“Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius” - Mark Twain.
Mauritius may be most famed for its endless, white, sandy beaches and turquoise waters, but I have come away with so much more - a greater understanding of this culturally complex and varied land, and of the living, breathing embodiment of how Dutch, Indian, French, Creole and Chinese cultures co-exist. Together (with tourists!), they share the island and on evenings and weekends the beautiful public beaches are a humming throng of multi-generational family picnics and parties. I swam, ate curry, drank French wine, witnessed traveling Hindu pilgrims migrating for Maha Shivratri.
Salt of Palmar, a recently opened eco-hotel, was our first stop. Located on the east coast of the island, this was the perfect place to get our bearings. I loved the vibrant interiors designed by French artist Camille Walala, raw vegan offerings and plastic-free stance. In keeping with the general salt theme, evenings often included relaxation in their salt therapy room taking in the soothing salt vapours.
En route from one side of the island to another, we passed a large market in Flacq – we had to pull over! Perfect opportunity for me to practice my Hindi and make some friends! Ladies in saris toted massive striped bags filled with produce while others shuffled along eating dholl puri and catching up with friends. Tote bags woven out of plastic scraps, mouth-watering pickled achaar and a little diety of Shiva and Parvati were my loot.
One of our favourite lunches was at – La Case du Pecheur, a quirky, thatched roof guest house and restaurant set in the most jaw dropping mangrove with mountain views and all adjacent to the sea. It was a thirty minute drive down the coast from Salt but the journey there was part of its beauty. Seeing villages, mandirs, lush greenery and, of course, pristine beaches from the window was an undeniable pleasure! We had the local crab curry and a fish vindaye (curry with a Mauritian twist) washed down with some ice cold beers. Perfection.
Mont Choisy Beach – just down the road from the most charming hotel in the north of the island, near Grand Baie – 20 Degrees Sud. A 3km stretch of public, white sand beach. Families from every walk of life eating scrumptious smelling delights in the shade of the pine trees, children playing in the water with massive, neon coloured tubes, stalls selling fresh coconut juice. Lots going on but remaining very peaceful. This was our favourite spot! At one end of the beach, there was an ocean-front mandir with a massive Hanuman.
Grand Bassin - the sacred lake in the heart of Mauritius is adorned with brightly coloured temples symbolizing homage to various Hindu Gods. We were there during the Maha Shivratri festival, when 500,000 Hindu pilgrams travel (some by foot!) to this enchanted lake to worship.
We stayed on Le Morne beach on southwest coast for the last bit of our trip. The majestic basaltic mountain with a summit of 566 meters (we did not attempt the hike!) is a UNESCO World Heritage site that symbolizes freedom – it is said that after the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, soldiers travelled to Le Morne to inform a group of runaway slaves that they were finally free. Upon seeing the authorities approaching, the group of slaves jumped to their deaths from the mountain, rather than face the horrors of being returning to slavery. You feel the omnipresence of the mountain here and lessons this tale instills.