I can quite see why the American writer Mark Twain once wrote, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” The island is often talked about in the same breath as the Seychelles and the Maldives. However, Mauritius, the largest of the three Mascarene Islands (the other two being Rodrigues and Reunion), is the one they call the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

Words And Photography Adam Jacot De Boinod

I can quite see why the American writer Mark Twain once wrote, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” The island is often talked about in the same breath as the Seychelles and the Maldives. However, Mauritius, the largest of the three Mascarene Islands (the other two being Rodrigues and Reunion), is the one they call the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

Words And Photography Adam Jacot De Boinod

It’s just such a beautiful island and tourism now trumps both her impressive textile and her sugar cane industries as the major boon to her economy. The summer months of November to April are warm and dry with temperatures of 23-33 degrees. The winter months of May to October are cooler, at around 17-23 degrees, with the wettest months being December to March. Importantly, the island is mercifully spared the worst of the standard tropical infliction of mosquitos.

On leaving the airport there were none of the garish advertisements promoting casinos or other touristic attractions. Instead, I was transported straight into a landscape of long, deep avenues of sugar cane ten feet high. The dips in the road added to my joy in being fully immersed. Every part of this sugar is collected and put to good use. In one particular village, the cane is turned into the sugar we all know, while other parts are used to thatch the roofs, and the remainder is turned into enough electricity to sustain almost half the villagers.

I reached my first accommodation, the glamorous Four Seasons Resort (www.fourseasons.com/mauritius), lying on the east coast at Anahita. It comprises purely of different grades of villa, and it’s all bridges, bicycles, and buggies along fresh concrete alleyways. All thoroughly thought through. Perfect for kids as well as perfunctory for the demands on the staff. It chiefly attracts a British clientele though Dutch, French, Chinese and Koreans make up most of the rest.

As for the villas, the décor is made from kaff wood. There’s a pleasing inside-outside feel and my villa blended effectively into its natural environment. The scenery is stunning, and I felt rested and at peace within the calm waters of the lagoon. The trees include the glorious and quirky banyons as well as the expansive ‘travellers’ palms’ (so called from the theory that if one broke its stem, there was water inside for the traveller). The gardens have been imaginatively landscaped and the flora and fauna are vibrant and colourful among their lush green-coated leaves.

Breakfast was one of the classiest I have ever enjoyed with its delicatessen-style set of rooms. There’s even a separate granary. As for dining, the three restaurants offer a healthy variety for those staying a week or more. There’s the French Beau Champ that has a refined menu. The beef is delicious coming across the ocean from Australia, and the rum is particularly strong at 40% alcohol. The view from my villa was panoramic as I stared out across the lagoon at the fishermen punting their modest crafts. The ripples barely broke the sheeted calm of the water and the waves on the reefs were several miles out. And behind was the magnificent backdrop of the exotically shaped mountains aptly called Cat and Mouse, Lions’ Head and Bambou.

It was time to go inland. Where better than the Black River Gorges National Park? It’s stunningly rich in vegetation and from a high viewpoint I looked far beneath to see the gorge amid miles of dense, green forest. My imagination drifted and exploded. I spotted the waterfall at Chamaral, visible only from a distance, but huge. It drops a hundred metres and there is something compelling and mesmeric about the perennial pounding of water. It left me imagining just how much more dramatic it would become in the event of a rainstorm.

Slavery was the cause of the island’s most distinct cultural expression called ‘Sega’ which was once a rallying call in the form of a song and dance before evolving to incorporate a tambourine, a shaker and a triangle. Nowadays the real rhythm of Sega has been lost but it remains nonetheless the popular Mauritian dance form. As for dawn choruses, the island is alive with the presence of birds, which include the eponymous kestrel, pink pigeon, parakeet, and bulbul. All of which are most likely to be seen in this National Park.

The hotel’s tortoises sadly didn’t put on much of a show for me as they sat lazing together as a threesome huddled in a corner. But the geometric shapes on their shells looked amazing. As for the indigenous dodo, tragically it is now famously extinct. It was a slow somewhat clumsy bird the size of a turkey, with short legs, a hook-like bill, and truncated wings that it used to defend itself.

I wanted to see colourful fish and the attendant coral (or for that matter the odd shipwreck), I spotted the best ones at diving spots such as Shark Place, Cathedral and Couline Bambous (off the coast of Flic-en-Flac), Colorado and Roche Zozo (near to Mahebourg). Up at the northern tip of the island my options were even better with Gunner’s Quinn, Silver Star Wreck, Stenopus Reef and the Stella Maru wreck.

