On Location – Mauritius Day 12
Today our blogger on tour takes to the open road in Mauritius and scores a hit of history along with some of Mother Nature’s finest handiwork…
Over the past fortnight, I’ve pretty much seen most of Mauritius. I’ve ticked off the north of the island, including the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens and the capital, Port Louis. I’ve also kicked back on the creamy-white sands of Belle Mare and Flic-en-Flac on the east and west coasts, respectively. Rounding things off, I’ve marvelled at the the Black River Gorge and the geological wonder that is the 7-Coloured Earth down south. But there was one final piece of the Mauritius jigsaw puzzle left for me to discover – the south-east sweep.
Behind the wheel
Having been on group and private tours, I decided to discover this corner of the island under my own steam. As such, I hired a car through Thomson. Driving in Mauritius is a cinch – particularly if you’re from the UK. Reason being, one of the British Empire hangovers here is that they drive on the left. What’s more, the roads are in really good nick and the sign posts bear an uncanny resemblance to the ones you find at home.
So, car keys in hand, I made a beeline for Eureka, at the base of the Moka Mountains. Okay, so strictly speaking this place isn’t anywhere near the south-east of the island – it’s over in the mid-west. But I was really keen to go here because it’s home to one the best-preserved colonial estates on the island and so made a bit of a detour. An elegant Creole residence, Eureka House was built back in 1830 and owned by French and British aristocrats. It’s as though the rooms have been vacuum packed – they’ve remained pretty much untouched over the centuries and are filled with antiques. The mansion also boasts magnificent gardens and grounds that lead down to a spectacular waterfall.
From Eureka, I then headed south along the island’s one and only motorway. Once I’d passed Sir Seewoosagur Airport, I swung east and made for the glittering waters of Blue Bay. As the name suggests, this sheltered cove boasts textbook tropical waters shot with sapphire, jade, aquamarine and turquoise. ‘Photogenic’ doesn’t even come close.
Next up I traced a line northwards on the map to Vieux Grand Port. The cradle of Mauritius’ history, the ‘Old Grand Port’ is the oldest settlement on the island – indeed it’s where the first Dutch explorers landed on 9th September 1598. Reminders of Mauritius’ stint under the Dutch – and the French who subsequently took over the island – can be seen at the at the ruins of Fort Frederik Hendrik, along with the remnants of an old Dutch church and bakery.
Putting the pedal to the metal, I then made for the Grand Port Mountain Range, passing the Ferney Valley en route. Twisting through the countryside, I cruised by soaring mountains cloaked in greenery, banana plantations, and seemingly never-ending sugarcane fields. As you can imagine, the views were sublime.
Before heading home, there were two last things I wanted to check off. First up was the kaleidoscopic Tamil temple on the outskirts of Flacq…
…followed by the crumbling remains of the old French sugar mill near Belle Mare. When the French settled in Mauritius, they built lots of sugar factories. The British colonials followed suit, adding more estates. At its peak, Mauritius’ sugar industry accounted for 259 sugar mills. Most of these have since been pulled down, but some shells and stone chimneys remain.