Mauritius by bicycle is the perfect way to trace the Indian Ocean island

  • The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is generally seen as a beach haven
  • But for those who want a truly active escape, it can be a place for cycling
  • The full perimeter of the island adds up to 136 miles - fine at an easy pace 

A light on the beach picks out a troupe of plume-hatted bongo drummers in military fatigues. The beat swells to a frenzy, and out of the darkness two fire-eaters cartwheel past inside blazing hoops.

Bienvenu to Mauritius, a mountainous rock set like a mighty emerald in the Indian Ocean. I'm here to cycle its circumference, a far from arduous 136 miles, especially if you take several days to do it.

My friend Ana and I set off from the village of Calodyne, near the northern tip of the island, where we first spend three days snorkelling, swimming and grazing the eclectic buffet at the Zilwa Attitude hotel.

Park the bike: Contrary to appearances, Mauritius is a splendid location for a cycling holiday

Park the bike: Contrary to appearances, Mauritius is a splendid location for a cycling holiday

Heading anticlockwise, we stop on the beach at Cap Malheureux's Catholic church for a soulful Sunday service.

Mauritius has reasonably flat roads running its perimeter, passing coves and fishing villages, coconut groves, rippling fields of sugar cane and golf courses. A proficient cyclist could do the lot in ten hours, but that would miss the point. Mark Twain once remarked that God copied Mauritius when he made Heaven. And who would cycle around Heaven against the clock?

We stop at Balaclava, leave our bikes on the beach and swim out to the coral reef which surrounds the island. Here fishermen stand, spears at the ready, as if walking on water. It is a biblical scene.

En route to Port Louis, we visit Chateau Labourdonnais, the island's grandest French colonial house, where the de Mahé family reaped the rewards of slave labour and rich sugar harvests.

In the capital, a traffic-choked superhighway, we visit Aapravasi Ghat, the customs house where 'free' indentured labour from India, Madagascar and China poured in following the abolition of slavery in 1834.

This is a shrine to the free market and marks the spot where employment supplanted bondage.

This is a moving moment, but we are pleased to be back on the coastal road with the shimmering ocean to our right, the mountains rising to our left. Further south we pass the salt pans of Tamarin and the Vacoas mountain range guarding Black River Bay.

The following day we stop for coffee with Jamie Copsey, an old friend from the Scottish Borders. He runs the Gerald Durrell Foundation in the Mascarene Islands, of which Mauritius — last home of the extinct dodo - is one. As if to compensate for the fate of the dodo, they have saved the island's pink pigeon.

The going is easy as we continue south, stopping at La Moustache bistro before foolishly deciding to take the steep climb inland up to the wooded plateau of Chamarel village, where we take a rum tasting tour of La Rhumerie, the island's top distillery.

The road commands some of the best views on the island, across the south-west peninsula and 2,000ft Mount Le Morne Brabant. The porcini risotto suddenly seems a bad idea as the hill zigzags upwards.

Let's get this show on the road: Ana prepares for another day on her 136-mile Mauritius adventure

Let's get this show on the road: Ana prepares for another day on her 136-mile Mauritius adventure

We rest at the foot of Le Morne Brabant to play a round of golf at Le Paradis Hotel's world-class course just as the president of Ghana arrives by helicopter.

The next day the hotel's private peninsula provides as good a place as any to have a crack at windsurfing. I spend more time under the board than on it, so opt for a pedalo as Ana glides effortlessly across the horizon.

On the south coast, tree-lined country lanes lead to sandy coves and remote public beaches. We lunch on fish curry washed down with coconut water from a caravan on Pointe d'Amour.

From here the shoreline skirts Bel Ombre and Souillac before heading up into the plantations, passing shanty towns and street markets. Roadside shacks sell slabs of venison, a local staple.

The ride up the east coast takes us through Trou d'Eau Douce, a vibrant fishing village where Christians, Muslims and Hindus mingle among the nets, market stalls and ferries which sail daily to the popular Ile aux Cerfs.

The five-star Constance Le Prince Maurice hotel is our penultimate stop, at nearby Belle Mare, where one of the finest wine cellars in the Indian Ocean proves to be frustratingly outside my budget.

We complete the circuit back in the north at Calodyne, at the Lux Grand Gaube hotel. Here, a boat trip to the Iles du Nord and a swim in a mangrove lagoon cap a holiday I will not be able to repeat soon enough.

Travel Facts: Plan your own Mauritius adventure 

Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com, 0208 897 3545) from Heathrow to Mauritius from £675 return.

Stay at LUX* Resorts (www.luxresorts.com, 00230 401 4000) from £144; Paradis Hotel & Golf Club (http://ift.tt/1IAsicG, 00230 401 5050), from £185 B&B; Constance Le Prince Maurice (http://ift.tt/1hCa25O, 00230 402 3636), from £275 for dinner, B&B. Zilwa Attitude (http://ift.tt/1TboDSU, 00230 204 3800), from £91 B&B.

Bikes from CRA Events, Mon Loisir (http://ift.tt/1TboE9b, 00230 412 5810). 

 

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About Văn Khang Nguyễn

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