I was in Mauritius for a week in July, and it was such a packed week, that I could write multiple posts about every activity we did. In my previous post about Mauritius, I had told you about what I did on the first three days, now I’ll go on with all the other action. If you’ve missed out on that first piece do read it here (part 1).
Day 3, was rather eventful thanks to my first submarine dive, ended with dinner at Ginja, one of the restaurants at Telfair. Ginja is at one end of the property right at the point where a river meets the sea. We stood at the bar, facing the sea, and while champagne was popped and everyone raised a toast, all I could think about was how the gentle crashing of the waves on the shore was probably the most calming sound. I believe the sea takes on your mood. When you’re feeling worried and anxious, that repetitive crashing can get on my nerves, and at times even stir some more emotions. When I feel calm, I feel like the sea is peaceful with me. That was a calm day.
Dinner was lavish and I hadn’t taken my camera along, so the few photos are through my phone and honestly not the best. The starters was Kappa Maki, Vietnamese Rolls, Vegetable Tempura, Vegetable spring rolls. All of this was rolled out onto the table on a large plank that extended from one end of the table to the other. It totally upped the benchmark in my head, and not other restaurant managed to create that effect. Main course was Root Vegetables curry with steamed rice and a stir fried garlic vegetable. Dessert was simply MasterChef styled with “Hot Elixir”. A white chocolate shell was placed in front of me, hot liquid syrup poured over it, and I watched with bated breath as it collapsed in the centre and unveiled the shimmering jelly in the centre. Brilliant! Didn’t take my camera along and the light was too dim for great snaps on the phone. Mind you, all that I mentioned above, was just the vegetarian menu! I needed to be taken back to my room on a stretcher! Got my digestion wheels moving by a walk around the property.
Day 4: I think, I’m getting to know you better Mauritius!
This day saw my first visit to a Golf Course, yes, first ever visit. I have driven by courses, seen them in movies and always thought I’d been to one, but realised at this golf course that I hadn’t ever. The Heritage Golf Club which is a part of the Heritage Resorts is beautiful, to say the least. It has hills on one side, blue skies that anyway envelop you everywhere you go in Mauritius and lovely greens. We ambled around the golf course in a golf cart, and yes, you guessed right, I insisted on driving. It was just undulating hills of green on all sides. I then understood why my friend, a budding golf-enthusiast, loved her golf lessons every morning. We tried our hands at golf, and just as we finished, the rains came crashing down. Even the heavens had timed it to perfection!
We then zipped across to Maradiva for lunch. This used to be a Taj Hotels property once, and the patriot in me felt a certain comradeship with this place. The villas had sloping tiled roofs, open porches and the higher end ones all come with a plunge pool. It suddenly didn’t feel like Mauritius and was very different from all that I had been seeing though this architectural style is believed to reflect the island’s mixed heritage. I felt it was very Indian. As we walked around, I hardly saw any people. Later I checked with the manager and the occupancy figures were around 70%. He explained that the way it’s designed you just don’t see people, even when it’s at 100% occupancy. Now that made for a true getaway! (Read about what Laurent, Manager Maradiva, told me about Mauritius).
Post this we headed out to the SeaKart experience. Let me try and explain this simply. Take a large tube boat, add a machine to it, and two seats, and then drive it into the sea. This contraption, though it might sound risky, was researched and tested for around 2-3 years by Xavier, the inventor. There has not even been on accident in the years of operations. It is scary, I must admit. When you leave the comfort of the shore and zip out into the sea, with a steering wheel in your hand, and a paddle, attached to the wheel, as your accelerator, you wonder if it was just foolish. The entire boat skids along the water and every wave crashing into you makes you bounce just a little bit. Added to that years of car driving teaches you to seek a steadiness, a stability, and zipping on the sea tells you the opposite – embrace the skids as it’s water, you will be slipping around. Before we left, I wondered what people did on the Seakart for half a day or a whole day. (You also have those packages too). Once I got back, I felt my one hour ride was just too short. It is a must-do experience should you visit Mauritius!
Note to Self 8: The joy in conquering fears is huge! But when you share a SeaKart with a guy, and come back knowing that you drove better than him? Priceless! (Previous notes in part 1)
Day 4 ended at a chateau. These are those kind of places dreams are made of. You know the kind of dream that says, I’ll go to this far away country, get this gorgeous colonial house with antique furniture, spacious rooms, and a gorgeous verandah to watch the stars twinkle, and a fountain in the courtyard to boot, and settle down there… la di da and la di dum… Though, even dreams can’t fabricate such beautiful sets. The chateau in discussion is Chateau de Bel Ombre (Domaine Del Bel Ombre or the Domain of Good Shade being the name of the estate that Le Telfair is a part of.) This restaurant has a capacity of 70 seats. Our group was seated at a pretty circular table, surrounded by photos of all the managers of this plantation who lived in this house. Dinner in Mauritius is always accompanied by wine, and unlimited at that, so I’ve had a range of red wines I had never heard about before and I didn’t note down their names either. But all of them were simply brilliant. Dinner was yum, even for vegetarians, and here are some photographs that prove it.
