Text Julia Swart Photographs Graeme Borchers MAURITIUS’S HEART AND SOUL Mauritius has long been revered as an idyllic island getaway, conjuring up visions of palms and piña coladas. But many such destinations offer these fundamentals, and the formula for ‘heavenly island holidays’ has long been fine-tuned to cater to the increasingly tough demands of visitors from across the globe. At almost every high-end resort you’ll have access to the finest cuisine, the most pampering service, luxurious accommodation and world-class spas. But what differentiates this Indian Ocean island is the welcoming spirit of its people. Of course, when you leave, your photos will tell tales of magnificent beaches, spectacular landscapes, vibrant markets and mouthwatering local cuisine. But it’s the enduring memories of the warmth and what can only be described as the ubuntu displayed by the Mauritians themselves that will beckon visitors back. Here, heart and soul win hands down. It’s something South Africans, as recent hosts of the World Cup, can relate to. In retrospect, it is not the tourist attractions or the level of accommodation that blew the country’s foreign guests away, but rather the graciousness and the passion of the people. And this is quite the case in Mauritius… CULTURE CLUB The Mauritians’ outlook on life is shaped by the diversity of their culture, with Hindus and Tamils, Muslims and Catholics, Chinese and Franco-Mauritians living harmoniously on the island. Cross- cultural marriages are common, and it’s the norm for extended families to live together. A resident observes that, ‘rich or poor, it does not matter – the important thing is to make the most of life, to dance, to sing, to eat well, to drink and to enjoy when we are together’. There’s a refreshing and inspirational camaraderie among the population that you can just feel: on the public beaches, in the markets and as you wander down the streets of whatever town or village you visit. Mauritians are hospitable and are consummate at converting a simple conversation into a friendship in their characteristic lilting French-Creole accent. SPICE OF LIFE The island’s markets are exhilarating hives of activity, suffused with the smells of cinnamon and cardamom, pineapples and pumpkins, fresh coriander and oranges. Don’t miss the Central Bazaar in Port Louis, which is frequented by the locals and brings you face to face with the aromatic life of Mauritius. Fruit and vegetables are purveyed alongside local crafts and rolls of lustrous fabric. Everything is colourful, fragrant, enticing. Food trolleys laden with freshly made samoosas and spring rolls are irresistible and you simply can’t stroll by without a taste. Indian, Chinese, Creole and European traders sit side by side. The vibrant palette so noticeable in every sphere of Mauritian life really matches the personality of the country. LUXE LODGINGS In Mauritius you’ll get to enjoy the best of all worlds when your lodgings are the sumptuous and comfortable Maradiva Villas Resort & Spa. The villas have private living areas with all the mod cons you’d expect of a luxury resort, including your own plunge pool. But it’s at Maradiva’s superb spa where you’ll surely want to hang out. The Ayurvedic principle of balancing the physical, mental and emotional states forms the basis of most of the treatments here, with the spa’s resident Ayurvedic doctor tailoring programmes to meet guests’ specific needs. And when you’re not floating a metre off the ground after a massage, you’ll be dining on the fare created by executive chef Didier Jacob, a native Franco- Mauritian who delights in giving fresh life to the traditional cuisine as cooked by his grandmothers. ISLAND INDULGENCE With the glorious sense of privacy afforded by the individual pool villas at Mauritius’s luxe Four Seasons Resort, you’d be forgiven for dreaming you’d been dropped onto a private island. Sensational cuisine is an essential part of the Four Seasons experience, and there are several options to choose from. You might want to try the contemporary Italian fare – using Mauritian produce– at Acquapazza, or, at the other end of the scale, a decadent food-and-wine pairing dinner, an intimate private affair, in the resort’s wine cellar. More indulgence is to be found at the Four Seasons Spa, where the emphasis is on the traditions of Mauritian culture. The spa’s specially formulated signature oils include an uplifting Mauritian Essence made of ylang-ylang, coconut oil and indigenous flowers. WHEN IN MAURITIUS… Romantics and luxury seekers, adventurers and adrenaline junkies, sporting fanatics and golfers, nature lovers and shoppers alike will all find plenty to do… Try the national fare, which draws from the flavours of India, Asia, Africa and Europe. Aromatic curries and rougailles served with white rice and beans are as indigenous to the island as the Creole language. Take the plunge with all manner of water sports, and choose from swimming with dolphins and scuba diving through to catamaran expeditions and kitesurfing. Go shopping. Billabong, Diesel and high-end labels such as Armani, Prada and Louis Vuitton can be found in modern shopping centres in Port Louis, Curepipe and Grand Baie, or explore the informal markets in Floreal and Quatre Bornes. In Curepipe, among the maze of traditional traders, there’s an enclave of eclectic shops selling native Mauritian jewellery, one-of-a-kind pieces of designer clothing, crafts and artworks. The dodo is emblazoned on most items destined for the tourist market. The bird may be extinct but it has definitely not been forgotten! Visit the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Botanical Gardens, with its flora sourced from around the world. Take a picnic blanket, lie back and lose yourself in the tranquil beauty and the heady fragrance of ginger, sandalwood and camphor. Visit a colonial house like Eureka to get a closer sense of the vernacular architecture. There is nothing museum-like about this historical home with its wraparound veranda; it echoes with life. You can tuck into a delicious home cooked curry, with pumpkin fricassee, lentils and peanut rougaille. Maison Eureka, +230-433-8477. Explore some of the remarkable sites in the interior that celebrate both the natural beauty and the ethnicity of the country. There is a burgeoning awareness of the importance of preservation and ecotourism. You can snuggle up to nature at Casela Nature Park and view a selection of over 1 500 species of birds or you can quad bike through the nature reserve at Domaine de l’Étoile. GETTING THERE Air Mauritius flies from Johannesburg to Mauritius seven days a week, and twice a week from Cape Town and Durban. 011-262-7100/7101, airmauritius.com THE LOWDOWN For more information on this sunny corner of paradise visit tourism-mauritius.mu This article was originally featured in the September 2010 issue of House and Leisure.