Mauritius Beyond its Beaches

Most visitors to this island know the sea-sand-sundowners routine; but what about the rest? Here are 10 things to do on this glorious island, aside from hitting the beach of course:

Tee off Mauritius is a great place to golf. It has eight 18-hole golf courses and five nine-hole golf courses, most of which are built around exotic palm trees, bougainvilleas, and lakes. From Le Tousseok to the sprawling grounds of Beachcombers Le Paradis Hotel and Golf Club in the shadow of the looming Morne Mountains, there are plenty of choices. Since Mauritius is a tropical island, the rain tends to last an hour or so and then stop, so you can still golf pretty much any day. In the centre of the island, is the Gymkhana club with an 18-hole golf course, it’s the oldest in the southern hemisphere.

Get a bird’s eye view of the island Fort Adelaide or La Citadelle, in the capital of Port Louis, was built by the British and sits high on a hill overlooking the harbour.  To counter a probable invasion by the French and to keep a rein on local settlers who were opposed to the abolition of slavery, the British constructed this sturdy black basalt structure. Today, it’s a great place for panoramic views of the capital, the Moka mountain range, the historic Champs de Mar horse racing track and the harbour. The old barracks are now swish boutiques where you can spend an afternoon shopping.

Enjoy foodie delights The cultural diversity of Mauritius is reflected in its food. Try the typical local street food dholl puri, a chapatti filled with beans and chilli, as well as drinks like alouda, made from milk and jelly. Chinese dim sums and fried noodles as well as the local version of spring rolls called hakien are also staples along with Creole specialties like cari, rougaille, eggplant fritters, and a chili paste called mazavaroo. For dessert, try a coconut gateaux or sweet potato fritters.

Visit a miniature ship-building factory Building intricate model ships based on actual plans with attention to the tiniest details is an island tradition brought by sailors who visited the islands. Visit Le Port Ship Factory in Zone Industrielle to see scale reproductions of historic ships made from actual blueprints, which are crafted from teak wood in the traditional plank-on-frame method.  Craftsmen forge small fittings meticulously from metal and wood, and cotton cloth is dyed in tea to make authentic sail cloth. In the final stages it is painted and polished. You can also see models of local fishing boats called pirogues as well as the classic ship-in-a-bottle. Models of great historical ships like Astrolabe and Cutty Sark come with a printed history as well.

Tour a Creole house Maison Eureka in the south-west of the island is a restored Creole mansion dating back to 1860 with 109 doors, turrets and a wrap-around balcony. The family has restored and converted it into a museum with each room following a theme, furnished with exquisite carved furniture shipped from across the world by the East India Company. Take a peek into the rooms with blue pottery plates, an old fashioned shower, cinnamon wood cabinets and Limoges china. Walk through the extensive gardens with its mango and palm trees. The kitchen still has a functional wood-fire stove and the house serves delicious Creole food.

Visit the Blue Penny Museum Located in one of the oldest buildings on the Port Louis waterfront, this museum is home to the rare orange-red one penny and the deep-blue two pence bearing the profile of Queen Victoria known as the Mauritius Post Office stamps. These stamps are famous because of a mistake: instead of post paid they are printed with postage. The ground-floor is entirely devoted to two lovers, Paul and Virginie, the local version of Romeo and Juliet, drawn from the novel of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre. The Museum also displays old marine maps, paintings, sculptures, stamps, and old documents that bring out the richness of Mauritian history and culture through the use of multimedia screens and special effects. (www.bluepennymuseum.com/en) Open daily 10am to 5pm. Admission from Rs496 (adults) and Rs243 (kids)

Explore its incredible bio-diversity  Take a trip to Iles aux Aigrettes, a tiny coral outcrop off the southeast coast, which is surrounded by clear water, with giant tortoises lumbering under the forest canopy and rare birds like the Mauritian kestrel and pink pigeon. Follow it up with a visit to the lush Pamplemousees Botanical Garden with its iconic giant water lilies from Brazil and an astonishing variety of trees from across the world. Take a guided tour of the gargantuan park with Baobab trees, an avenue of royal palms, a spice garden, curiosities like the bleeding tree and the sausage tree and the talipot palm with its fan shaped leaves,  which blooms only once in 100 years.

Revel in the Indian connection More than 70 percent of the people on the island have Indian roots and languages like Tamil and Bhojpuri are widely spoken. To really get a sense of how big the Indian community is, visit Ganga Talao with a 108ft high statue of Lord Shiva towering over a crater lake with statues of Hanuman and Ganesha alongside bright prayer flags. There are other temples on the island like Maheswarath in Triolet, one of the largest temples on the island, and the Cailaisson Tamil temple in Abercrombie. Also visit Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (currently under renovation) where the first indentured workers from India arrived on the island after slavery was abolished to work on the sugarcane fields.

Tea-tasting at Bois Cherie Tea was brought to the island by a French priest in the 18th century. Today, a vast area in the south is home to an undulating stretch of emerald tea plantations and colonial mansions. The Bois Cherie Tea factory offers guided tours of the factory and shows visitors the entire process of tea making: from plucking and drying to crushing, processing and packaging. The tea museum displays old machinery like an ancient locomotive—which was converted into a boiler to burn bagasse—and delicate porcelain which was once used to serve tea. After this, you can head off to a tea-tasting at a chalet on a hill overlooking a crater lake. A total of nine varieties of tea are on offer, including vanilla, dark tea, green tea, coconut and jasmine.

Follow the sugar chronicles Sugarcane is intricately linked to the history of the island. It was for the sugarcane fields that the slaves and indentured workers were brought in from overseas colonies. To get an idea of the story, visit L’Aventure du Sucre (www.aventuredusucre.com), a sugar museum housed in the old Beau Plan Sugar Mill in Pamplemousses. Follow the story of sugar with slick exhibits, tour the factory with its old-yet-intact machinery and finish your visit with a rum-tasting (rum is distilled from sugar cane juice). You can also have lunch at their restaurant called the Fangourin which serves Creole dishes like palm-heart salad and caramelized banana with rum.

How to get there Fly Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com) to Port Louis from Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai.

Where to stay Beachcomber is the pioneering hotel group with eight luxury properties spread across the island. Stay at the plush Paradis Hotel and Golf Club near Morne Mountain or the luxurious Royal Palm in Grand Baie. (www.beachcomber-hotels.com)

Don’t leave without Wooden model ships, local rainbow-coloured baskets, coconut-shell artefacts, and flavoured rum.

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Kalpana Sunder