No resort is an island
It’s hard to beat the ease (and price) of a package holiday at a resort, but where’s the local flavour? We’ve found a way to get the best of both worlds in Mauritius
Sometimes it’s a relief to only worry about the kind of cocktail you should order next (experience says always a piña colada if you’re on a tropical island) while the kids run wild in the beautiful and safe resort grounds. In fact, many resorts are designed so you don’t have to leave – everything is just an arm-stretch away. However, if you’re like me, it’s hard to spend seven full days on the same beach lounger, on the same beach, in front of the same hotel. I’ve always believed that to get to know a place is to walk it. And eat it. You can’t really do that inside a resort and so I’ve always been sceptical of those ubiquitous one-week-in-paradise package deals.
Named as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 places to visit this year, Mauritius is already a popular destination for South Africans – in 2017, the island welcomed 112 129 tourists from this country. It’s a well-known haven for holidaymakers seeking a relaxed break in a resort where everything is laid on, but then I found a hotel chain that actually encourages you to leave the grounds and explore the island. ‘Everything is organised so that our guests’ stay is a memorable rendezvous with the genuine Mauritius,’ says the CEO of Attitude Hotels, Jean-Michel Pitot. The concept is straightforward: give guests the opportunity to live like locals during their stay on the island. It’s a tough thing to deliver, as it runs the risk of coming across as phoney and forced. At the Attitude resorts, the Mauritian element is, admittedly, cleaner and more refined than out on the streets, but they’ve done a respectful job of incorporating Creole culture by serving traditional cuisine, showcasing locally inspired decor and artworks by resident artists. They also provide an easy way for guests to experience the real deal: Otentik Discovery, a geo-location smartphone app that helps you explore the island on your own. Once downloaded, you can choose to follow one of 11 curated itineraries. In Port Louis, I set off with my camera, my phone and 200 rupees (about R80) in search of lunch on the self-guided street-
food walking tour. Lauded as one of the top destinations for street food by CNN and the UK’s Telegraph, walking the capital is not only delicious, it’s a fascinating history lesson. Mauritius has emerged a gleaming gemstone after all the pressures exerted on it over the past 500 years. The Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English all left their mark on this Indian Ocean island, but the contemporary hybridisation and thriving Creole culture is largely due to slavery and the indentured labourers who worked the sugar-cane fields. Starting at Aapravasi Ghat (the historical landing port for the thousands of Chinese and Indian indentured workers), the walking tour comprises 12 stops, including the buzzing Victorian-era market overflowing with tropical fruit and giant vegetables, and hole-in-the-wall Asian bakeries serving sticky sesame-studded buns in the Chinatown district. I ended off with a flavoursome, stupidly cheap (R6) veggie roti from Roti Aka Vinoda, eaten in the shade of a banyan tree in the Company Garden. I was surprised at the amount of signage in English and felt at ease roaming the streets by myself. Because it was hot and I’m a sucker for natural sweetness, I also scooped up a frosty treat known as a sorbet rapé from a motorbike vendor – ice crushed in a screwdriver-like press fixed to the back of his bike and flavoured with sugar-cane syrup. I sipped on this while contemplating the city’s abundant and intricate street art: an astronaut perched high up on an abandoned building; a whale swooping over the wall of a bus shelter; a colourful bird perched just behind a traffic light. There’s an amazing blend of cultures in this country, where French-style cheek kissing meets scenes of women swimming fully clothed in the ocean. And if it’s beaches you want, of course they’re here in abundance, and no less enticing are
THIS PAGE, FROM TOP A lazy-day’s end on the west coast at The Ravenala Attitude in Turtle Bay; a pineapple snack bought from a passing motorbike vendor; some of the old buildings in Port Louis’ Chinatown reminded me of downtown Joburg; despite its...
FROM TOP Happy shades in charming Trou d’Eau Douce; discarded (unlucky) tickets on the floor at Champ de Mars Racecourse; beach braais are a regular thing at the Attitude resorts; gorgeous street art in Port Louis.