Not just any island…
Dive into a piece of history…
World renowned for being home to the- now extinct- Dodo, the setting for the hugely popular tragically romantic novel Paul & Virginia and the country of origin of six of the ten rarest philatelic jewels including the most valuable of all : the Bordeaux Cover, Mauritius is not just an anonymous island speck tucked at the bottom end of the southern Indian Ocean, it is steeped in history as a former pivotal link in the opening and conquest of the trade route to the riches of the Indies, before the opening of the Suez Canal.
Take a look at the oldest World Map, dated 1502, where Mauritius already appears, albeit under the Arabic name of Dina Robin, you will find a mere piece of the east coast of America and certainly no Australia. The Arabs discovered this island in the 9th century and used it as a shelter and a means of supply in fresh meat and water. They also discovered natural ambergris on the shores used it in the manufacture of their perfumes. The Portuguese, having discovered the secrets of Arab navigators, rounded the Cape and followed their predecessors. They landed on the island in 1511 and named it Islo do Cirne or Swan Island. They did not build any permanent settlement there.
In 1638 the Dutch built the first colony on the island. They gave it the name of Mauritius after their ruler, Prince Maurice of Nassau. The island soon became a thriving trading port. Spices and Ebony timber were shipped to Europe. It was an ideal stopover linking the other Dutch colonies of the Cape of Good Hope and Batavia (Indonesia). They would stop in Mauritius and then descend to the 40th parallel to sail along with the winds of the Roaring Forties before sailing north to Batavia.
During that time Abel Tasman, left Mauritius to initially sail along the same route but with instructions to keep sailing eastwards instead of going north. This is how he discovered the mountain peaks of Tasmania not realising that mainland Australia lay beyond. He did discover New Zealand, though.
The cultivation of sugar cane was started by the Dutch and has since grown to become the backbone of the economy to be replaced only lately by tourism. It was also during the Dutch occupation that the Dodo, an ungainly flightless bird that laid its eggs on the ground, met extinction. They left the island in 1658.
The French arrived in the island in 1718. They renamed it Isle de France and set about turning it into an important colony that was to become a thorn in the sides of the British. The French naval vessels and those of corsairs in their employ engaged the mighty British Navy in raging battles for the control of trade with the East Indies.
The French established Pamplemousses Gardens, a world-class botanical garden that is still there to enjoy and admire. It was during that time that the novel Paul & Virginie, based upon the story of a tragic shipwreck romance, found world renown as it stayed on the bestseller list in Europe for many decades. Even today, people visit Mauritius looking for the original home of Paul and Virginie, unaware that the romantic novel was the creative figment of author Bernardin de Saint Pierre's imagination.
During the French Revolution the ruling elite of the island, being predominantly royalists, declared its independence from France. Trade with neutral countries such as America and Denmark was encouraged as was the corsairs acts of commerce destroying and British blockade busting, which allowed the colony to survive. This lasted four years. In 1803, Napoleon, realising the strategic importance of the island, sent Comte Decaen as governor to take matters in hand. At about the same time, British naturalist Matthew Flinders, on his way back from chartering the east coast of Australia, dropped anchor in Port Louis. He was accused of being a spy and was placed under house arrest. He stayed in the island for six years. August 1810 was to enter into history as the only naval battle win of Napoleonic forces over the British at the Battle of Grand Port, which is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe,
Three months later, the British landed in the north and took over the island with relative ease. (There might also be another bicentennial celebration in preparation there!). The Treaty of Paris confirmed Brithsh possession of the island four years later. French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English. In fact, Mauritius is the only country in the world where the French language has a faster progression than English.
Thus started a very auspicious era for the island which the British had renamed Mauritius.
With the abolition of slavery in 1833, a new order was established and indentured labourers were brought in from India to work in the sugar-cane fields. They nowadays constitute the majority of the population. Mauritius was the first British colony and the fifth country in the world to design, print and issue its own stamps. No wonder that, of the ten most valuable philatelic items in the world, six, including the most valuable "Bordeaux Cover", are from Mauritius. In 1867 a railway system was introduced.
In 1812 the Mauritius Turf Club became the oldest equestrian club of the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world, after the Jockey Club of England. The island also boasts to be the fourth country in the world where golf was played. To the original course, at the Gymkhana Club, a number of championship golf courses have been added over the years.
Mauritius achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1968 whilst staying in the Commonwealth. It became a republic in 1992. The Parliamentary system is based upon the Westminster model and as far as legal redress is concerned, an ultimate appeal to the Queen's Privy Council in London is possible. The first Prime Minister, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (1968-1982), presided over the formation of the new nation out of a rich melting pot of cultures and traditions.
Mauritius became a republic in 1992.
New industries, especially textiles and tourism, have flourished. Sugar is no longer the mainstay of the economy. Tourism is growing fast in importance as Mauritius consolidates its position as an upmarket tourist destination. It boasts a number of 4 and 5 star hotels, which are among the best in the world.
