Published in Wanted 06 February 2017
An unforgettable island holiday, from marine reserves to world heritage sites.
Tell a Mauritian resident you intend driving yourself from the east to the west coast for a meeting and they’ll sympathise. It’s a long drive: an hour to 90 minutes, depending on traffic, they’ll say. You might consider hiring a taxi or staying overnight.
Google Maps is not the most reliable guide — village roads morph into a maze for the uninitiated and many are unnamed. Then there are the “wild” dogs to contend with. Read “free to roam” rather than “homeless”, explained Lux* Belle Mare general manager Ashish Modak, shortly after completing the resort’s second sterilisation campaign with the Protection of Animals Welfare Society (Paws). For an animal lover, the proliferation of dogs who survive in less-than-ideal circumstances can temper that initial infatuation with the island, but organisations such as Paws continue to campaign for them, and there are great stories about resort staff and guests adopting local animals and relocating them as far away as the Netherlands.
For my seventh visit to Mauritius in late 2016, Kimberley Reid doubled as photographer and navigator and we set off to cover all four corners of the island in four days, beginning with the east coast. My favourite resorts were fully booked, so we planned to split our nights among La Mirage Residence Guesthouse in Belle Mare, the Golden Shell in Trou dʼ Eau Douce, and a friend’s duplex near Grand Bay in the north.
The Air Mauritius direct flight from Cape Town lands in the southeast at about 9pm, giving us just enough time to catch the end of the set by the One&Only Le Saint Géran’s legendary Famous 9 band and collect a hired car before heading to bed in Belle Mare.
The resort’s location on an exclusive peninsula means that guests can enjoy a range of watersports, from standup paddle boarding to waterskiing, on the property. We returned the following day and I made a beeline for the Hobie 15s, my regular skipper sacrificing his day off to accompany me. Even the wind showed up! A seafood lunch under the palm trees, followed in quick succession by spa treatments in the garden pavilion, poolside cocktails, and a tour of the new-look suites due to be unveiled after an extensive refurbishment at the end of 2017, led to dinner and dancing under the stars.
We headed southeast on day two, en route to Ile des deux Cocos in the Blue Bay Marine Reserve. An upgraded highway system has transformed travel between the main centres over the last couple of years — if you miss a turn, you simply head for the next roundabout, retrace your route, and try again or, if time allows, explore wherever your navigator takes you! That day we covered the capital of Port Louis and a few of the small villages, but not on purpose.
Ile des deux Cocos is a private island that all the locals know about, so we expected to be well signposted and easy to find. Not so much. Eventually resorting to my broken French, we obtained directions to the island ferry. The island, which is is open for day visits from the public or exclusive-use bookings for any occasion, was leased to the Lux* Resorts & Hotels group in 2001. It offers accommodation at a two-bedroom villa that was once the domain of governor Hesketh Bell in the ’20s when he needed to let his hair down away from his official residence. Every Friday, a platoon would arrive to hoist his flag to announce his imminent weekend stay and prevent anybody accessing the island apart from the partygoers.
If you need to work off the culinary indulgences provided by the open-air restaurant, guests can play beach volleyball, badminton or frisbee. We chose a slow walk around the island instead, which took all of 20 minutes, but that exercise spurt was shortlived. Longtime island manager Mario de L’Estrac is a master of rum creations — his own and those of his grandfather — which we simply had to taste. His favourites? The infusions with citrus, coffee, and chilli. We left reluctantly with a freshly made bottle of the latter and a reminder to give it another two weeks to settle.
Next stop was Trou aux Biches in the north, which we managed to find before nightfall. It’s a short drive to the tourist hotspot of Grand Bay, where we spent the following day tasting local food and getting tattooed! We bought lunch from a street vendor who promptly pulled out two little plastic chairs and seated us on the beach under a palm tree. It was one of the best meals we’d ever had.
Saving the best for last we hiked up Le Morne Brabant, a Unesco World Heritage Site known for the shelter it provided runaway slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, in the southwest. Guided by local resident Anoop Jahul, we were treated to all the clichés — panoramic views, spectacular scenery, turquoise water, tropical heat. There’s simply no other way to describe it. Unforgettable will have to do.