The tropical island of Mauritius, once a haunt for pirates, is now best known for affordable luxury hotels on white sand beaches with volcanic mountain backdrops.
It is an island for exploring, with Indian temples, colonial houses, botanical gardens, and opportunities to spot rare birds among soaring ebony trees, walk with lions or swim with dolphins.
For Mauritians, a fusion of French, Indian, Creole and Chinese peoples, a big table of food with the family is happiness. This year is declared the year of Mauritian gastronomy, highlighting the island’s legendary hospitality.
Luxury here is surprisingly affordable – Mauritius has some of the best value deals in the region. Reassuring remnants of the British colonial era remain in the Gymkhana Club, tea plantations and driving on the left, but gateaux piments and dhal puri stalls at markets, hip-wiggling sega performances and the ubiquitous dodo icon, add a touch of the exotic.
Plentiful water sports, world-class spas, top-flight golf courses and gourmet cuisine make it hard to leave the hotel, but Mauritius has plenty to see and do – from French colonial houses and imaginative animal parks to nature walks, quad biking, zip-lining and horse riding.
The tourism hub is in the north around Grand Baie, which has the greatest concentration of both hotels, and beaches and entertainment. The east coast is most famous, with the most celebrated hotels and stretches of arguably the most beautiful white sand beaches, while the flat, calm beaches of the west coast are favoured by families.
The “green” south is the island’s wilder, but perhaps more interesting side. There are clutches of hotels in the southeast and more to be found squeezed onto calm stretches near pounding surf and clifftop walks in the southwest.
It was writer Mark Twain who said: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” With that recommendation, it’s no wonder 100000 British visitors go each year.
WHEN TO GO
Just 20 degrees south of the equator, Mauritius promotes itself as a year-round destination, although most people associate it with winter sun. The island’s peak season extends from October to April, which is hot, humid and rainy, with a slight risk of cyclones from January to March. The island’s winter, from May to September, is warm and dry, with fewer mosquitoes and rates that drop by 30% to 50%.
The north and west are more sheltered in the northern hemisphere summer, and the east coast in winter. The north coast can be stiflingly hot in the Mauritian summer. The island has a microclimate – so it can be raining where you are, with the sun shining five minutes away. This is worth bearing in mind when planning activities.
Booking a package through travel agents and tour operators secures the best value flight and hotel deals – and takes care of those airport transfers. Many tour operators now offer added value in the form of a room upgrade, free room for kids and/or a freebie or two such as extra nights, a bottle of fizz, free meals for two and/or spa treatments and activities from golf to waterskiing – just ask about offers.
Mauritius may be small, at 45km x 65km, but travelling here takes time. One to two-hour drives between your hotel and the attractions are not uncommon, as apart from one major highway which snakes from the airport to Grand Baie in the north, roads are generally narrow and winding. The key to stress-free exploration is to take in one region at a time or, alternatively, let your trip be dictated by theme or interest.
Buses go everywhere apart from the uninhabited Plaine Champagne, but as travelling this way is time-consuming and a bit unpredictable, and taxis, excursions and petrol are relativelycheap, visitors rarely use them. Self- driveis a popular, reasonably safe and flexible way to tour the island. That said, driving in Mauritius isn’t for the faint-hearted. Roads often have no pavements, so people and dogs step in your way.
Although improving, towns and attractions are poorly signposted and Mauritian driving is erratic. Vehicles can be hired from leading international players who have desks at the airports and major resorts, although they tend to be expensive. © The Daily Telegraph