‘It’s paradise’ whispered the elderly gentlemen in 25B as the palm-fringed beaches of Mauritius appeared through my window.
We’d sat in relative silence for the 12-hour flight, a language barrier and armrest between us, but from the gleam in his eye and the grin on my face, we didn’t need to speak any words to understand the beauty we were witnessing break through the clouds. He was still in love with his island home after all these years, and unbeknown to me, I was about to fall entirely under its charm.
Mauritius was well into its fifty years of independence celebrations and from the colourful, anniversary signs in the arrivals hall to the buzzing events in the compact capital, this African nation seemed to have much to rejoice.
I expected soft white sands. I expected azure waters lapping at my feet. I expected luxury resorts akin to a windows desktop screensaver. But, what I didn’t realise was how much more there is to Mauritius. For one of the smallest countries in the world, 26th to be precise, the depth of the destination is both surprising and expectation surpassing.
The vanilla tea sent a long, warm shot through my body, as my skin felt cool from the air. In the higher up fertile plateau of the island, low hanging clouds danced over tea fields as the odd speck of rain threatened to make a full-blown appearance.
Bois Cheri, the oldest tea producer on the island and still the most popular brand, now opens its doors to visitors year round.
After touring the factory, where much of the work and boxing is still done with pride by hand, a cup of signature vanilla tea amongst the plantation was the perfect mid-morning refreshment. Deer playfully jumped amongst the grass, kayakers sailed gracefully across the lake and barely visible amongst the forestry, an eco-bubble lodge welcomed its guests ready to check into pollution-free skies and all-encompassing nature.
A close call with a cyclone a few days earlier had brought heavy rains to the island, and as the green landscape looked revitalised, waterfalls became restocked.
There is a multitude of hikes on the island, some with monkeys casually strolling past, others with not a soul in sight, primarily concentrated in the rugged landscape of Black River Gorges national park. The towering, pounding 100-metre high Chamarel waterfall is the crowd pleaser, but my favourite was down a dirt track surrounded by sugar-cane.
Rochester Falls tumbled over the rocky edge with such force it magnified the magnificent placement of a relatively small waterfall. We tenderly crossed its rushing rivers before a local handed us a freshly hacked coconut at the bottom. The early morning wake up call had been worth it. Coconuts over coffee, waterfalls over showers, I decided there and then that was to be my new life motto, the best souvenir Mauritius could gift me. A happy hour of cold dips in uninterrupted serenity followed until locals on scooters came to reclaim their hideaway.
‘They are lilies on steroids’ I exclaimed at the Sri Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens. Once upon a time, the giant tortoises of the islands roamed freely through these gardens alongside the giant lilies, but sadly due to tourists pestering these gentle creatures, they have been retired behind barriers which pulled on my heartstrings. We got lost amongst the towering palm-lined pathways that we walked around and around, happily unable to locate the exit.
Our next stop was one of the islands more unique, and for some disappointing, natural attractions; The Seven Coloured Earths. Depending on the lighting, time of day and angle you look from, this mound of mineral-infused sand shows various shades of reds, yellows and purples lingering in patterns. The rains had darkened the land, but the faint hints of a multicolour spectrum remained.
As a Brit tea is essential, but my attention span always turns to Rum by a certain hour of the day. At Chamarel Rhumerie some of the islands vast crop of sugar cane are processed into the sweet golden nectar. A tour of the rhumerie came accompanied with tastings, more tastings and mojitos that quickly took the afternoon from educational to tipsy. A feast of a lunch at nearby Chamarel restaurant came served with a view and side-dish of future Instagram envy.
It was the best meal of the trip I’d summarised on a call home that evening, though when questioned I couldn’t remember a single dish. ‘Go for the food‘, I laughed, ‘but you’ll want to stay for the view’.
As the sun broke through the clouds we begrudgingly packed our bags and left the incredible Trou Aux Biches resort in the north. Even with a cyclone, it had been a blissful stay in one of the most incredible resorts I’ve had the pleasure to witness but, the windswept south awaited.
As we sipped on more Rum, feasted on fish and enjoyed a traditional Sega dance on the beach, we felt the same joy and love for Mauritius that the dance represented.
From our new home at Outrigger, a resort heavily invested into conserving and restoring the reefs around the pristine beaches, we swam and snorkelled through countless fish before feasting on fusion foods. The blend of authentic Mauritian, French and Indian influences on the island comes through from breakfast to dinner with culinary flair. Even the small snacks at the bustling Port Louis market ranged from mini-French pastries and freshly carved fruit though to Indian Roti and newly picked tea.
Stepping onto the beaches of Le Morne Brabant it was as dreamy as it had looked from that restaurant balcony. The sand was warm and fine under my feet, and the lapping waves cemented what I had always pictured Mauritius to be. Jet-skis flew past, families picnicked under the shade of the trees, and we grabbed a boat to sail around the imposing mountain which dominates the landscape of the south beaches. Cracking open a Phoenix, the local beer, we raised a toast to Mauritius’s 50th year of independence.
Taking around 90-minutes to drive from one side of the island to the other, I barely expected a handful of the experiences, adventures and natural wonders that Mauritius offered up. I’d expected to come back relaxed and that I would, but I’d also return with my need for adventure and culture firmly massaged for the foreseeable.
Seeing a country with such a family-style bond, evident from the multiple faiths sharing the space around Ganga Talao, a volcanic crater lake, to the day-to-day greetings and smiles, had made my initial plane grin a permanent feature.
‘Another rum mojito?’ Called the bartender with a wink. I sent an affirmative nod back; I was going to enjoy the dream of this island paradise named Mauritius until the very last second. The gentleman on the flight couldn’t have uttered a better word to describe his postcard-perfect home, a postcard I wanted to stay in and not send back to reality.
Read more: Best places to visit in Mauritius
How to get to Mauritius: Air Mauritius offer direct, overnight flights from London Heathrow. The service and food was exceptional, but the planes and in-flight entertainment dated. New, next-generation A350’s will serve this route from early 2019.
Best time to visit: May to December offers drier days with the perfect temperature.