Mauritius’s kaleidoscopic mix of influences makes for experiences you won’ t find anywhere else. That, combined with unusual topography and unique wildlife, means these islands are so much more than just another luxury retreat
Geographica l ly and cultura l ly, Maur itius is a relatively young countr y. Its constituent islands emerged from the ocean just eight million years ago, and, until the 16th centur y, they remained completely uninhabited. A ll that changed w ith the arr iva l of the Dutch, in 1598. Since then, Mauritius has welcomed arr ivals from East A fr ica, China, France, India and beyond, and has grow n to become a model melting pot nation. Today, as you walk the streets of the capita l, Por t Louis, you’ l l pass Hindu temples, French restaurants, Catholic shr ines, Creole street food and Chinese market stalls, often w ithin a few blocks of each other. It’s this thr illing combination of influences, a long w ith the islands’ deser ved reputation for lu xur y hotels, gourmet dining and tranquil beaches, that make Mauritius an island nation like nowhere else.
The diversity of the Mauritian culinary scene is a direct reflection of the island ’s multi-ethnic population. Expect plenty of seafood, fresh fruit, rice and noodles, all brought together in combinations of French, Chinese, Indian, A fr ican and Creole cooking. Marlin, mussels, prawns and lobsters are in plentiful supply, while the locals particularly prize baby octopus; you’ ll see it served in delicate salads, in curries with papaya, or in noodles with saffron, depending on who’s doing the cooking. If you’re after an authentic Mauritian meal, look for a table d ’ hôte. These privately hosted meals are often given by the owners of guesthouses, but they may be organised by a local in their home. You’ ll usually dine on traditional dishes spread over a number of courses, and will be joined by the host and their family, plus any other travellers who are passing through. This is a popular way to dine out in Mauritius and it’s usually necessary to book a day in advance.
One-of f landscapes
Mauritius’ s young volcanic landscape is home to some rare geological sights, such as Pieter Both Mountain, which has a boulder balanced precariously at it speak, or the hulking basalt outcrop on Le Morne Brabant peninsula. At the same time, the nation’s compact size means you can see much of it on foot and still be back at your hotel by dinner. The most popular hiking trips run to isolated Tamar in Falls or through the lush greens of the Black Gorges National Park, or you could summit the island ’s highest mountain, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire. To get off-grid, take a boat trip to Rod rigues ,400 miles east of Mauritius island. Life here moves at a slower place, thanks to its tiny population, quiet beaches and calm waters. Spend a few days enjoying its tranquil atmosphere before heading to the even smaller Île au x Cocos – a tiny nature reserve that’s only a few miles in width. Speak to a tour operator on Rodrigues to get the permission you need to visit.
Mauritius has just one indigenous land mammal, the fruit bat, but there are lots of wild boar, Java deer and macaque monkeys, all of which were imported by Europeans. Yet it’s in the skies and treetops where Mauritius buzzes with life. Several rare species of bird, once driven to the brink of extinction, are thriving thanks to careful conservation and breeding programmes. Now, you can see Mauritian kestrels soaring on the thermals above Black River Gorges National Park, as well as pink pigeons and echo parakeets, all of which numbered fewer than 50 not long ago. Mauritius’s seas are filled with life, and there are excellent opportunities for snorkelling and diving. Dolphins are common, as are several species of sharks, including grey reef and leopard sharks. Through July and August, humpback whales pass by the western coast on their way to calve in warm equatorial waters; you’ ll need to embark on a day-long excursion to reach the open ocean they inhabit, but it’s worth the trip.
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CLOCKWISE FROM OPPOSITE A humpback whale in an acrobatic breach; one of the islands’ golden beaches; the Mauritian kestrel has recovered from near-extinction; Pieter Both Mountain has a distinctive boulder formation at its peak; salade d’ourite, a Creole-style octopus salad