Exploring Mauritius on a budget.
HAPPY hour at Be Cosy Apart Hotel in Trou aux Biches, Mauritius, is an opportunity to taste ‘rhum agricole’, a product of the Mauritian sugar industry that’s taking the global rum market by storm. This smooth, traditional molasses rum is often infused with local crops and spices, such as vanilla, chilli, lemon grass and ginger. At two for the price of one , it was tempting to visit the pool-side bar every evening of our ten-day visit to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, running through the gamut of flavours. George, however, was content with the pale gold, locally-brewed Phoenix lager.
Tourism earns Mauritius billions of rupees every year, and holiday makers stay can find a wide range of accommodation to suit every pocket. Stay at a five star hotel in a deluxe suite, breakfast included, with a view of the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, for an eye watering $1,240. At the other end of the spectrum, book a studio apartment with local hosts at Mon Choisy for $43, or visit a tree house with all mod cons near Belle Mare Beach for $79 a night.
Be Cosy, a three star hotel, is ideally situated in Trou aux Biches, once a quiet 19th C fishing village in the north of the island. Serviced studio apartments have compact, fully equipped kitchens, and charge $107 a night. Our upstairs studio overlooked palm trees, a tropical garden and a swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers, green lawns and happy holiday makers. Fluffy brown beach towels can be collected every day from reception, while the beach and placid blue ocean are a two-minute walk away, past gift shops, a post office, an ATM and a grove of casuarina trees.
There are no sun loungers on Be Cosy’s section of the beach, but lay your towel down on the soft, white sand, and try not to cast an envious eye on Beachcomber Hotel’s sun loungers farther down the beach. Indulge instead to your heart’s content in the water sports, free for Be Cosy residents. Move sedately across the waters in a pedalo, paddle a kayak out to the reef, or get a full body core work out on a stand up paddle board. A trip to the coral reef on a glass bottomed boat reveals shoals of brightly coloured butterfly fish, sea urchins, and parrot fish. Flippers are provided for snorkelers wanting to explore marine life at closer quarters.
Having worked up an appetite on the beach, there are many restaurants offering Mauritian, French and Chinese cuisine to choose from. Souvenir Restaurant on Royal Road, Trou aux Biches, is always packed with both tourists and locals, despite the seating area being close to the pavement, traffic lights and noisy buses. We visited twice, first for delicious smoked marlin panini, salad and chips, and later, for a leisurely evening meal of creole curried lamb, Rs370, and fish and chips Rs350. Fish, whether fried, grilled or smoked, is always fresh, well-cooked, and a good choice when eating out in Mauritius. None of the creole dishes I tasted was anything to write home about; often the spices had a raw taste or the dish was lacking in piment (chilli).
A visit to Mauritius is not just about lazing on the beach and munching pineapples and litchis (both delicious). One of the top places to visit are the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousses. Because taxis and car hire are pricey, we paid a few rupees for the antiquated but speedy red and white Triolet bus, which took us to the gardens and back. We spent hours admiring the many palm tree species, and the Victoria amazonica giant water lilies in the pond in the middle of the gardens. An avenue of trees planted by numerous dignitaries includes a Gastonia Mauritiana, an endangered tree of Mauritius, planted by the former president, Robert Mugabe, on 18.5.91.
Lotus flowers bloom peacefully and serenely in their watery expanses, observed by admiring tourists and photographers. Don’t miss seeing these beautiful blooms, symbols in many religions of long life, honour, health and good luck.
The Triolet bus was on time to take us back to Trou aux Biches, dropping us off outside the police station, opposite Be Cosy. It was five o’clock and bang on time for Happy Hour and another rum cocktail.
Verdant fields of sugar cane cover most of the arable land in Mauritius. Sugar production was started by Dutch settlers in 1696, and continued during the time of French and English colonisation, powered by the slave trade and indentured labour. Sugar remains important to the country’s economy, and since the lifting of the government’s ban on distilling sugar cane juice to make rum, Mauritius has now entered the global rum market. Smooth traditional molasses rum, often infused with local crops and spices, such as vanilla, ginger, lemon grass and chilli, is addictive. Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
– A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff