Madagascar Islands, Mauritius
Thanks to an enlightened policy of ecotourism and preservation, this tiny, pear-shaped, volcanic speck of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean remains unspoiled and intriguing. Independent since 1968, Mauritius is a 28-mile-wide microcosm of cultural diversity, an exotic mosaic of Indian, African, British, Continental, and Chinese influences. It’s a long way from anywhere, but people flock here, including European sun seekers, honeymooners, and those who unwind après safari at the island’s exquisite resort hotels.
Mauritius can easily be separated into quadrants. In the north, you’ll find St. Louis, the capital. Congested on weekdays, it’s the place to be on weekends from May through November to catch Thoroughbred racing, the island’s most popular sport. A day at the Champ de Mars racecourse in Port Louis, one of the world’s oldest, borders on mandatory.
In the east, along the Flacq coastline, luxury hotels line the gorgeous white sand beach. Even if you don’t stay at the One&Only Le Saint Geran, make reservations at the Spoon des IIes (AlainDucasse’s first restaurant outside Europe) or chef Vineet Bhatia’s excellent Rasoi by Vineet. Both showcase the intricate flavors of the Indian Ocean. Golfers flock to the course here designed by Ernie Els at the Four Seasons at Anahita as well as to Le Touressrok’s Bernhard Langer-designed course across the water on IIe aux Cerfs.
Most visitors to Mauritius don’t make it farther south than the airport. Buck the trend. Take a road trip through the picturesque village of Mahebourg with its colorful old houses, and then visit Vieux Grand Port. Its ruins and monuments date back to the first landings of the Dutch in 1598 and hint at Mauritius’s dramatic past.
The west, the most “African” part of the island, comes alive with sega music and dancing and is world renowned for deep-sea fishing. The best beaches are the public ones, especially on weekends, when Mauritian families turn up for boisterous reunions and feasts where all are welcome.
WHERE : 1,120 miles/1,770 km off the east coast of Africa.
BEST TIME : year-round for good weather, but particularly Sep – Dec; Oct – Apr for deep-sea fishing: Dec for Derby Day.