Before embarking on my holiday to Maldives, I came across Simon Calder’s scathing review in the Independent, where he recalls breathing “a sigh of relief” as his plane flew over island resorts in the Maldivian archipelago and he “gazed down on the ragged circle of sand, palm trees and villas with private plunge pools and rain showers”. Clearly, a gated island hotel was his nightmarish idea for a holiday. If you’re like Simon Calder, hoping instead for warm, authentic island hospitality outside resort gates, Mauritius is your calling.
For a beach holiday destination and an island populated with five-star hotels, Mauritius lacks pretentiousness. Unless there’s a clause in your all-inclusive deal stipulating you want no interaction with real, local communities, you will be thrust into local life right from the outset.
A melting pot of cultures, the island is speckled with colourful temples, churches and mosques. Mauritians speak multiple languages, having a poignant but gripping history of Dutch, French and British colonial influences.
If you pick the right beach (Belle Mare, to name one), you’ll have access to parasailing, kayaking and snorkelling gear to explore the stunning varieties of fish and coral at your hotel’s private lagoon. But when you step out those gates, you’ll have a choice of seaside towns, museums, waterfalls, colonial mansions, markets, tea plantations and ornate places of worship. At the risk of turning this post into a Lonely Planet guide, however, I’d like to limit myself to three top choices:
Lie by the lagoon at Île aux Cerfs
Take a boat to Île aux Cerfs, an idyllic little island – off the east coast – that has it all – black, jutting pieces of volcanic rock juxtaposed against white sands, lush green wood, azure waters. Walk further on from the jetty to claim a secluded spot on the beach.
Head inland to see Maison Eureka
La Maison Créole or Eureka is a colonial house converted into a museum. It is one of the largest houses on the island, having been bought back and forth by aristocratic landowners in the nineteenth century. The aristocrats who lived here had a sugarcane plantation and owned a huge collection of Chinese pottery, Indian tapestry and other decorative pieces they’d collected through the various East India companies. Ask the local guide to give you a free tour and then sit on the veranda and enjoy a cup of locally sourced coffee.
See giant tortoises in a nature reserve
Head to Ile aux Aigrettes, a tiny island off the east coast and a nature reserve to protect and conserve species under the threat of extinction around Mauritius. The tour needs to be booked in advance and is about two hours long, led only be special ‘ecotour’ rangers with access to the island. Aldabra Giant Tortoises roam the island freely and you’re almost guaranteed you’ll spot one up close. Please remember to take a bottle of water with you as the temperatures on this little island are higher than the mainland and visitors run the risk of dehydration. You won’t miss it but do remember to walk up close to a solitary bronze statue of a Dodo in the middle of dense shrubbery, a befitting tribute to the flightless bird, which would have been seen waddling through wooded Mauritius over four-hundred years ago.