurants at InterContinental Mauritius Resort are a class apart. The pan-Asian restaurant Noble House is known for its Asian fusion specialties, Segala for a taste of Mauritius cuisine and the Sugar Cane Beach Bar for a round of interesting cocktails with sea views.
Senso lays out a lavish spread of international buffet every morning. InterContinental is a world in itself with lots of engaging activities and entertainment within the property.
Seakart: Another fun way to admire the beauty of the Indian Ocean is taking charge behind the wheels of a Seakart. The Seakart is an experience exclusive only to Mauritius and is offered by Fun Adventure Mauritius, next to the La Balise Marina, Black River, on the west coast of Mauritius. I took to the sea on the Seakart like a pro. As I sat behind the steering wheel captaining my seakart, I just knew I was in for an adventure of a lifetime.
With breath-taking scenery and panoramic views all around, I rode at 70km/h on the turquoise Indian Ocean along the spectacular coastline of Mauritius. I throttled fast while enjoying the beautiful blue lagoon and every possible shade of blue there was around bang in the midst of the Indian Ocean. The experience was unsurpassable, to say the least!
Casela: Nothing can beat the stirring feeling when you pet Mambo, a full-grown mighty king of the jungle. Casela World of Adventures at Cascavelle on the West Coast of Mauritius is where I had my face-to-face tryst with the lion. There are three enclosures for Interaction with the Lions and two for Cheetahs. You can also take a Walk with the Lions, Feed the Giraffes, Meet Ella and Benjie, the two white rhinos or go on a camel safari ride.
Casela also offers a wildlife safari where you can encounter zebras, oryx, ostriches, rhinos, impalas, deer, plonked on a jeep, quad or from a Segway. My exuberance knew no bounds when I spotted a zeal of zebras and majestic oryxes in all their glory striking a pose. Another soon to be released Bollywood movie, Malang, starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Disha Patani, was shot just few days before I was there. After a real adventure at Casela Park, it was time for lunch of Dorado Fish and Eggplant Curry with rice at Casela Restaurant, offering a spectacular view over Tamarin Bay and the Mauritian West Coast, with peacocks strutting around.
Flyn’Dive: Another exciting adventure I had in Mauritius that I’ll highly recommend to all you water sports lovers is flyboarding at Flyn’Dive, Grand Baie. With the swim vest on I hopped on to the board with my instructor.
The water jet force sent me soaring gently into the air as I burst out of the clear Ocean waters defying gravity and flying up. I enjoyed the view of the gorgeous Grand Baie all around me, while trying to focus on maintaining my balance. I stopped by for a lunch of baked Dorado fish at a nearby restaurant, post the thrilling Flyboarding experience at Flyn’Dive.
It was time to drive to the airport to catch my Air Mauritius flight back, but not without a stop at one of the most renowned churches in Mauritius, the Notre Dame Auxiliatrice Chapel, a Roman Catholic Church at Cap Malheureux. On another note, Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican, is slated to visit Mauritius this September. With little time at hand, the visit to the Takamaka Boutique Winery was quick, yet Alexander E. Oxenham, the Managing Director and Oenologist was kind enough to showcase the only winery in the world dedicated exclusively to the production of lychee wine. Each of the Takamaka wines made from lychees, that I tasted were exceptional owing to the best terroirs of Mauritius.
One side is surrounded by coral reefs, sparkling lagoons, perfect palm-fringed beaches and cobalt blue soul-stirring sea views and the other side of the landscape is dotted with green sugar cane fields, and jagged volcanic mountains, where Earth itself gives way to heaven. If you have some more time then you must visit Ganga Talao, a crater lake in a secluded mountain area in Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius. With its numerous indulgences, there’s no doubt that Mauritius is world’s favourite holiday destination and nothing can stop me from returning to its shores again.
Best time to visit: May to December. The summer months of November to April are warm and winter months of May to October are cooler, with the wettest months being December to March.
Getting there: Mauritius is well-connected by Air Mauritius flights from Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi. Indian nationals do not need to apply for prior visa and can easily get the visa stamped for free on arrival.