luxury comes to stay at mauritius (part 1)

It was a short trip. Too short for me to sink my teeth into the country but sufficient to take a little piece of Mauritius with me, in my head. I visited Mauritius for a mere 6 nights. This trip was organised by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Agency (MTPA) and I was travelling with four other writers/journalists. Travelling with strangers is always challenging, you never know if you’ll get along. And, given that you are in a group, you can’t always break away and do your own thing… which is something I really enjoy. In some ways, I was glad for the fixed schedule, else we might have been at each other’s necks trying to decide what next. Fortunately, we all did get along, and I also managed to branch out and do my own thing… This was a wonderful trip, filled with lots of driving across the country, strict timelines that weren’t adhered too, swims in gorgeous pools, spas, adventure sports in the blue Mauritian water, heritage plantations visits, golf courses and of course, lots and lots of yum food!

During this trip, given how much was to be covered, we spent a lot of time zipping across Mauritius from North to South to East to West. You can get from the North to the South in around 2 hours and that’s the longest distance to travel. Mauritius has 30% more land than Delhi with 1/10th the population. You can imagine how spacious the island feels for someone from Mumbai, which has an even higher density of population than Delhi!

Fact check:
Population: Delhi – 11,007,835 and Mauritius – 1,261,208
Landmass: Delhi – 1,484 km2 and Mauritius – 2,040 km2
Density: Delhi – 11,297 per km2 and Mauritius – 618 per km2

Mauritius also has a few islands along its coast, including Rodrigues Island, though we stuck to the main island through the trip except when we visited the gorgeous Île aux Cerfs.

My post on Australia was appreciated a lot, so inspired by that, let me tell you what all we did at Mauritius, along with my notes-to-self! I’m hoping most of these sections will expand into articles for my blog or magazines, and if that happens, then I will add those links here. For now, here we go!

Day 1: Touch Down!
We arrived at Mauritius on time, having made up for our late departure as we flew over the seas through the night. During the landing I was glued to the window. Unfortunately, I had a seat over the wings, so I didn’t get the best view of the blue seas, mountains and beaches but I sampled the brilliance for sure.
Note to Self 1: Always ask for the window seat, which is NOT over the wing. You’d want to see that lovely mix of mountains, sugarcane fields, cluster of houses that lead to white sands and blue sea rushing in on all sides.

The Residence was the first hotel we stayed at. We were here for two nights and I loved my rooms. Simple, yet stunning, this hotel had a local feel to it in its decor and ambience. And the Ylang Ylang fragrance everywhere just simply wowed me… I found myself breathing deeper just to capture more of it. On our first evening there, each of us had a spa treatment before we met for dinner. The back and shoulder massage was very well done, and everyone in the group raved about their therapist. Some even asked for a longer version. I didn’t think of it then. Urgghhh… and I didn’t have time the next day.
Note to Self 2: If a therapist is good, and you are getting only a short treatment, quickly upgrade to a longer one. It’s worth that extra.

Day 2: Hello, how do you do? 
The next morning, breakfast was at the Plantation (picture just above). This is one of the restaurants of The Residence, and can be reached by an enjoyable walk along the sea. I didn’t realise there is a short cut from the rooms, but actually went to the reception area and then walked to the Plantation. Lesson learnt on the way back and it wasn’t repeated the next day. The Plantation is actually set like a house opening onto the beach, and needless to say, with great views of the sea. The sparrows were making merry with all the crumbs on offer. I added a few of my own contribution to keep them coming back and adding to the noisy chatter! The fresh juice counter was one of the best I encountered during my stay at Mauritius.

Later that day, we did what will go down as one of my favourite activities in Mauritius – a plunge into the sea. This was an Undersea Walk! They could have started with something easier, you’d think! We headed to Grand Baie for the Solar Under Sea Walk. The science is simple: a large glass bubble like structure is strapped onto your head, and you simply jump into the water with weights around your waist, so you sink to the bottom.A tube connects to a machine on the boat that pumps in air… air pressure ensures water doesn’t enter the glass bubble.. The bottom (don’t hold your breathe in fear) is not that far down – just around 4 metres deep. Once there, you literally walk on the floor. They give you rubber/plastic slip-on shoes to protect you from the corals, or maybe it’s the other way around! One journalist chose not to come and another was really scared. She seesawed to and fro before we jumped, and I was surprised to see her down there, given how scared she was before I jumped. As for me, without A, I had no one to whine to, so I put on my brave face, and jumped in first. I knew that if I followed people I might change my mind. To be honest, the under sea walk sounds more scary that it actually is. It is a brilliant experience, and rather sureal in the way you walk around under water, without ever struggling to breathe. This walk deserves another post… so wait up for more, later.
Note to Self 3: Get bolder! Explore… do one new thing everyday! (I can try…)

From there we headed to the Chateau de Labourdonnais. There were once around 27 sugarcane plantations in Mauritius. Today less than a handful are active in the sugarcane business. So you have luxury hotels, museums, orchards, and distilleries taking the place of what was once just a sugarcane farm and sugar manufacturing mill. Chateau de Labordonnais is one such place. The main building or planter’s home has been converted into a gorgeous museum. So you can walk around, see how those rich planters and land owners lived. This place actually has the elements that were a part of the planter’s home eons ago. The chateau has been restored to its original look, and is being maintained so well. I liked walking into the lady of house’s bedroom. It was  a large, sparsely decorated room with so much space for thoughts and silence too! I love rooms that embrace emptiness comfortably, don’t you?
Note to Self 4: I’ve got to come back to discover more of these plantations… heritage, heritage, heritage!

