by Zoe Shenton | via Daily Mirror |
Pull over! Pull over! I cried to the driver – who quite fancied himself as the next Lewis Hamilton – when a magical full moon, reflecting on the Indian Ocean, appeared from behind the tree-lined coast.
Yet another unforgettable view.
But look beyond the cliches about awe-inspiring moons, talcum powder white sandy beaches and cloudless skies and Mauritius has plenty more to offer.
Stay in the comfort of your hotel and you’ll miss a country brimming with vibrant cultures and enjoyable excursions, not to mention the photo opportunities round every corner.
After a 12-hour overnight flight with Air Mauritius and an hour’s transfer north, I arrived at my first destination – Zilwa (Creole for ‘islander’) Attitude.
It’s a sprawling beachside resort that prides itself on its authenticity.
As you walk into the entrance of the rustic four-star hotel in Calodyne, on the island’s northern tip, you’re greeted by a pinch-yourself view of the glistening ocean.
But it’s the little details like the Creole riddles scribbled on the bedroom walls and driftwood furniture that make it even more inviting.
Highlight: The luxurious Four Seasons at Anahita
The first day’s activities began with a short boat ride through crystal-clear shallow waters from the hotel’s jetty – where I’d later clamber into a local fisherman’s boat at dawn – to Gran Zil, a private island that is covered with swaying palm trees, for an al-fresco seafood-style BBQ.
There, in 28C heat, I feasted on a sumptuous lunch of the country’s popular octopus curry dish, mouth-watering prawns and tasty dorado (or mahi-mahi) – another fishy island staple.
It was complimented by a heady Mauritian rum mix, sipped from fashionably battered teacups.
Following a fizz-fuelled and slightly wobbly sunset catamaran trip, dinner began with another Mauritian staple – braised palm heart.
This was followed by more giant prawns with foie gras emulsion and a perfectly roasted lobster tail with lime.
The following day I made the 45-minute trip to the island’s busy capital of Port Louis.
The craft market close to the harbour front is an obvious tourist trap, which sells gaudy Hawaiian shirts and fridge magnets (if that’s your thing, have a go at haggling).
But the fresh food market – an explosion of vibrant colours and a real glimpse of local life – is definitely worth a visit.
The locals chat among themselves in a mix of Creole, French and English as they guard their stalls, which buckle under the weight of pink dragon fruit, giant watermelons and other delicious looking fruit and veg.
Look out for the local pet shop, located close to the island’s old fort (now home to the police force) which has caged iguanas for sale outside.
And if you have time, take a trip to the Champ de Mars Racecourse on a Saturday – it’s the favourite pastime of the locals.
It’s a 5.30am start the next day – but it’s acceptable if it involves a boat trip with a local fisherman and a glimpse of playful dolphins as the sun rises.
The hotel also offers water sports, including paddle boating and snorkelling, all free of charge.
Later that day, I travelled south down the coast to the opulent Four Seasons resort at Anahita, located in the east at Beau Champ.
Travelling along the country’s winding roads is an experience in itself – luscious greenery, swaying seas of sugar cane, pretty fields dotted with frangipani and bougainvillea, and a dramatic rolling backdrop of imposing mountains envelopes you.
The only thing that’ll bring you back down to earth with an almighty bump are the cars zooming along those roads (it’s best to keep your eyes fixed on the scenery).
History: Shiva statue in the Grand Bassin
The Four Seasons’ Bambou restaurant delivered another tasty seafood experience, including mini-oysters and my very first sea urchin, which you’ll find littering the ocean floor (and your scrambled egg, if you fancy it).
Other stand-out dishes included a roti you could fill with a prawn or meat curry of your choice.
And the choice of desserts was so vast and appetising Mary Berry would be whipped into a mild panic.
Entertainment was provided in the form of a high-tempo sega show – a local dance – by scantily clad Mauritian men and women.
Next day I headed off to Chamarel Waterfalls in the south west, where the St Denis River plunges more than 270ft and from there took the short walk to see the Seven Coloured Earths, a small area made up of mysteriously formed striking coloured sand dunes.
Also located in the folds of Chamarel’s fertile valleys is the Rhumerie de Chamarel.
After a tour of the distillery, where our bubbly guide explained how they make their rum, I was invited to taste seven different types, from their premium white rum to a sweet and sticky coconut liqueur.
The neighbouring restaurant – L’Alchimiste – provides a mouth-watering menu, with a variety of dishes ranging from rich foie gras to wild boar.
Word of advice – don’t drink two glasses of wine with lunch before the rum tasting.
Fond tea drinker or not, head to Bois Cherie, a picturesque tea plantation and factory that dates back to 1892, to see where they produce 40 tonnes a day – including their famous vanilla infused tea.
Marvel: Seven Coloured Earths
As you walk through the factory you’re hit with a powerful smell of freshly cut grass while the chug of well-oiled machine cogs whirrs around you.
Once your guided tour ends, you’ll be able to taste the wide range of teas on offer in a dining area with a view of the valleys.
From there we drove through low-lying cloud to visit Grand Bassin, 1,800ft above sea level.
It’s a sacred lake for Hindus and home to an imposing 108ft statue of Shiva.
More than 400,000 Hindus, who make up roughly half the population, make a pilgrimage there once a year.
After all that sightseeing some beach-based, cocktail-sipping action at the Four Seasons beckoned me.
It’s a huge resort but if you don’t fancy walking or hopping on the back of a buggy, they also provide you with bikes to explore and there’s a top spa too.
Kayaks and other water sports are available.
But if your sense of adventure only stretches so far, at least try the snorkelling.
The turquoise lagoon is encircled by (sadly a lot of it dead) coral.
But it is still sprinkled with shoals of colourful fish and some enormous starfish.
And, of course, keep your eyes peeled for the magical full moon – because sometimes you just can’t beat a brilliant cliche.
Air Mauritius flies from Heathrow to Mauritius from £807 return. airmauritius.com
Rooms at the Zilwa Attitude cost from £100pppn a/i based on 2 sharing. zilwa-hotel-mauritius.com
Rooms at the Four Seasons at Anahita cost from £297 + tax h/b on summer special offer to Oct 15 (stay 3 consecutive nights get 2 extra free inc unlimited golf). fourseasons.com/mauritius/ .
Tourist info: tourism-mauritius.mu .
Timezone: UK +3hrs
Currency: Rupee £1 = 52
Best timeto go: Year-round tropical destination with magical moons and much more