La Dolce Vita in Mauritius (and a geographical lesson)

More than just sand, surf and sea, the Seven Coloured Earths (top right) is found in the Chamarel plain of the Rivière Noire District in south-western Mauritius. The colours come from the oxidisation of lava, forming the brightly unusual sand dunes.
PHOTO: AsiaOne

Much Dodo about nothing

More famous for the extinct dodo bird than its geographical position, Mauritius presents itself as an enigma to the clueless Singaporean. Mention the country and for some inexplicable reason, people tend to associate it with Maldives.

When this revelation was presented to an official from the Mauritian Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), he was genuinely bewildered at the confusion. I'd imagine the same looks on Singaporeans' faces when foreigners link Singapore to some enclave in China. What travesty!

Located closer to the African continent than to India (as opposed to Maldives), Mauritius has a population four times smaller than Singapore's, and an enviable land area that is three times bigger.

Its geographical position and fertile land were alluring propositions for the French and British, who fought over the island, each leaving indelible marks on its future inhabitants.

Mostly descendants from the freed slaves working in the sugarcane plantations, the majority of Mauritians are of Indian origin, followed by Creoles from Africa or Madagascar. There are also small groups of Mauritians with French and Chinese ancestry.

This mishmash of cultures and colonial history is inextricably intertwined with the country's present-day identity.

Mauritian cuisine

The typical Mauritian cuisine has Indian roots with European influences, giving it a unique charm. Curry, chutney, and rice are common staples, while seafood is also a mainstay in the Mauritian diet due to its island profile.

Strangely, for all its French influence, I did not see any macarons during my stay in Mauritius, but I spotted a delectable-looking dessert called the Napolitaine, which is shortbread with pink icing and sandwiched with jelly. A definite must-try.


The Napolitaine, which is shortbread with pink icing and sandwiched with jelly. PHOTO: Air Mauritius Islander / Manoj Nawoor

While the government is trying to wean the country's economic reliance off its sugarcane industry by developing its textile and tourism sectors, Mauritius's sugarcane plantations are still alive and booming.

There is a wide variety of sugar available beyond your ordinary granulated sugar, such as Demerara sugar - for coffee, and Muscovado sugar - for baking.

One of the beneficiaries from sugarcane cultivation is the burgeoning rum industry, which is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane. There are many flavoured rum varieties available in Mauritius, infused with flavours of fruits, such as orange, citrus, coconut, or lychee.

However, do not expect to find anything particularly exotic such as dodo meat - the poor bird native to Mauritius has been extinct since the 1600s.

Shopping and sights

While the flightless bird is very dead, it is very much alive as an emblem in the Mauritian coat of arms and as its mascot. Walk around the capital, Port Louis, and you can find dodo memorabilia, rum, sugar, and textiles in great supply.

The Caudan Waterfront in Port Loius is a good place to start your shopping. It is in proximity to landmarks such as the Blue Penny Museum - home to one of the rarest stamps in the world - and Aapravasi Ghat - an immigration depot and a UNESCO world heritage site.


Downtown, Port Louis. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Nearby is the 174-year-old Fort Adelaide, also known as La Citadelle. It is also worth a visit as it offers a vantage point to see the entirety of Port Loius, including the landmark Champ de Mars racecourse. The fort, built by the British to repel a French coastal attack, also provides an excellent view of the harbourfront that connects visitors to outlying islands such as Rodrigues, Madagascar, and Reunion.

Moving away from the capital, the southern part of Mauritius will appeal more to nature lovers with its picturesque scenery. The tourism industry in Mauritius is well-developed, making travelling a breeze with its good infrastructure.

Black River Gorges National Park offers stunning views of the hilly parts of Mauritius. Bird lovers will be enthralled by the endemic bird variety at Black River Gorges such as the White-tail tropicbird, which is the logo of its national carrier, Air Mauritius.

