The small but perfectly formed island of Mauritius gave Art Director Caroline Bellenberg a well-earned break
Located in the Indian Ocean, and just 40 miles long by 28 miles wide, Mauritius has more than 90 miles of white beaches, which are sheltered from the choppy waves by the world’s largest coral reef.
Before I visited, any photos I’d seen of the island showed a tropical paradise: silver sands and an inviting clear blue ocean. But could it really be that idyllic?
Well, I’m pleased to report that Mauritius is as beautiful as it is in the photos, from the picturesque craggy mountains, dreamy lagoons and palm-fringed beaches (all created out of volcanic activity millions of years ago) to its lush sugar-cane plantations.
But it’s got much more to offer, too.
If you tire of sunbathing on the beaches, you can pick up a mask and snorkel and take a boat trip to view the amazing marine life.
These waters are like a vast aquarium. When the boatman throws in a hunk of bread, huge shoals of multi-coloured fish appear, all eager to feed from your hand.
Back on the beach we discovered that sifting through the island rock pools is just as much fun as the British variety.
There’s no shortage of crabs or sea urchins and we saw sea cucumbers for the first time – though they don’t look at all like cucumbers!
Hard to imagine now, but Mauritius is also renowned for being the home of the legendary flightless dodo, before settlers hunted it to extinction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of flora and fauna left to enjoy.
From our peaceful base at the four-star Veranda Pointe Aux Biches hotel in the north-west of the island, we could view the wonderfully varied wildlife.
I was enthralled by the Weaver birds building nests in the trees, and by a bird with a comical Elvis quiff, which turned out to be a bulbul.
Oddly, many of the other diverse bird species were not originally native, but imported to fulfil specific tasks on the sugar plantations, such as eating grasshoppers.
Giant tortoises arrived on the island in similar fashion, descended from grandparents imported from the Seychelles in the 1880s on the advice of Charles Darwin, after the native Mauritian tortoises declined.
Rest and relaxation
There was no shortage of things to do at our resort. Some guests opted for daily sports on thebeach, or taking a pedalo or kayak into the hotel’s own lagoon. There was a spa and a well-equipped gym and an excellent kids club to give mums and dads a break.
For us, though, lying on a beach lounger was our choice of activity! In fact, this was probably the most relaxing holiday we’ve ever had.
We did manage to prise ourselves away occasionally to explore. To the south of us was Port Louis, the capital and main city, and though frenetic, it gave a good insight into island life, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and the catch of the day on display in the market.
Heading north we also visited bustling Grand Baie, full of restaurants, bars and clubs. We spent a day at the Veranda Hotel in the heart of town and agreed it would make an ideal base for those travellers who prefer a little more nightlife.
Beyond Grand Baie, at the very top of the island, is Cap Malheureux, with its famous red-roofed Catholic Church which looked just as stunning in real life as it does in pictures.
Great for food lovers
Mauritian cuisine reflects the ethnic diversity of the island: Creole rougailles (a base of tomatoes, onions, chillies, ginger and garlic), Indian curries, Muslim biryanis, French and Chinese dishes and even familiar English food can all claim to be local.
Great for culture vultures
Surrounded by sugar plantations, the Chateau Labourdonnais (chateaulabourdonnais.com/en/) is an original plantation house, owned by the same family for three generations and restored to the glory of its colonial past.
Complete with restaurant, shop selling local crafts and produce, and rum distilled on the premises – tastings are available.
Mauritius was a British colony from 1810, becoming independent in 1968. Before that, it was ruled by the French from 1715.
Further back in history, it was visited by the Arabs and Portuguese, with the Dutch establishing the first colony in 1638. Reflecting the legacy of British rule, you’ll find that cars drive on the left and the road signs are in English.
However, French influences abound, too – look out for Gallic outlets like Mr Bricolage.
Caroline stayed at Veranda Pointe Aux Biches (+230 265 5901). Double rooms start from £125 per night (two sharing) on a B&B basis.
She flew with Air Mauritius (020 7434 4375).