Luxury on a shoestring in Mauritius

It’s as though every 20 careful footsteps through La Tourelle’s unspoilt if uneven terrain reveals another spectacular piece of the puzzle.

Then, two energy-sapping hours into our sunset hike up one of Mauritius’ most challenging mountains, the picture is complete – an unparalleled, 360-degree view of this sensational island paradise.

The Indian Ocean is a kaleidoscope of blue from our vantage point 540m above sea level, while the lush greens from hundreds of native tree species contrast with the ochres, browns and reds of the volcanic mountain range, dotted across the island like whipped cream peaks on a cake.

One of the views from the top of La Tourelle at sunset, with La Morne in the distance. PA Photo / Elodie Lagourgue
One of the views from the top of La Tourelle at sunset, with La Morne in the distance. (Elodie Lagourgue/PA)

“I’ve been coming up here since I was a little girl, and every time I take the same photograph,” says Elodie Lagourgue, a 43-year-old former marketing executive, trail runner and mother of two, who has guided us safely to this point with her friend and business partner, Anne Venkiah.

“I look back and I always think – why did I take another photo of the same view?

“But when you get up here, you realise. I just can’t resist because this [view] never gets boring.”

A rainbow breaks out over Tamarin, as seen from part-way up La Tourelle mountain. PA Photo / Ryan Hooper
A rainbow breaks out over Tamarin, as seen from part-way up La Tourelle mountain. (Ryan Hooper/PA)

It is hard to believe that an adventure as truly memorable as this costs less than $60 per person.

The activity, run by Elodie and Anne’s Lokal Adventure company, is one of more than 50 on the Explore Program, a concept launched in November 2021 at the three-star Veranda Tamarin Hotel on the west coast of Mauritius, which aims to curate the best of the island’s experiences and offer guests a bespoke package designed to suit every budget.

Read: 101 ways to holiday in Australia: Do something epic!

Guests are free to opt in or out of the Explorer Program at their leisure, though there are incentives to take part thanks to a generous credit system for any guest staying at least four days, with around $175 to use for those staying all week.

Shorter activities can involve trips to nearby attractions such as the island’s last remaining salt pans, and its 19th century Martello Tower.

The reception area at the Veranda Tamarin, which is just ten paces from the beach. PA Photo / Veranda Tamarin
The reception area at the Veranda Tamarin, which is just 10 paces from the beach. (Veranda Tamarin/PA)

Physical pursuits include open sea kayaking – the most popular activity, possibly due to the regular appearance of some playful dolphins close to the shore – as well as surfing lessons, stand-up paddleboarding, and yoga.

Fishing trips and a catamaran cruise are among the more time-intensive activities.

Elsewhere, the guided food tour takes in some of the best cuisine offered by professional caterers and local chefs, at restaurants and in the homes of the island’s colourful characters.

At around $90, it represents one of the more expensive activities, but is a decent way to fill your belly with lashings of Mauritian delicacies such as octopus, venison, wild boar, saltfish, watercress salad and black lentil stew.

Rosaline Gauthier, a local artist, who opens her home up as one of the stops on the Taste Buddies food tour. PA Photo / Ryan Hooper
Rosaline Gauthier, a local artist, who opens her home up as one of the stops on the Taste Buddies food tour. (Ryan Hooper/PA)

There is plenty to do away from the program, too.

For a more formal dining experience, try La Chamarel, a hillside restaurant which, for $37 per head, offers an extensive tasting menu complete with stunning vistas across the bay. A glass of local Phoenix beer costs $5.50, while a bottle of white wine starts at $26.

And if you feel as though you are being watched, it’ll be one of the opportunistic local baboons who stealthily scamper in the background.

For those on a budget, it is possible to have an entire day barely spending $1. The Hotel Tamarin is 10 steps from the sandy bay, while Flic en Flac beach, a popular destination for families, is roughly a 40-minute walk along the coastline.

Read: This Caribbean island promises relaxation and adventure

Tamarin public beach, where guests on the Explorer Programme can take part in activities including yoga, kayaking, surfing and stand-up paddleboard. PA Photo / Veranda Tamarin
Tamarin public beach, where guests on the Explorer Program take part in yoga, kayaking, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. (Veranda Tamarin/PA)

There, visitors can swim in warm waters within designated areas along the sprawling bay. A vegetable roti – a type of flatbread popular in the Indian subcontinent – from the humble Farata Aka Vinoda beachfront food shack costs roughly 70c and is a must.

Elsewhere, the Seven Coloured Earth geopark offers a topographical insight of the island, complete with 100m waterfall and half a dozen tortoises plodding in slowly through the mud.

With an adult entry price of around $11 per person, it is a thrifty way to spend a few hours.

Back at the Veranda Tamarin, and after a dip in the pool to cool off from the 27°C afternoon sun, the hotel’s manager Christophe Montocchio explains over a dinner of seafood vindaloo and vegetables, why the Explorer Program is capturing the imagination of its visitors.

“A lot of people think of Mauritius and the other islands and associate it with luxury, relaxing, chilling by the pool and maybe not doing so much,” says the 34-year-old local and former athlete, who gave up a career in medicine to focus on the hospitality industry and showcasing the best of Mauritius.

The Seven Coloured Earth geopark, so called because the volcanic soil is eroded and oxidised in different places to give its distinctive appearance, includes a 100m waterfall and half-a-dozen tortoises. PA Photo / Ryan Hooper
The Seven Coloured Earth geopark includes a 100m waterfall and half a dozen tortoises. (Ryan Hooper/PA)

“So the Explorer Program is all about offering something different.

“Mauritius has a lot of repeat visitors, who of course get older with every trip, so we are trying to be attractive to younger people too, who maybe had not considered Mauritius before.”

Similarly, some may wish to sample the best of the hotel’s facilities, including therapeutic massage (prices start from around $45 for 30 minutes), the buffet or a la carte menus, or relax with a drink in the Crazy Fish bar.

Read: Is this the next big tourist destination for Australians?

And for those put off by the reports of heavy rainfall during the summer (November to April, when temperatures are also regularly in the low 30°Cs) – don’t be. On a couple of occasions during our stay, rain clouds quickly gather overhead, but they emptied and moved on again within an hour or so.

Scrolling fondly through the pictures on my phone during my flight back home, I come to those taken atop La Tourelle and pause.

Was it really possible that we made it to the top?

One thing’s for certain – the images on the screen do not do it justice.

And as I pull the face mask down over my eyes later, as the cabin lights are dimmed for the night flight, I remember hotel manager Christophe’s remarks about the tendency for tourists to return to Mauritius, and smile.

– With PA

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