Note to Self 9: There is no harm in being a vegetarian in a country that known for it’s meat and fish, you’ll still find what you want. If not, just drink the wine, have the dessert and don’t worry, you’ll still put on weight.
Day 5: And then you manage to surprise me with what all you have!
It was a rushed morning, we were checking out of the hotel, and also visiting some of the other offerings this property had. There was a planned Spa session at 8.30am. The previous night a few of the writers didn’t want to pack their morning that much, but I’m not someone who misses spa sessions. And on hindsight I am glad I went. (I’d woken up earlier that morning and gone for a long walk down the beach.) The Spa was at the other resort that is part of the Heritage Resorts group – Awali. This is an African themed resort. The spa was in a beautiful setting – small huts formed an intricate series all set in a lush garden. And the back and neck massage I got here was the best that I got throughout my trip. I even took a picture of my therapist Isha.
We then headed to the Frederica Nature Reserve which is part of the Domaine de Bel Ombre. Our guide and driver was Dominique who skillfully drove the ranger’s jeep through marshy or muddy roads, and at times roads so steep, that all of us clung on for dear life. Survive we did, and here I am to tell that tale. We saw so many beautiful trees, indigenous species, and even a species of deer endemic to Mauritius. Later we walked by the river as he pointed out to some more trees like the Black Ebony, which the Dutch fell in love with and pretty much wiped it off most of the island. It was a quick trip but this reserve offers travellers so much to see and do. You can go for treks, and even do some mean adventure stuff with the Quad Bikes. I would have loved to do that; well maybe next time!
One of my most memorable parts of the trips, ironically, was the one that wasn’t on the agenda but what we all almost argued for. Walking through the capital city – Port Louis. As readers of this blog, you will know that as much as I love nature and travelling into the country / villages, my heart at times lies in cities. The very idea of civilisations and how we’ve evolved, and developed all around us moves me. Modern times not as much as ancient times. Port Louis was my first Mauritian city. It was also the first time we saw traffic and traffic lights and jams. As an Indian, I somehow didn’t feel homesick anymore… funny but true! We visited the Citadel which towers over the city and has multiple stories regarding the reason it was built – from safety of everyone to safety of the planters after slavery was abolished. Post lunch, I walked around the market area and Chinatown. I spent sometime at the Blue Penny Museum, sipped on a cappuccino and gobbled up a gooey chocolate cake at a café inside the Caudan Waterfront and also kicked myself for missing the Apravasi ghat! It was a very enjoyable afternoon.
Note to Self 10: Never underestimate the ‘Indian’ in you who will seek out experiences that involves crowds, noise, and wading. Ironically.
Note to Self 11: Never underestimate the beauty of a local market walk. I saw buildings that I might have otherwise missed. Markets end up being in some of the oldest parts of the town as that is what made the city come together in the first place, and market locations, well, they rarely change.
We then headed to our next and last halt at Mauritius – Long Beach which was very close to our first stop The Residence.This hotel chain has properties across Mauritius and also one in Maldives. Spread over a wide area, this hotel is actually confusing in its layout. I got lost the first night as I tried to find my way to the restaurant. On the long beach here I continued my daily morning walks though just getting from my room to the restaurants was exercise enough. This is a very popular location for big Indian weddings. On our first night the gas connection across all restaurants had an issue, so they were all shut. All the guests were crammed into Le Marche for the buffet dinner. It was nice to have that option to choose what I felt like eating as otherwise through this trip most of the meals had been three predetermined courses or one very large main course that left room for nothing else. Typical of me, I had a lot of salad, very little main course and pigged out on the desserts! (I heard you say glutton, I heard it!) It was the first hotel that was very modern in feel, and in some ways, I felt disconnected from the decor as I tend to opt for traditional and local looking hotels. The rooms were done up in white and fluorescent shades. What I did love was the I-pod dock, and through my stay there I was always dancing to loud music when in my room. It did make me dilly-dally more than the other hotels we stayed at.
Note to Self 12: Next time while choosing a hotel, check if they have an I-pod dock. Dancing in your room with full abandon can be more relaxing than that expensive spa. Or just carry your own speakers.
Day 6: WHAT! Already? The last night is here!
The day brightened up as it normally does, there was nothing spectacular, but little did I know that today would be the day I tried my hand at a golf, somewhat formally. The Ile aux Cerfs or Island of the Deer Golf Club is, as the name suggests, on an island. You actually take a ferry and zip your way across the blue waters to reach the Ile aux Cerfs. I think of the three golf courses I saw at Mauritius this was the best. You were surrounded by mountains in the distance, and the blue seas and sands ran along the golf course. There was a lot of native vegetation that was also preserved, but ironically, there were only humans, no deer. If you go through Sun Resorts, the group that managed Long Beach and Ile aux Cerfs, you get access to a private beach and lagoon which is simply out of this world. That is what paradise must look like, if it exists that is. The Golf initiations deserves another post so watch this space.
