I can’t believe this is our last full day of this incredible holiday! It has been such a blast … but there will be time for reflections later, first it’s time to enjoy these last moments. Despite Mauritius being a small island, there is an awful lot to see & do. Most people come to sit at resorts but that is not our style, and we set off to explore the southwest corner. It is a very beautiful island, and just driving around is entertainment itself. But Owen had suggested an itinerary so we headed out with purpose.
The first stop was at Bois Cheri tea factory. After sugar, tea is the biggest agricultural product of Mauritius, but to be honest visiting a factory was not really on my must-do list. However we were told to go there, so we did. We skipped the hour-long tour of the factory (apart from minimal interest in factories in general, the thought of entering a tin shed full of engines & boilers in that heat was not appealing in the slightest) but we did check out the museum, which was small but fascinating. Despite the ‘Frenchness’ of the island, it was under British rule until 1968, so tea-drinking is a national pastime. Learning about the history of important products like tea and sugar is more interesting than it sounds because of the insight it gives you into the history of the island itself. But the main attractions of Bois Cheri are the lovely setting, panoramic views, and tea tastings. We combined all 3 in the cafe, sitting, enjoying the views & trying several different types of flavoured teas. The most popular tea here is Vanilla tea, but we also tried Bergamot, fruit, coconut, mint – and also black & green tea. Very civilised.
Despite threats of rain all week, we have been very fortunate with the weather here in Mauritius. We have had pockets of rain, but never anything to get in our way. This morning dawned blue & clear but clouded over and while we were at Bois Cheri the first rains came. The clouds & mist do spoil the view photos somewhat, but it is lovely to look at! And it never lasts long.
Just along the road from Bois Cheri is Grand Bassin. Grand Bassin is a natural crater lake, quite pretty. It is sacred to the Hindus, who believe that the waters communicate with the water of the Ganges in India. There is a big Hindu temple and lots of statues. People come to Grand Bassin to make offerings to the gods. We saw several people standing in the water presenting fruit, flowers and incense on special little platforms. Hindus are the majority here in Mauritius, descendants of indentured Indian workers who came here in large numbers after the abolition of slavery, and massive crowds gather here on festival days. There are also wild monkeys (macaques) that hang around and help themselves to the fruit being offered (and people were feeding them too) which were fun to watch.
Nearby is the entrance to Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius’ only National Park. It is a very scenic park with steep wooded hills, high waterfalls, volcanic rocky crags and tropical rainforest. There are lots of longish walks that sound really lovely, but we only had time for a drive through the park and a couple of lookouts. Alexandra Falls was the first stop. Unfortunately, as we walked half way to the lookout the heavens opened and we were thoroughly soaked. Our camera bag has its own raincoat, so it was fine, but our umbrellas, and handy little disposable ponchos were all safely in our suitcase back at the house. Clever, not! Oh well, at least it was cool rain (and we were pretty damp with perspiration before that anyway). Alexandra Falls lookout was a tad disappointing, because we didn’t know that you can’t actually see Alexandra Falls from there! Still a lovely view across the mountains to the sea. And the rain does enhance the atmosphere in a rainforest.
After a pretty, windy drive through the forest we came to Black River Gorge lookout. The rain had stopped, and we had no trouble identifying the right stopping point – the crowds of people, tour buses & hawkers stalls gave it away. Apparently a popular spot! Fortunately all that is set back from the lookout itself, and the view was very impressive. Love to go back for some of the longer walks some day.
By now we were getting quite hungry, it was almost 3 o’clock, so we thought we’d look for a little cafe or take-away spot. Instead as we rounded a hairpin bend coming down the mountain, we came across a restaurant called Varangue sur Morne. It looked lovely, but more importantly was perched right on the edge of the hill with fabulous views (Varangue means verandah). We were asked if we had a reservation, which was quite amusing, since the place was half empty, and in fact was completely empty by the time we left. I thought we’d get stuck down the back but they put us in the best seat, right in the corner surrounded by forest & view. At that point they could have served us cabbage & we’d have been happy, but the lunch was excellent. Keith had a Creole Platter with rice, lentils, sautéed greens & a chicken & prawn curry. I had Fish & Prawn Marinara with Rodrigues pickled lemon & smoked marlin sauce. Delish. It was lovely sitting there, watching native birds flitting between the trees (and collecting scraps from the other tables!) and photographing the clouds rolling over the distant mountains. Tropical bliss.
But the day was not over & we dragged ourselves away from the varangue and back to the car. It was quite a steep descent down the mountain, which made for lots of hairpin bends, but also a lovely green drive with regular spectacular vistas. I may have enjoyed that more than Keith, who was driving! Almost at the bottom of the hill, we spotted our next destination called “Rhumerie de Chamarel”. This is a modern boutique rum distillery, and though we are not big rum drinkers it was well worth a visit. A sweet girl took us on a guided tour of the distillery itself, and then we had a rum tasting. Even our uneducated palettes could tell the difference between the different grades of rum, and we enjoyed tasting some flavoured rums as well (coconut, pineapple, coffee, lime, and of course vanilla). Rum, as I’m sure you know, is made from sugar cane, so it is the most popular beverage here. We loved the design of the rhumerie, there were lovely artworks and interesting timber pieces (e.g. the bar was a single piece of tree, including the branch and roots, polished & smoothed, quite a talking point.)
We escaped the rhumerie without actually purchasing any rum, and continued towards the coast. There is an iconic rocky outcrop called La Morne (which according to Google means the dreary!). It is actually anything but, a very large monolith that towers over the trees & the beach, and can be seen for miles around. We didn’t climb it – not sure that you can, but it looks spectacular. Especially as by now the rain had cleared, and the evening sunlight shining on the rocks was golden. We strolled along the beach for a while, enjoying our last Mauritian evening. We found ourselves in a resort section of the beach, which meant deck chairs & waiters (but sadly only for guests). Actually we were completely content with the sand, the warm, clear water and the light of the setting sun. What a perfect ending to our day of exploration.
But it wasn’t quite the end. The drive back to Souillac along the coast, past tiny fishing villages & coastal bays was delightful. And to finish the day & the week in style, we took Owen & Maryanne out to dinner to thank them (in a small way) for their hospitality. We went to a local Indian restaurant and enjoyed a fine meal. They have been excellent hosts and we very much appreciated their hospitality, and the good fortune of having such a beautiful place to stay.