Apart from the beautiful beaches and natural setting, Mauritius has an undeniable asset: the warmth of its people. The foreigner is welcome here. The style is laid back: "No problem in Mauritius". The air is clean as the next land mass southwards is Antarctica and the air you breathe comes from over there after having whipped up oxygen and soaked in marine flavours over thousand of kilometres.
As the poet said "Mauritius is one of the last places on earth where man can keep a sense of nature, freedom, light whilst being able to escape from himself".
A geographic crossroads of civilisations, Mauritius is a treasured microcosm of populations and religions that have been united by historical circumstances. They came from France, England, Africa, India and China and whilst remaining, for the most, true to their culture, traditions and celebrations, they respect each other's. Mauritians are of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faith. Churches, Hindu and Tamil temples, mosques and pagodas dot the countryside.
The lingua franca is English but everybody speaks French and "creole", a dialect derived from old French. Hindi, Urdu and mandarin are also spoken.
Import Duties have been removed on many items and soon Mauritius will become a wholly Duty-Free island. Thirteen commercial banks, including Barclays Bank, as well as offshore management companies service the country. The Stock Exchange is opened to foreign investment. Mauritius has become a trading platform in Sub-Saharan Africa as a member of the East and Southern Africa Common Market, helped by the America Africa Bill, which provides access without quotas for textile to the United States.
WHAT TO SEE
Port Louis, the mosaic capital, set on the harbour front, is home to the oldest building in the island: Government House, built by the French in the 17th century was also home to the early governors.
The Central Market with its array of vegetables set in orderly and colourful arrangements, the smell of spices pervading the air, the incessant callings of the vendors carrying you on an atmospheric wave, the tasteful condiments and the character trader selling his herbal remedies for every imaginable ailment.
Chinatown where just about everything can be bought at affordable prices.
The Waterfront with the Caudan and its galleries, restaurants, craft market and shops offering the best shopping for jewellery and clothing carrying the best international signatures.
The Caudan also houses the Blue Penny Museum, a "must" for any visitor. Apart from taking you on a fascinating voyage of discovery, it is also the only place in the universe where the most valuable stamps in the world. the unused One Penny orange red and the Two Pence indigo, issued in 1847, can be seen side by side. A consortium of local companies bought them for U$2.2million in 1993.
In Pamplemousses, the Botanical Gardens with its giant waterlilies and the legendary Talipot Palm that projects a towering inflorescence once every 100 years, before dying.
Close by, in Beau Plan, l'Aventure du Sucre, is an old sugar factory converted into a modern exhibition space featuring the birth and development of the sugar industry over the last 400 years.
Starting in the highlands of Curepipe, one can follow the "Tea Route" with a visit to the colonial home of the original owners before discovering the Bois Cheri Tea Factory.
Ile aux Cerfs, arguably the most beautiful beach in Mauritius, is an island that lies a mere 200m from the shore. A real gem set on turquoise and blue opal seas. Two of the major IRS projects , Anahita and Beau Rivage are to be built right opposite , on the mainland.
In the south, La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes is owned by British expatriate, Paddy Rountree - of chocolate fame - and run by an Australian zoologist, Owen Griffiths. The reserve comprises 500 giant tortoises, Nile crocodiles and an insectarium with over 20,000 species.
The SEGA is the most popular dance, originating from the slaves of African origin, although, as the island has a 52% Hindu population, traditional Indian dances are also featured in colourful celebrations. A fusion style has crept in.
The diversity of the Mauritian society is reflected in its food. French, Indian, African, Chinese and Malagasy influences have produced an exotic Creole cuisine with basic flavours of garlic, ginger, thyme, tomatoes and chilli. Curry, ranging from the milder varieties from Northern India to the fiery ones from the South of the Great Peninsula, is also very popular. Mauritius having a sea reserve extending over 2000 km, fish is bound to be abundant. On the game side, wild boar and venison are plentiful.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air Mauritius and/or British Airways leave either Heathrow or Manchester just about every day. From Australia, Air Mauritius runs one weekly flight ex- Sydney transiting in Melbourne and another ex-Perth.
From the US, find your way to London and connect with Air Mauritius or British Airways for a direct flight. Emirates offer a stopover in Dubai.
WHERE TO STAY
Mauritius has some of the most beautiful and most professionally run hotels in the world. They regularly attract international awards like the One&Only Le Saint Geran which was voted "Hotel of the Year" by Tatler Travel Guide. The presence of Spoon des Iles, a sister restaurant to French Chef Alain Ducasse's fashionable Spoon + at the Sanderson's hotel in London, could have helped in the final equation.
Other 5 star establishments such as the Royal Palm in the north, the Prince Maurice on the east coast and recent addition Le Telfair, on the unspoilt south coast, have consolidated the destination's position in the top-end of the tourist market. There is also a plethora of 3 and 4 star hotels as well as serviced villas.
