It’s time for another instalment from our blogger in Mauritius. Today he heads off on a daytrip to the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens and discovers it’s anything but grim up north…
There’s something of a north/south divide in Mauritius – at least when it comes to sights that is. Earlier in the week, I ventured down south to what many consider the island’s star attraction – the 7-Coloured Earth. But I’d heard the north of Mauritius had an ace up its sleeve too, in the form of world-class botanical gardens. So, today I joined Thomson’s ‘Tales of the North’ tour to see how things stacked up at the opposite point of the compass.
What’s in a name?
The day kicked off with a stop at Cap Malheureux. In English that translates as Cape Sorrow, which is kind of odd when you consider how picturesque this place is. So why the downer of a name? Time for a quick history lesson…
Back in the early 1800s, Mauritius was a French colony that the British regarded with envious eyes – it was in a great spot along the spice route to India. As such, the British had already launched a raid on Mauritius, which the French repelled. Expecting another battle, the French readied their forces and strengthened their defences for a second round. However, what they weren’t banking on was a sneaky backdoor attack. Instead of trying to take the heavily fortified Vieux Grand Port on the eastern side of the island, the Brits landed on the northernmost tip and marched south. By the time the French realised what was going on, it was too late and were forced to surrender. As the Tricolore flag was replaced by the Union Jack, the defeated French dubbed the village where the invasion began Cap Malheureux – Cape Sorrow.
As well as history and good looks, Cap Malheureux is famous for its much-photographed red-roofed church – Notre-Dame-Auxiliatrice. Obligatory snapshot banked.
Next up on the itinerary were the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. What developed from a trunk full of seeds shipped from France in the 18th century flourished to become one of Mauritius’ main attractions. Packed with 500 rare and exotic plant species from around the globe, Pamplemousses is to Mauritius what Kew Gardens is to the UK. Wandering through the grounds, I saw super-sized baobab trees, avenues of slender palms, exquisite lotus flowers and giant water lilies, the likes of which Monet would’ve had a field day with.
One lump or two?
Having ticked off the gardens, it was on to our next stop – l’Aventure du Sucre AKA Sugarworld. Back in the day, sugar cane was Mauritius’ number one industry and this museum, set in an old 18th century sugar factory, recounts the island’s sugar story in great detail, explaining how the cane is transformed into sweet-tasting crystals and rum. It’s quite a hands-on and interactive place – as well as sampling different types of sugar and rum, I got to have a go at chopping down the sugar cane out in the surrounding fields.
The final call-in was the island’s capital, Port Louis. It’s a real city of contrasts. On the one hand it’s ultra-modern, boasting towering, glass-fronted skyscrapers. On the other, it’s home to colonial hangovers from its time as part of the British Empire.
Similarly, its shopping scene is really diverse. Set along a posh marina, the Caudan Waterfont is home to a generous helping of high-end shops and super-sleek shopping malls. At the other end of the scale you’ve got the city’s outdoor market where goods are laid out on the floor and haggling is par for the course.
My favourite spot, however, was Port Louis’ Victorian covered food market. Its stalls heaved under the weight of weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables, many of which I’d never even seen before…
North vs south
All in all, I was suitably impressed with the north of Mauritius – its pretty bays, its beautiful gardens and its impressive seaside capital. But did it trump the southern sights? Well, that would be telling…