Playing in paradise

There’s something about working out in the elements that changes the experience entirely. Whether the occasion is road running, trailing, mountain biking, hiking or yoga, there’s little that can keep a dedicated fitness fanatic away from an event in nature. And when it’s on an island, well…

By Debbie Hathway

Published in Sail + Leisure Issue 9

Reconnect with nature

After the 2018 CIEL Ferney Trail 2018, I was determined to enter the 2019 event. Extra motivation came in the form of the introduction of a fun 8km option for those who simply wanted to enjoy a little exercise around one of the most magnificent natural attractions on the southeast coast of Mauritius.

The annual trail run is held in September in the Ferney Valley, a 2 800-hectare privately owned domain where 200 hectares are dedicated to the protection and rejuvenation of endangered flora and fauna in some of the last remaining endemic forest on the island. Half the proceeds of the race go to La Vallée de Ferney Conservation Trust and the other goes to Inclusion Mauritius, a group of 12 NGOs working for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The Nando’s 10km run was oversubscribed last year, hence the introduction of the Nando’s 8km Fun Run. The former was capped for 2019 in order to control numbers passing through some of the more delicate areas of the landscape. ‘Many participants are noncompetitive and want to walk, so we changed the route as some plants were trampled last time with too many people on the track,’ says Mathieu Razé, group head of Communications and Sustainability at CIEL.

Don’t think the shorter distance is any easier though. Jean-Marc Rivet, technical and administrative supervisor of the CIEL Ferney Trail, took us on a recce of the new routes the day before the race. It’s really something that should not be tackled without a little training and the right gear, which made me feel better about not entering as I had neither! The sheltered tracks patterned by the roots of the indigenous forest can be wet and slippery. It’s incredibly humid under the tree canopy and then you have to deal with the sun (or rain on occasions when the tropical weather system kicks in) through the open stretches. Not that it puts anybody off – these are points to remember for your race preparation if you’re tempted to enter next year!

The 50km event was changed to the Allsport 37km to encourage more entries over a long-distance race, while still incorporating the daunting summit of Lion Mountain at sunrise. That was a great idea and it worked. There was also the Bank One 20km and the Sun Kids 4km race. There were 3 400 participants in total.

Tough race for competitors
I was at the finish of the 37km to see German winner Moritz auf der Heide complete a gruelling race, just ahead of four-time CIEL Ferney Trail winner Jean Eddy Lauret from Reunion Island. Third over the line, several minutes behind, was Simon Desvaux from Mauritius. Léa Cavelier from France was the first lady across the line in that race.

‘It’s my first time on this island. When I had a look at the profile before, I was pretty happy, not so much elevation,’ says Auf der Heide. ‘I started very content, until I got to the first climb… I really did not expect it! For me it was then a matter of not running too hard because I knew there were a lot more climbs to come. After about 29km, when we came out of the technical sections, I managed to get a gap on Jean Eddy, and we went into the downhill. I was feeling ok, thinking I was going to win this, and then all of a sudden he was right behind me. So for the last 3km I went all out to finish in front of him – and it was only 50 seconds! It wasn’t my best performance in terms of speed, but I don’t care. It was super beautiful, good competition, I managed to win, so I’ve got everything to be happy about.’

More tracks have been opened to the public to explore on foot or mountain bike, out of hunting season, for an annual fee of Rs1 500 (R617 at time of publishing). The routes cover 5km, 13km and 20km and you have access as often as you like.

For more information, visit

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Hips don’t lie

My first attempt at golf as a teenager failed dismally. My hips had too much swing apparently. Fine if you’re a dancer with a penchant for the Latin-American style, but there’s no room for that on the fairway. So when I joined golf pro Sheres Isram, aka Nanda, for training at the Paradis Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa Golf Academy in Mauritius I was hoping that I could get my hips to behave and that I could actually connect club to ball. That’s a lot to be thinking about when your mind is supposed to be in neutral.

Golf is a mind game, say the experts. ‘It’s all up here,’ says Nanda, tapping his finger against his head. He is a good teacher. Patient, encouraging and strict (which I respond to quite well), and unafraid to reprimand me when I do something stupid. Like hook a ball into the palm trees overhead, never to be seen again. His response was simply to pick up another ball, place it on the tee, and tell me to try again.

The 18-hole par-72 course caters for both serious and casual golfers. ‘The proximity of the golf course to the hotel and beach is a very positive feature, as you can leave the beach and 10 minutes later be on the first tee. The friendliness of the staff makes it a very pleasant experience,’ says South African business executive Angus MacRobert. ‘The golf course is very challenging. Whilst not particularly long, it’s very tight. So you have to play well, otherwise your score tallies up fast. The back nine, along the lagoon and sea, is one of the most spectacular in the world. And after finishing the round, it’s a two-minute walk to sundowners on the beach.’

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Beautiful and different

For those wishing to play on a different landscape, they can try the Peter Matkovich-designed Mont Choisy Le Golf in the north. It’s a par-72, 6 200m championship course with a limited number of memberships so it’s a privilege to be able to play there.

Another option is the Ile Aux Cerfs Golf Club located on a small island off the east coast of Mauritius. Kevy Mohun, executive assistant manager at Ile Aux Cerfs, was project manager at Mont Choisy until the course opened in 2017. I asked him how the weather conditions compared. ‘When it’s winter, it’s windy everywhere. The natural vegetation helps shelter us at Ile Aux Cerfs,’ he says. Mohun adds that Ile Aux Cerfs is ‘stupendous’ location for a golf course, arguably one of the best in the world, with a string of awards to its credit. Since general manager Marc Amelot lead his team’s transformation of 15 of the 18 holes at Ile Aux Cerfs, a process completed in 2014, numbers have climbed to 25 000 players a year. The topography is undulating, featuring volcanic rock outcrops, lakes, gullies and tropical vegetation.

The courses at Ile Aux Cerfs and Anahita Golf & Spa Resort on the mainland are designed by golf legends Bernard Langer and Ernie Els respectively. Guests at Anahita reach Ile Aux Cerfs and a private beach via a short ferry ride, making it the ideal solution for golfers and their partners or families who wish to spend the day together in the same environment. ‘These are two very beautiful courses, but they are very different,’ says Cyril Bougaux, head of communications and public relations for Alteo Properties Ltd. ‘I like both. At Anahita, we can hit very far. The second shot is the most important. At Ile Aux Cerfs, it’s trickier. You have to manage the ball, because there are a lot of trees.’

Pierre Quirin, a golf pro at Anahita, advises golfers to keep the ball under the wind when there’s a breeze. ‘It’s more difficult, of course, but it’s interesting. It’s part of the game of golf,’ he says. ‘Anahita is open, so it’s less intimidating than other golf courses. You can hit a bad shot from the tee. The hole will be far, but your ball is here. That’s a good thing, when you’re a golfer,’ he laughs. ‘If you do that at Ile Aux Cerfs you’ll lose your ball.’


Ile Aux Cerfs has been awarded the International Association of Golf Tour Operators Golf Experience Award for the Indian Ocean region at the IAGTO Awards 2020. The award is based on votes from more than 700 golf tour operators worldwide and acknowledges golf clubs that deliver the best experience to golf travellers.


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