For such a small island Mauritius has many places of interest to visit. The capital, Port Louis was founded by Mahe de Labourdonnais in 1736. It has great character and in some parts has a battered elegance. Off the main square the, “Place d’Armes” is set amidst giant palms trees. For people who are interested in the architecture of the past, there are fine French colonial buildings like Government House built in the 18th century and the Municipal Theatre built around the same time. There are two cathedrals, a Supreme Court, 18th century barracks, a Historical and Natural History museum all watched over by numerous statues of various people of importance from the past. On the fringe of the town, nestling at the foot of the mountains is the Champ de Mars which was originally laid out by the French for military parades and now serves as a race course. A must when in Port Louis is the vibrant covered market where you can see the amazing crafts, tropical fruit and veggies and many other wares sold by the vendors dressed in colourful attire. Before leaving the town, make sure you visit the Port which is the main reason for the creation of Port Louis and lies quietly in the shelter of a semi-circle of mountains, holding its secrets of the past of the Spice Traders, battles and sunken ships.
Leaving the town, you pass through its suburbs, Beau Bassin, Rose Hill, Quatres Bornes and Vacoas where you must make a stop and view the extinct crater, Trou aux Cerfs some 280ft deep and more than 200 yards wide. You can stand on the rim and look out over one of the most spectacular views of the island, (a great place to take photos).
Then drive on to Curepipe which is the island’s main urban shopping centre. Here you will find retail outlets and good restaurants where you can have a meal before heading on to Mahebourg, one of the main fishing centres, situated in the bay of Grand Port and has a historical museum which is housed in the French Colonial Mansion where, apparently, in 1810 English and French naval commanders were both wounded in the same battle, and brought to the mansion and given medical attention at the same time, (I wonder what they had to say to each other? Perhaps they were too wounded to care.) Apart from naval relics, the museum has copies of the priceless Mauritius “Post Office stamps, such as the “Blue Mauritius.”
Travel back, towards the village of Souillac and a little farther along the south coast you can see where the island’s distinguished poet, Robert-Edward Hart de Keating lived in a delightful little house called “Le Nef” which is built of coral and volcanic rock. It now serves as a museum standing on the cliffs, looking out over the sea; – no wonder Hart was such a great poet! –
In the south west of the island, close to Le Morne, are the “Coloured Earths”, an amazing geological phenomenon which is believed to have been caused by weathering of the layers of rock. Try and see this sight on a bright, sunny day as this is when the colours are seen at their best.
Do not miss out on seeing the Black River Gorges where you shall discover great picnic spots and spectacular scenery as well as heavy forests bejewelled with rain drops, where there is an abundance of birdlife.
Passing the Moka Range of mountains, Le Pouce, 2661ft, which can be climbed and is categorised as “easy”, Pieter Both, 2700ft, categorised for experienced climbers and rock-climbers. Then head back south of Port Louis and stop at Le Reduit, the French colonial residence of the Governors’ of Mauritius and walk in magnificent 325 acre gardens that roll out in front of the residence majestically.
To the north of Port Louis you will find my favourite place on the island, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Pampelmousses, an absolute haven of peace and tranquillity. Founded in 1770 as a nursery for tropical crops, it was from here that cloves were first introduced to Zanzibar. Famous for its pond where you will see the huge floating Victoria Regia lily-pads that look like large round trays proudly displaying their exquisite purple flowers that reflect into the pond’s liquid surface.
The tear-jerking French classic, “Paul et Virginie” the novel by author Bernardin de St. Pierre was written by him after his stay on the island of Mauritius and the Pampelmousses are wrapped into the saga. This is a must-read book to pack in your travel bag when you plan to visit this tropical paradise.
©Susan Cook-Jahme, Freelance Writer
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