If staying in Port Louis, the great comfort and style of Le Labourdonnais and Le Suffren, await you on the waterfront.
WHAT TO DO
Mauritius, this tiny speck in the Indian Ocean is almost completely surrounded by coral reefs offering protected lagoons for all kinds of nautical sports. No spear fishing and no removal of coral or other marine life is allowed. The water is recognised by marine biologists to be of excellent quality. It is a paradise for skin divers who have a choice of 140 wrecks to discover. To the lovers of marine life, Mauritius offers a protected environment with spectacular underwater caves and coral outcrops. As an alternative to snorkelling and scuba diving, if you want to stay dry, try the Blue Safari submarine that takes you down to 35m, for an unforgettable experience.
A number of catamarans offer safe cruises in the lagoons or to the outer islands. "Terres Oceanes", specialise in renting out exquisitely fitted out catamarans with or without skipper.
For the "greenies", Ciel & Nature is one domain that offers excursions by foot, quad bikes or off-road vehicles from valley to mountain top to cliff side by the sea
Ideal wind conditions make the south of the island a haven for board and kite riders. International specialist, Club Mistral, has a base at Le Morne.
World standard golf courses and links are already successfully welcoming players from all over the world.
For those interested in Wellbeing, a number of Spas cater for the senses with a variety of programs.
Conference facilities are to be found in the large hotels. Freestanding convention centres can accommodate up to 6,000 delegates. International conferences, such as the one by UNESCO, are being staged there, as the entire infrastructure required is in place.
Mauritius is linked to the major world centres by submarine optic cables and satellites. Mauritius Telecom, which is 40% owned by France Telecom, is launching ADSL TV in march 2006, whilst, the government owned, Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation provides analogue and digital TV channels and private operators offer pay TV.
Jewellery, Textile, watches, cellular phones, cameras, paintings, sunglasses amongst other things are Duty Free. Factory Shops offer great bargains in items manufactured for the top international brands such as Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Pierre Cardin.
Hospital treatment is free and a number of private clinics of international standard provide paid services.
No visas needed for UK, Australian and US nationals provided they have a passport whose validity extends at least six months after the end of the proposed stay. Adequate means of support is also a pre-requisite.
GMT +4. One can have dinner on the plane and reach the destination eleven hours later ready for breakfast in paradise.
The Rupee is divided into 100 cents . Approximately 47 Mauritian Rupees to the Pound Sterling. 30 to the US$ and 31 to the A$. (As of Feb 2013, please check xe.com)
Mauritius is on the same latitude as Townsville, Australia, with the advantage of not having a land mass around. No extremes in temperatures. Summer (November - April), 23 C to 33 C. Winter (May - October), 17 C to 23 C. Hottest/Wettest months, December to March. Cyclones may occur during that time but the island is well prepared, having dealt with the situation since time immemorial. Cyclones cleanse the air and bring welcome rain, in most cases.
The latest symposium on Tsunamis found that Mauritius was virtually Tsunami-proof due to various natural undersea ridges.
On the left side of the road…like in the UK and Australia. Visitors can drive using the licence issued in their own country.
No deadly or even seriously harmful pests. Being a sub-tropical island, the occasional bee or wasp sting may occur. In the sea, watch out for sea urchins, stonefish and the lionfish. Uncommon, in most lagoons they can inflict a nasty sting, if encountered.
FACTS and FIGURES
|Location||2000km south east of Africa and Madagascar|
|Total Area||2040 sq km|
|Climate||Sub Tropical . Temperatures ranging between 20 - 27 degrees C|
|Racial Origins||Indian, European , African, Chinese|
|Languages/Dialects||English (official), French, Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpurri, Marathi, Tamil|
|Religions||Hindu, Christian, Muslim,|
|Life expectancy||68.11 y Males. 76.13 y Females|
|Time Zone||GMT + 4 hours|
|Currency||Mauritian Rupee (MUR)|
|Political Status||Parliamentary Democracy|
|Head of State||President|
|Head of Government||Prime Minister|
|Constitution||Based on Westminster system|
|Legal System||Hybrid system based on British and French laws.|
MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency)
This World Bank agency, which insures investors in foreign countries, has given Mauritius one of its best ratings resulting in the lowest premiums.
Prime Minister, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam, a doctor of medicine and a lawyer, has obtained his degrees from British universities. So have his two Vice Prime Ministers: the Minister of Finance, Rama Sithanen who, some years back, was named Best Finance Minister in the World and the Minister of Tourism and External Communications, Xavier-Luc Duval, a chartered accountant who is the son of the late sir Gaetan Duval, QCs who was, as the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the fledgling independent nation, instrumental in placing Mauritius firmly on the world map of up-market tourism. His Prime Minister then was none other than Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, father of the incumbent. Dynasty?