Later in the evening, back at The Residence I decided to go for a swim in their heated pool. There are two pools overlooking the sea, one heated, and the other at a lower level, that isn’t. The wind was in the coconut palms that surrounded the pool, the sea sang its calming song, and I swam, searching for those warm pockets of water just around the inlet. It is one of those places that you will become a very good swimmer, because you’d rather be in the water, than jutting outside and letting the cold wind get to you. But that is in the evening, during the day, with the sun warming everything, this would have been bliss. After a half an hour swim I dragged myself out as the pool was going to shut, and headed to the steam sauna to warm myself further. Life couldn’t get better than this!

Day 3: Warming up… 
I like to wake up early. Maybe because I am used to my early morning yoga classes, or in general, I have never been a late riser as my mother always guilt-tripped my brother and me into waking up at 8am even on a Sunday. With that entrenched programming, this trip was no different, especially since it was a work trip. I mostly woke up by 6.30am, would write notes for around 30-45 minutes and then walk down the beach. It was a routine I followed everyday, except for the day after we arrived, I didn’t walk along the beach on that day.
Note to Self 5: Our guide for this trip wanted to show us the Mauritius beyond the beach, since Indians aren’t very high on lazy, beach holidays. But we missed out on the respect that these pristine beaches and water demand. So, I need to head back. Soon!

Today held another water adventure. As you read my posts on Mauritius you will see we did a lot of these. Most of them are quite family friendly, and aren’t for hardcore adventure seekers only. I’m definitely not an adventure seeker, but more an experience seeker, and these fall in that space. Since we had conquered the deep blue sea in the Under Sea walk, the Blue Safari Submarine Dive seemed like the easiest thing to do. We were taken out to the boat/ship that was anchored deep in the sea. There was a submarine attached to it. The first time I’ve actually seen one, and I was so thrilled to be going deep into the sea in a submarine… Crew to stations! We entered through a narrow chute, carefully climbed down a ladder and into a tiny room. This room was blue in colour reflecting the water that surrounded us and beamed in light through those thick glass windows or port holes! I must be honest here, I did panic a bit, because we were going to drop to around 35 feet. What if something happened? But it was easy peasy and great fun. We went by lots of fish who stared at us, some venturing really close for a quick look. There was a massive shipwreck and I even saw an undersea desert. Isn’t that the weirdest thing? You would think there is water, so, come on life, grow. But no, this was an undersea desert! It taught me a lot about the balance of elements and how everything must come together for life! Hmmmm life and its lessons hidden in every many corners!
Note to Self 6: Try the submarine scooter the next time. If I’m feeling bold enough… 

A little later, up from the submarine dive, and even though we hadn’t done anything, I was famished. I could eat an entire buffet… But the next on the agenda was the L’Adventure du Sucre. What do you think this is? A world of desserts? I definitely hoped so, but no, it was a Sugar Museum. Set in an old sugar mill, this museum tells you about how sugar is made, and the history of sugarcane growth and sugar production in Mauritius. Did you know that the sugarcane plant was introduced in Mauritius in 1639 and by the Dutch Settlers? And that sugar was manufactured for the first time in 1696! Also, that today the worldwide consumption of cane sugar is not growing? Consumption of beet sugar seems to have become more dominant. I found that interesting, though need to look into it a bit more. (An Aside: India was the first to manufacture cane sugar granules from sugarcane juice over two thousand years ago!)

Lunch was a lavish affair, and I am not someone who is used to three course meals, they just fill me up a bit too much. Since I am a vegetarian, I must confess we didn’t get much local food. Most often it was continental fair, or Indian, and that was disappointing; but it was always great tasting food.
Note to Self 7: Always ask the servers for local options, many a time, they do indulge. Also, if ok with egg, remember to tell them that at the beginning, else I will keep getting fruits for dessert, when all I want to do is sink my teeth into some chocolate cake! 

After lunch we headed to our next halt for the night – Le Heritage Telfair. It was going to be our home for two nights, and I must confess, I was very enamoured by this hotel. The aesthetics of this place was simply brilliant… It is a luxurious, colonial styled, resort, and everything, from the flooring, to the distressed tables and chairs, and the colonial looking villas is simply gorgeous. Give me a distressed chair and table and, well, I’m yours for life. That’s all it takes. This hotel offered so much in its 2500 odd acres of land that a mere 100 words is not going to do it justice. So more stories coming up soon… for now, if you have the money and the desire for luxury – stay here!

We have four more packed days to go through, come back tomorrow to continue this journey around Mauritius.

This was a media FAM organised by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA). I am grateful to them that I got to sample this wonderful country. All the thoughts and views on this blog are always my own. 

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