A holiday on Mauritius is probably the quintessential island paradise, a tropical haven of relaxation for celebrity visitors such as actor Ralph Fiennes and model Naomi Campbell.
Certainly the volcanic island lives up to its reputation with its year-round warm tropical climate, its turquoise sea and coral reefs full of exotic fish.
The island boasts some of the most luxurious hotels in the world as well as standard price options, and the visitor could be forgiven for spending the day enjoying the sunshine on a white sand beach, or sipping a cool drink in the shade of the hotel pool bar.
But the island is not just a beach resort. Diverse Mauritius is one of the few places that really deserves the term “melting pot”, with English, French, Indian, Chinese and Creole influences creating an enticing blend of cultures and cuisines.
The key to the island’s diversity is in its history. It was first colonised by the Dutch in 1638, who had previously named it Mauritius in honour of Prince Maurice Van Nassau of Holland. The Dutch left in 1710 after introducing sugar cane, tobacco and African slaves to the island and hunting the dodo to extinction.
Next came the French, who renamed the island “Isle de France” and turned it into a successful colony and trading base for the French East India Company, before it went to the British after the Treaty of Paris in 1814.
The British abolished slavery from the island, and the work-force was supplemented by workers from India and China as the sugar plantations flourished. Mauritius was granted independence from Britain in 1968 and achieved the status of republic 24 years later.
The legacy of the island’s past can be seen in its colonial architecture such as Government House in the capital Port Louis, in the Mosques, Hindu temples and Christian churches co-existing peacefully on its streets, or in the infectious rhythms of Sega, a vibrant dance invented by African Mauritians.
Almost everyone on the island speaks two or more languages, with English as the official language, but French, Creole and Asian languages are spoken widely in every day life.
Mauritian dining, of course, reflects this cultural fusion and is a colourful cuisine influenced by Asian, African and European cookery, with fresh seafood and curries as the specialities. There are a number of high-class restaurants including the exclusive Spoon des Îles at the One & Only Le Saint Géran hotel.
The more adventurous might like to hire a boat and try to catch their own meal during a spot of deep-sea fishing, with a variety of large tropical fish such as the blue marlin and the mako shark roaming the 70-metre deep oceans around the island.
Mauritius is surrounded by extensive coral reefs teaming with a wealth of sea-life, and is a paradise for divers. You can encounter multicoloured fish on an undersea walk or spot 17th century wrecks from a submarine or semi-submersible.
There are plenty of opportunities for getting back to nature on the island as well. Try hiking or mountain-biking surrounded by exotic fruit in the northern Labourdonnais Orchards or pay a visit to the breathtaking Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden to see some of Mauritius’ 700 species of indigenous plants.
The Black River Gorge National Park in the centre of the island offers the chance to see rare birds and orchids in a natural forest setting. Or, in the east of the island, the Ile aux Aigrettes is home to some of the world’s rarest bird species including the pink pigeon, as well as giant tortoises and geckos.
There are several excellent golf courses in Mauritius, including the spectacular 18-hole One & Only Le Touessrok Golf Course which is set on its own island, with a stunning view of green mountains and turquoise oceans available from every hole, designed to challenged advanced players and beginners alike.
Visit the bustling Flacq Market in the east of the island to pick up a few bargains or just to watch the world go by. There are a large number of duty free shops on the island, and island specialities include jewellery, textiles, spices and rum.
A holiday on Mauritius offers a truly unique luxury experience, fusing together cultural influences from three continents in an in an idyllic island setting.