The island nation of Mauritius (aka Ile Maurice) sits in the waves of the southwest Indian Ocean. Its white sandy beaches and immaculately groomed hotel grounds draw in thousands of travellers every year. Many are also eager to find the ‘real Mauritius’, so here is a special inside look at how a Mauritian might take in the island: a visit to its green heart at Chamarel.
Chamarel is already well known as the site of a magnificent waterfall and curiously coloured earth (see responses below), but there’s much more to see and savour in the rustic surroundings, best reached by car, as buses are infrequent and only come via the West coast.
Start at Le Chamarel restaurant, but pause at the nearby forestry office, where friendly wardens (present until noon) are happy to share their knowledge of endemic plants like Bois de Ronde, Bois Colophane Batard and Ebony. Ask them to say what’s in bloom.
Walk for 10 minutes along the trail to the right of the car tracks behind the forestry office. This leads up to a bench from which to marvel at indisputably the best view of the West coast and Benitier islet.
Head back down to the parking area and take the left branch of the road leading to the village. Turn right at the church of Saint Anne (peek inside) and follow signs to Barbizon Restaurant. The owners, Ricot L’Intelligent and his wife Marie Ange, prepare sumptuous traditional meals using local meat and produce (including veggies from their own garden). Ask for recipes of dishes like cooked cincely banana flowers, gratin of pawpaw or curried jackfruit (known locally as kari sak). Try a dessert like fried banana Chamarel style or crème brulée. Be sure to say maribon (very good) when you’re done.
Although English and French are widely spoken, don’t be shy about using Creole, especially with the blue-uniformed children coming home from school. Ki maniere? means ‘How are you?’, the answer to which is korek (alright). Creole is a colourful language, very close to French, but spiced with English, Hindi and Mandarin!
Follow signs to the coloured earth, but stop by the Roots Craft Shop, alongside Ruben’s Restaurant on the road to Baie du Cap. Local artist Nella Besegue offers her own quality handmade souvenirs, as well as those contributed by other local artists. Nella’s shop is also a training centre that helps local girls earn a living by teaching them a craft. Her atelier is open in the back of the shop. For more information and an appointment, she can be reached at 937 4193.
A short distance later, at the coloured earth site, look for the giant Aldabra tortoises in the walled-in area on the right. If they have no drinking water, tell the man at the gate. The British reintroduced these great creatures after their total extinction in the 16th century. The few in Chamarel are between 45 and 70 years old.
Time permitting, indulge in Creole overnight hospitality at Lakaz Chamarel. Each of this guesthouse’s boutique hotel–style cottages is uniquely furnished and has an open-air bathroom; meals are prepared by the former chef of a five-star hotel; and your host, Frederick Desjardins –- a passionate kite surfer, hiker and nature lover -– can help organise tours into the national park and surrounding forest.
For more information about Mauritius, including accommodations, tours of Chamarel and elsewhere, activities and lots of insider tips, contact your local whl.travel connection: Gilbert and the Maurisun Adventure & Tours team (including Birgitta and her knowledge of Chamarel’s indigenous plants and their uses) at www.holidays-mauritius.travel.