The taxi driver counted his 120 bends of the road before we descended to Le Morne. It’s an impressive and august stand-alone mountain at the south-western tip of the island overlooking another exceptionally beautiful lagoon. Here, beneath this expanse, was my next hotel, Lux Le Morne (www.luxresorts.com/en/mauritius/hotel/luxlemorne). As the writer Bill Bryson says: “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” I recommend staying just a few days at any one place before moving on: you don’t end up with a routine of the same breakfast or of looking out from the same chair.

Here at Lux Le Morne stretched a seemingly endless expanse of white sand beach. All so deeply liberating as horses trot up and down loving the soft sand on their hooves. Boats are everywhere, attached to which some people paraglide, and many waterski. Mine took me to the Île aux Bénitiers and the famous Bonsai-like ‘Crystal Coral rock’. The hotel has a really special position from which to enjoy the blue from the sea against the setting of the sun and its changing palette of gold, pink and then orange as the clouds draw over the events of the day like the curtain of the ultimate theatrical performance. It’s along this beach that the water gently laps. Sadly, out to sea, the waves were too agitated for me to go and swim alongside the dolphins.

The rooms have a neutral décor. Lots of decking, wood and white with no need mercifully for any embellishment. The foyer is cool and clean. Outside my rooms the gardeners played ‘hook and catch’ with coconuts using an averruncator (a long stick with shears for cutting high branches). Parents love the islands in the middle of creatively shaped swimming pools from which to watch over their kids’ safety from all angles. For dining, variety comes with three restaurants: a Buffet, a Beach Café, and East, which offers Thai cuisine. It’s where Chef Suksan Supprasert learned his trade in his aunt’s kitchen, shelling rice and peeling garlic and onions. His own speciality is the yaam per krob, a crisp roasted duck with lychee and grape.

As Mauritius is such a fertile island with everything seemingly growing at will, I had to experience the local markets. My favourite, housed under a vast vaulted roof, was the massive fruit and vegetable market at Flacq. The bursting produce was haggled over by the bustling locals. I somehow absorbed its frantic nature after many gentle days by adorning myself with a delightful garland of bright orange marigolds. Elsewhere across the island I saw rows of pineapple and lychee fields and mango trees and coffee plants. The local method of upturned rubber boots on sticks does the trick in acting as scarecrows.

What I was so impressed by was the island’s approach to religion. This is an island comprising half of Hindi and the rest, principally of Christians and Muslims. Each Hindi house is visible from the road with its two red flags for purity and a small shrine. Interestingly Tamil temples are very colourful with all their Gods depicted on the exterior, while Hindi temples depict their Gods discretely within, with only a plain red and white exterior. It is so refreshing that there is no religious discord. They live in peace and rest in peace as even their dead are all buried together in the same cemetery regardless of their faith.

It was time to experience my next hotel, The Residence (www.cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius). It’s set on the east coast on a stretch aptly called Belle Mare (from its beautiful stretch of blue water) through which I saw its white, sandy beach. It’s such a great stretch of sea for swimming. No spiky sand or protruding rocks. Coming off a small sugar-caned road, is a dramatic entrance of light and height that echoed the wonder of the resort. The hotel itself has an architecture that’s luxurious and stylish, grand and tasteful, with mild references as elsewhere on the island to southern France. Beneath a protruding triangular canopy all feels fresh, airy, and breezy. The colonial style has incorporated other Oriental styles with its white walls, dark wood, and greenery. It’s decorated with planters’ chairs, sepia photos of bygone years, old phones, and gramophone players, all demonstrating a keenness to embrace their history.

The rooms have beautiful white shutters and outside there are gazebos for quiet contemplation. The few lights on the trees at night make the leaves flow like an orchestra as the palm trees flutter. A perfect environment for dining with the choice of two restaurants: The Plantation, the lovely airy outdoor hall of an original planter’s house by the beach which has a menu befitting a gourmet, and The Verandah, which offers the right variety as a high-class buffet for those who typically stay more than a week. How divine. How heavenly. How right was Mark Twain.


Adam had support from www.holidayextras.co.uk who offer airport lounges at all major UK airports and many international destinations and was covered by multi award-winning travel insurer, CoverForYou,

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of QI the BBC programme with Stephen Fry, and is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.