A stone's throw away is a unique geological formation called the Chamarel seven coloured earths. Remnants from volcanic activity, the sand dunes appear in seven shades - red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow. It was quite a surreal sight to behold, with its perfectly-intact soil and undulating waves of sand blistering colours in the sun.

Another byproduct of the volcanic activity is the Chamarel waterfall, which is nearly the same height as the Statue of Liberty. It offers one of the most spectacular sights in Mauritius, with lush greenery surrounding the waterfall.

Further to the south-west is a rock formation and UNESCO World Heritage site called Le Morne Brabant, which bears history to the sad side of slavery in Mauritius. It used to be a hideout for runaway slaves, and when slavery was abolished by the British in 1835, a team of police was dispatched there to inform the slaves of the good news. Tragically, the slaves thought that the police were trying to catch them and many leapt to their deaths.

Accommodation


Private garden and infinity pool at Club Med's La Plantation d’Albion villas, Mauritius. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Besides the unique fauna and flora, Mauritius has a vast and beautiful coastline facing the Indian Ocean, which explains the numerous resorts that dot around the island, such as Club Med.

Easily one of the bigger operators in Mauritius with its private beaches, Club Med operates two resorts as well as luxury villas on the island. La Plantation D'Albion, which is Club Med's only 5-trident resort in Asia and the Indian Ocean, encapsulates the quintessential luxury experience in Mauritius. (Club Med rates its resorts by 'tridents', instead of 'stars'.)


Seaview from Club Med's La Plantation D'Albion. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Located on a creek on the Western part of the island, La Plantation D'Albion boasts an architecture and interior design that is unique to Club Med's 5-trident resorts. Featuring multicultural elements that are hallmarks of Mauritius, the resort has lush green spaces and well-manicured gardens with dodo motifs adorning the living spaces.

The layout of La Plantation D'Albion allows it to cater to all groups whether it is couples seeking some quiet time together, or families with children or elderly. Accommodation for families and couples are thoughtfully separated, with the children's club located close to the family area.

Club Med's brand of hospitality - fronted by its employees, also known as G.O. (gentle organisers), ensured that there was never a boring moment at the resort, with their cheerful personalities and friendly demeanours.

Adrenaline seekers can have a go at the flying trapeze, which was pure exhilaration for me. The G.O. who conducted the trapeze lesson was thoroughly professional and a ball of energy, which made my experience all the more memorable. There are also a myriad of other sports to try, such as golf, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, and tennis.


Trying the flying trapeze at Club Med La Plantation D'Albion. PHOTO: AsiaOne

After a day of sports or tours around the island, you can unwind at the spa or sauna within La Plantation D'Albion, or by its two infinity pools: One for families, and the other exclusively for adults.

Night owls will love the performances and parties organised by the G.O.s, with free-flow of alcohol, including champagne to spice up the party.

Sleeping in is one of my guilty pleasures, and I could even get breakfast served to my bed. This service was something I appreciated, especially after the free-flow of alcohol the night before.

La Dolce Vita

The Mauritian hospitality is synonymous with its 5-star hotels, villas and luxury resorts that dot the island.

It came as no surprise when MTPA Deputy Director Mr Vijaye Haulder stated unabashedly about the premium market that MTPA is trying to attract.


The overflow pool overlooking the Indian ocean at Club Med's La Plantation d’Albion. PHOTO: AsiaOne

As one of the top five destinations in the world for newlyweds and young couples, the Mauritian government is even dangling incentives for couples to hold their weddings in Mauritius.

With its idyllic beaches, contrasting sceneries, and 5-star resorts, Mauritius exudes a je ne sais quoi that epitomises the beautiful life.

*Air Mauritius operates the Singapore-Mauritius route every Tuesday, with a stopover at Kuala Lumpur (KL). It also has a codeshare with Malaysian Airlines that flies every Thursday and Saturday to KL, and KL to Mauritius by Air Mauritius.

*A 4D3N stay at La Plantation D'Albion starts from S$965 per adult.

grongloh@sph.com.sg

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