A phrase from the 60’s by proudly odd poet, writer, painter and modern thinker, Malcolm de Chazal (1902 – 1981), shows that there is two sides of Mauritius; the side of appearances and the side of reality. On the appearance side is the beauty of its landscapes and the gentleness of its people. The reality is different but not dark and is worth uncovering as it is the whole that gives Mauritius its strong identity.
Sugar-cane is the country’s common denominator that links all Mauritians as well as all panes of their history. This industry is responsible for both the sweetness of everyday life and the subtler bitter after-taste that can be discovered when visiting around, out of hotels. Sugar-cane explains the presence of so many different backgrounds within a single population, the social fabric of a nation yet to become, the coexistence of several languages as well as the freaky architecture in towns and villages, the environmental vulnerability; it even explains why the roads wind so much, all those aspects that make this island “unique”, a better-suiting adjective than the “heavenly” of the tourist brochures.
What makes Mauritius so captivating? If the answer to this question can be long, it is not so much for the island’s assets than for the difficulty in pin-pointing the reason(s). It is definitely a whole that makes tourists come back year after year, despite rapid changes in its landscapes in some regions. The answers are not all of physical and tangible nature but they are worth mentioning.
If until the last century Mauritius was just a far-away place with beach hotels, it is today a complete tourist destination. There are many things to do in Mauritius, not only a wide array of activities but just wandering around the right places can be fairly interesting.
There is the facility with which a day, a trip or a whole holiday can be organised and the impression that everything is possible, easily adaptable and flexible to everyone’s taste. The indolence of the sea along the leeward beaches and especially the absence of natural threats and dangerous species. No venomous reptiles, none of the big predators, not on land, not in the sea. Let’s hope it lasts!
The rich colours that soothe and repair, truly, they are anti-depressants to those who come from the midst of a greyish winter. The numerous shades of Turquoises of the lagoons topped by the deep-Blue of the ocean underlined by the white reefs. On the land side, the undulating sugar-cane fields contrasting with the red-orange earth, dotted by some stone pyramids. When the canes are flowering, the fields seem to be over-hanged by a silk sheet that absorbs the tints of the flamboyant sunsets that are different every day. Flamboyants are by the way these majestic trees that deserve the capital letter in their names. In December, they are huge orange and red domes, contrasting with the green fields or the bright yellow of the “Casse” flowers.
Of course more senses are wooed. The silky mid-season temperatures when the intense heat from the sun and the cool sea-breeze are in harmony; the smell of iodine from the sea-spray on the east coast and the numerous song-birds backed by the far rumble of the waves. Of course all this are better experienced in remote regions, far from hotel buffets and live bands.
There is more! How to describe those magnificent moon-rises or the starry nights, noticeable when away from spotlights. Once observed, the canopy of heaven gives this contradictory impression of proximity and remoteness; an innate matter of consideration for us islanders who are simultaneously worried and thankful for being far away from the rest of the world.
It is by the way, this estrangement that explains why the Mauritians revere whoever and whatever comes from another part of the world; may it be tourists or imported goods. A plane or a ship remains, in the deep memory of Mauritians, a probability of surprise and expectation, a happy event, a break from the routine. This remoteness gives the Mauritian people this innate sense of hospitality so often referred to by visitors.
Originally, the hospitality industry had a good start, offering a quality that can be explained more by the above than by pure professionalism. These hotels that were so Mauritian, soaked in the goodness of humankind were pleasant to all and their heavenly settings were making nice magazine covers. If the identity has faded, the standards have followed the ascending spirals. The quality of the hospitality is a good-enough explanation to the faithfulness of our visitors.
The whole accommodation business has evolved to include businesses of smaller-scale. The more hearty guest-houses with deeper local colours offer reliable alternatives. As regards to villa rentals, they have always been a much appreciated type of holiday-accommodation by those who want to get deep into the Mauritian “art-de-vivre” and are now an important part of the holiday accommodation in Mauritius. Their quality standards are often high-enough to rival mid to high-market hotels.
The regular visitors no longer stay in hotels and those who have tasted the goodness of villa rentals become regulars. Holiday villas offer the ideal mix with on the one side: quality, reliability, professionalism and on the other side, personal attention, spontaneous human kindness and especially the possibility to sneak and get soaked into real Mauritian life. This life with a hint of nonchalance, light-heartedness but probably not enough, without being frivolous. Even if put to the test like everywhere, traditional moral values prevail. Mauritians often adopt an unusual approach that surprises and reassures but that needs to be respected.
Here is where the difference lies, fuelled by a pinch of pride, if not chauvinism, we derive pleasure in replying “this is Mauritius” to those who tell us what or how we should do.
To spend a better stay in Mauritius, choose the path of discovery instead of trying to impose your lifestyle. After all, isn’t this the whole point of travelling?