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MAURITIUS (article first published : 2006-01-23)

Michael Green, who writes the regular Wine Notes column for artSMart, recently visited Mauritius. This is his account of his stay on the beautiful island.

Mauritius has for many years been a prime destination for South African holiday-makers, and there is no sign of the flow slackening. This Indian Ocean island offers a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, an interesting historical and social background, and exceptional seaside amenities.

My wife and I recently visited Mauritius for the first time in 14 years, having been there quite often before. The charm remains untainted. The Mauritians work hard to ensure that their guests enjoy themselves. With a decline in the traditional sugar cane and textile industries (competition from China in the latter case), tourism has become an increasingly important factor in this island republic’s economy; there are about 30 major hotels and many more smaller ones.

We stayed at the Trou aux Biches hotel on the north-west coast. One of several hotels owned by the Beachcomber group, it offers outstanding amenities at a reasonable price, especially if you take a package tour from South Africa, which costs about R10,000 per person for a week, including airfare from Durban. (It costs relatively more if you stay, as we did, for a shorter time on dates to suit your own itinerary).

Trou aux Biches accommodates a maximum of 425 guests in chalets along a beautiful stretch of palm-fringed beach. The water is warm and the swimming is safe. A coral reef a kilometre or so offshore protects the beaches of Mauritius from dangerous surf and sharks. For the energetic there are plenty of aquatic sports: water-skiing, wind-surfing, sailing, pedal boats, fishing, a glass-bottom boat, all free except for deep sea fishing and scuba diving. And there is a nine-hole golf course. And a casino.

The hotel has three restaurants, with the compelling feature that the food is cooked before your eyes, while you wait: casseroles, omelettes, pancakes, fish kebabs, steaks, curries. Even salads are tossed and seasoned with ingredients of your choice. You can taste the difference.

The climate is so mild that the restaurant buildings have no walls and windows, just high roofs and low parapets. At night candles and gleaming wine glasses of good shape and quality create a magical effect. During the day small birds flit in unconcernedly and perch on chairs and tables.

Trou aux Biches means “watering place of the does”, and the hotel gardens are so magnificently luxuriant that one might expect to see deer peeping from behind the tropical foliage.

The people of Mauritius, mainly of Indian origin, are without question one of the island’s main tourist assets. They are unfailingly cheerful and polite, at hotels, shops, the airport and in the streets. “No problem” is the island’s motto; you hear it dozens of times every day. The beach vendors who bargain with you over the sale of beads, shirts, wraps, sunglasses, are the Cockneys of the Indian Ocean. “I’ll give it to you at half price”, says one. “Quarter price? No? Tomorrow it will be free --- but I won’t be here tomorrow”.

Incidentally French is literally the lingua franca but English is spoken everywhere and is indeed the official language of the island, thanks to its 150 years as a British colony.

Michel Daruty de Grandpre, who has been general manager of Trou aux Biches for the past 20 years and now manages another big hotel, the Victoria, as well, says the number of visitors from South Africa has increased in recent years, thanks to the strong rand.

Many members of the relatively small white community have, like Michel Daruty, names that are reminders of the glories of the France of a couple of centuries ago; for example, Desvaux de Marigny, De Fleuriot de la Coliniere, Lenferna de la Motte, names that are not unfamiliar in KwaZulu/Natal, where many Mauritians migrated long ago. The significant Chinese community also have multiple names; for example, Lee Pin Leong or, even more impressive, Fook Fah Lee Kee Lung. – Michael Green




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