We then made our way to Curepipe, a town in the centre of Mauritius, to check out a large crater. Mauritius was formed by volcanic activity and while there are many more craters here, this is the only one that is easily accessible. You can drive almost till the crater, then just step out of your car, walk a few steps and peep in. There is a beautiful lake at the centre of the crater and it did tempt me to ask if we could climb down.There are rumours that many people have tried climbing down and have lost their lives doing that. The sides are not visible due to the dense vegetation, and so they slip. But it just feels like an urban legend. Our driver also scared us with another urban legend that while this is a dormant volcano, it might be linked, under the sea, to the active volcano as the nearby Reunion Island. Thus one never knows when this will bubble up again. It made me a little wary about walking around the crater. Fortunately, it started raining so we abandoned our quest and returned to the car.
Back in the hotel I went for a swim. It was the largest pool I have ever seen in a hotel, maybe around 1400 sq. ft and it spread in all directions and had fountains and jacuzzi benches on all sides. Bliss. Dinner was at Hasu. Supposedly the best Japanese restaurant on the island. The food was splendid. I didn’t take down all that we had and thus cannot regale you with names of Japanese food items, but the appetiser was a platter of sushi, and yes, the vegetarian sushi was yum too.
This was our last night at the hotel, and while most of our group retired early to bed, two of us danced away till late into the night. There was a live music band playing at one of the restaurants and the music was loud, pumping and we had loads of fun. Popular numbers that even I could sing along with were mixed with local Creole songs that had the local guests jumping in to sashay the night away. And yes, they played Gimme Hope Joana one of my all-time favourite songs!
Note to Self 13: Music is a universal language. Seek it out on trips, as more often than not, it might bring people from different parts of the world together… bound by a song they all grew up humming or jiving to! I got talking to this Chinese-Mauritian couple and we have connected over email ever since.
Day 7: I’m not ready to leave!
The last day seemed to have arrived too soon but as with all travel, I get impatient towards the end and just want to head home. I was now ready to go back to Mumbai.
We went to Casela which rightly had the tagline – world of adventures. There are different sections and one can choose to go on a safari, or go quad biking or like us, go on a safari using Segway. I had to get used to moving the entire body forward if you want to go ahead and leaning back to normal position to stop. The machine felt like an extension of my own body, and it expected me to behave as I would if I was walking. There isn’t an accelerator or brake lever but just your body to control it. I came back to India wondering if I could get myself a personal Segway, don’t ask me why, because there is no real reason.
Lunch was hosted by Natacha Mudhoo of Medine Leisure. She was yet another really interesting Mauritian, with origins in Bihar. She had this unique ability to make everyone around the table feel extremely comfortable, and her method is not simply warmth, there was something else that I cannot put my finger on. She was open, frank about herself and laughed so easily.
Post lunch we had the interaction with the lions. Multiple adult lions were in cages around 1500 sq. ft in size, and they would be prodded with long sticks to get them to pose with the tourists who wanted a picture with them. Embarrassingly, this activity is very popular with Indian tourists! I walked away refusing to participate.
Note to Self 14: Always check if the ‘animal’ safari experience they promise might involve animals in cages. If yes, stay away. Not that any safari is fair to animals, but it’s more at peace with nature when the humans are the ones restricted/caged.
We ended the day at Shanti Maurice, a luxury resort, that is spread over 36 acres of land and is really green! The boardwalk to the rooms was built so as to not didn’t disturb the natural pond in the property and also so it didn’t flood during monsoons. Ironically, heavy rains resulted in the entire place flooding a few weeks prior, and the entire boardwalk had to be redone. I like it when resorts and organisations think about the nature around them, the flora and fauna that originally existed on that land and instead of disrupting it, are more inclusive in their approach.
After a quick tour, we headed to the Rum Shed. A new restaurant and bar, this place would probably be my dream food joint by far. Why? The entire building seems to be made of recycled wood. All the furniture inside is made of recycled wood and has the distressed look. There are placards and boards on the walls that are ads and hoardings from another time, some quite funny. We were served a large platter of starters and I ate like I hadn’t seen food in my entire life. Then I felt stuffed all the way to the airport. Simply put – the food was simply brilliant. The raison d’être of this place is the range of rums they offer – around 150+, if I remember that right. I’m not much of a rum person and I found the cocktails really strong, but that shouldn’t stop you from heading there. Even if you don’t drink, I would still say the Rum Shed is one of the coolest hang-outs in Mauritius. You can visit the Rum Shed even if you aren’t staying at Shanti Maurice.
Note to Self 15: Never reach a cool restaurant hungry. You will embarrass yourself with your greed.
And with that I’ve reached the end of my Mauritian Odyssey. I hope to be adding to these stories with a few more anecdotes, glimpses of the country, its people and my experiences there. Till we meet again, keep reading.
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.