The annual snowbird migration for Canadian seniors may be under threat due to the recent transfer of power south of our border. However, all is not lost. For those seniors with a more adventurous spirit, who relish the thought of spending February days in a tropical climate, there is a destination a little further afield which has a lot more in common with the Canadian culture than you would think.
Mark Twain summed it up when he said,
“Mauritius was made first and then heaven. And heaven was copied after Mauritius.”
If the island seems like it is on the other side of the world, well it is, almost.
Mauritius has a time-zone which is nine hours ahead of Toronto. But, with international airlines offering superior service and connections at reasonable rates from Canadian gateways, this tropical paradise is not as far-flung as first thought.
I recently returned from a six-day sampler trip to the island and sought out some highlights to recommend to Canucks with a longing to winter in a land a little off the beaten path, away from the all-inclusive crowds.
The first impression of Mauritius is the welcoming nature its people. This multi-cultural nation is made up of descendants of Indian labourers, Creoles, African slaves, French European and Dutch settlers who are proud to stand together as one Mauritian nation. The island is often regarded as a global example of successful cultural integration somewhat akin to Canada’s own multiculturalism. English and French are widely spoken, although the lingua franca is French-based Mauritian Creole used by the locals. Hindi, Tamil and Hakka can also be spoken.
Angasana Balaclava Resort was our home-base for our short stay. This five-star beachfront resort is located on the island’s north-west coast about an hour’s drive from the airport. Opened in 2012, this intimate resort is situated in secluded Turtle Cove away from the hustle of Grand Bai and the island’s capital Port Louis. (pronounced Lu-wee). Stylish suites, some with infinity pools face the ocean, pool or garden, are spacious with open shower areas and terraces. The Angasana Spa offers a range of rejuvenating treatments including massages. The spa has a huge jacuzzi and hosts a morning yoga class and beach walks for early risers. There is also a complimentary neck and shoulder massage treatment available in front of the open-air breakfast area between 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.
The fact the island is surrounded by pristine beaches meant we were spoiled for choice in our daily search for a place to laze in the sun. There are numerous beaches within a 30-minute drive of the resort on this side of the island. Mont Choisey Beach is possibly one of the longest beaches on the island. Clear crystal waters gently lap onto a long arch of white sand. Although the beach is narrow, there is plenty of room to find a spot. In fact, the day we visited, the beach was almost deserted. Its huge parking lot is shaded by casuarinas trees and few food trucks offer beach snacks, and cold Phoenix beer.
We decided to go further afield and visit the south of the island to a beach called Le Morne. Images of this beach adorn every tourist brochure of this island, so we thought it was a must-see. The journey should not have taken more than an hour, but with GPS trouble and getting caught amid the annual pilgrimage to the island’s most holy Hindu shrine, the Grand Bassin, our arrival at the beach was delayed.
Set in front of a dramatic backdrop of Le Morne mountain and the Black River National Park this peninsula has been developed with some exclusive hotels such as the St. Regis, the Four Seasons and RIU in recent years. Perhaps these resorts have made claim to the best part of the coast, as we were disappointed with quality of the sand and the coral in the water made swimming uncomfortable and difficult. Nevertheless, the location’s dramatic backdrop cannot be discounted. Other attractions close to this area include the Chamarel Seven Coloured earth phenomenon. This small area of sand dunes in the middle of the rain forest is now protected by wooden fences. Tourists come to view this unique natural geological site where reddish black iron and aluminum oxides create vivid shades of blue, cyan and purple on the land. The best time to view the changing colours is at sunrise.
Pereybere Beach is located just north of Grand Bai. It is my favourite beach of the five we visited on our whirlwind trip. This small bay located in the middle of this beach town is not visible from the road, but the azure sea and powder flat white sand are a welcome sight beneath a few stone steps and retaining sea wall. There is parking available and a few beach cafes, one of which overlooks the ocean. Private rental properties lined the beach perimeter, and some advertised availability.
The mid-morning crowd of French ex-pats have created quite a community and with further investigation it seems these Francophones and other Europeans spend up to six months in this paradise to escape the damp and cold winters of Northern Europe.
The sea is calm and perfect for swimming. The seniors made way for young families and children in the afternoon who spent the hours building sandcastles and jumping on skimming boards at the water’s edge. Pereybere is ten minutes from Grand Bai and with a regular bus service, this resort town could be the ideal foothold for those who intend to stay in Mauritius for an extended trip.
Trois aux Biches beach is a 15-minute drive north from Turtle Bay. Popular with locals and the long-term seniors crowd again. The long stretch of sandy beach is lined with palm trees which form the outer limits of the Trois Aux Biches Beachcomber Resort. Fishing boats and tourist glass-bottomed boats are moored off shore. The waters here are the same turquoise hue and small shoals of fish dart about the shallows. Colourful beach merchants stroll along the sand offering fresh fruit, sarongs or colourful beach bags. Their manner is friendly and there is no hard-sell which can be off-putting in other places around the world. There were some food trucks in the parking area, but we opted to cross over the road and ate lunch at The Spoon restaurant, in the Be Cosy Apart Hotel where the spring rolls and samosas were delicious.
The weekend crowd made the day at our final beach a little busier. Blue Bay is situated on the south-east side of the island, close to the airport. For those with a passion for plane spotting, this location may be the perfect spot as the jets take off directly over the beach. This is not as disturbing as it sounds as Mauritius airport is not very busy and the hourly take-offs were more of a spectacle than a nuisance. Local boys sell fresh coconut drinks from their bicycles while the creole music ramped-up later in the afternoon from a central beach shelter with dancing and singing. Ferry boats to Coconut Island take day trippers for a day of snorkelling or sunbathing on a quieter side of the lagoon.
If white sand beaches and calm azure seas are for you, look no further than Mauritius. But the island is more than just sand and sea. Its interior is biodiverse, with rare and exotic birds flying above The Black River National Park. Giant tortoises and imported African mammals abound in the island’s eco-adventure park and dolphins swim in the seas around the coast. History can be encountered in the French colonial mansions and the sugar cane and tea plantations and different cultures can be embraced in the Hindu Temples and markets. It’s more than just a drop in the ocean.
Turkish Airlines offers return flights to Mauritius from Toronto for $1,515 in economy class to $4,500 for business class.
Prices correct as of Spring 2017