Palm trees that line white sandy beaches. Turquoise waters with sea life happily swimming along the shore. A cool breeze on a sunny day.
That’s what comes to mind when someone talks about beautiful island nations like Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles.
About one hour after touching down at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius though, all we could see were cars zooming past us on tarred roads and blocks of concrete buildings on both sides of the highway. It was such a familiar scene, and driving past two Perodua and Proton showrooms made it even more so.
After passing by countless sugar cane fields, we finally arrived at Club Med La Pointe Aux Canonniers, which is in the Grand Baie (Grand Bay) area on the northern side of the island; the airport is in the south. This was home for us for the next few nights and we couldn’t wait to see the beach.
Unfortunately, during winter (May to October) the sun sets between 5.30pm and 6pm and since we arrived at the property at around 8pm, we had to make do with a quick dinner and later, a lively party with the other guests and the GOs, or gentil organisateur.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Club Med brand, the resort has its own culture that’s practised in every property all over the world.
Each Club Med resort is called a village, and in that village are GOs and GEs (gentil employe or local employees) who attend to GMs (gentil membre), or guests. This is meant to make guests be a part of the whole Club Med family so that visiting any new resort essentially feels like “going home to family”.
Taking it easy
Sunrise was about 6am when we were there but life at the village typically begins at 7.30am (sometimes at 8am!), when the main restaurant, La Belle Creole, is open for breakfast. This is when the clean-up crew starts their work on the beach, combing the sand, picking up rubbish and seaweed, arranging chairs and making sure everything is nice and comfortable for guests.
The GOs begin their work a little later, so you’ll probably see most of them at breakfast.
If your body clock takes a while to adjust to the local time (Mauritius is four hours behind Malaysia), and you keep waking up at ungodly hours, you could go for a long walk – or, for the more ambitious, a run – on the beach before breakfast. The Club Med La Pointe shore stretches just over 1km, but if you continue on to the public beach area, you could get in a nice 4km return.
Light exercises while on holiday is not a bad thing, really.
By the time you get back to your room, you would be plenty famished and ready for the big breakfast buffet spread. The best way to describe Mauritian cuisine is that it is a mix of contrasting cultures. “Mauritian food is Indian food, African food, Chinese food, Western food … but all done in the Mauritian way,” said our bubbly local guide, Elodie.
What she means is that although you could easily find things like fried rice, fried noodles and satay on any local restaurant menu in Mauritius, don’t expect it to look or even taste exactly like what you would get in Malaysia, or the country from which the dish originates.
The laksa at La Belle Creole, for example, comes with a few pieces of siew mai in the soup.
Our group – one Malaysian and four Singaporeans – was a little stumped by that, but it was tasty nevertheless.
A large part of Mauritian cuisine is similar to Indian cuisine, and you can tell this by the fact that the “local” section at the restaurant features lovely curries, briyani, chutneys, roti and more.
In fact, one of the must-have food items in Mauritius is achar or pickles, specifically lime achar and chilli achar. Another typical local dish is the octopus stew. We were lucky because the restaurant had all the Mauritian staples for us to try, as well as other well thought-out dishes and healthy options too.
History in a day
Mauritians generally speak two main languages – French and English. “English is the administrative language but we use French to communicate. Our school books are all in English, but the teachers would often use French as a mode of instruction.
“We also have Creole French, which is like a simplified version of French,” Elodie explained.
We spent a day with Elodie exploring a few tourist attractions around the country, as well as the capital city, Port Louis. Our trip to the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden or Pamplemousses got us acquainted with a few Aldabra Giant Tortoises, which are native to the islands on the Indian Ocean.
(A history note: Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam is known as the “father of Mauritius”, the person who led the country to its independence from the British in 1968, which subsequently made him the first prime minister of Mauritius.)
Of course, Mauritius is also known for the extinct Dodo bird, so don’t be surprised to see them on souvenirs, brochures, labels, signs and more. In fact, the country’s coat of arms features the Dodo bird on one side, and a stag on the other. You can find some deer at the botanical gardens too, as well as a pond filled with beautiful giant waterlilies, and a memorial dedicated to Ramgoolam, who was cremated there.
Tourists typically spend about an hour at the 37ha garden, and if your good guide is as entertaining as Elodie, you would be regaled with so many interesting stories about the place.
Apart from the garden, you can also make quick visits to the Citadel or Fort Adelaide for a good view of Port Louis, and the Notre Dame Auxiliatrice Chapel at Cap Malheureux, or Cape of Bad Luck, about 10 minutes away from Club Med La Pointe. The cape is named as such because that’s where the British Army ambushed the French and took over the island from them. Today, the place is famous for the quaint chapel, dubbed the “Red Church” by tourists for its gorgeous red roof.
The day excursion is something that Club Med La Pointe could arrange for guests, although you will be charged separately for that. Club Med is an all-inclusive resort, which means you just need pay one price to enjoy all the amenities offered within the property. Some exclusions for La Pointe include the spa, liquor (beer, wine and basic cocktails are included in your base fee), day excursions and special services.
Thanks to this all-inclusive deal, guests are able to enjoy as many water activities as they can handle throughout the day. We took turns to sail, kayak, wakeboard and snorkel, but did not have time to try waterskiing or stand up paddling.
Other activities available for guests include tennis, golf, beach volleyball and archery, a Club Med signature. There are also fitness programmes like water aerobics, yoga and pilates for those who prefer not to step into the gym while on holiday.
La Pointe has four pools. The main pool is rather small, so if things get a little crowded during peak seasons, head to the Zen Pool, an infinity pool for adults. Our favourite is actually the family pool as it has water sprays, fountains and other fun things you can play with. And don’t worry, all guests are welcome here, not just families.
Guests who come with toddlers can check out the baby pool, where the water is always warm and child menders are on hand to help you.
Winding down It’s usually difficult to find things to do past dinner while on holiday, unless you’re into clubbing or bar-hopping. At Club Med, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets. Cocktails are available all day, but the canapes are only served at the main lounge at 7.30pm.
You can enjoy those and mingle with other guests or the GOs, or just head to La Belle Creole or Alma Beach Lounge (the resort’s newly renovated beach-front restaurant) for dinner.
At about 9pm, the in-house entertainment begins. Each night, a different show is put on for guests. When we were there, we managed to catch an acrobatic performance, a lively cultural dance show, a live painting/graffiti show, a water juggler, and a mini concert by a famous French band (Emile & Images). Now that really got the European guests moving on the dance floor!
Then there was that retro disco night …
If you’re looking for a quiet night in, you can just head back to your room after dinner. The party does get a bit loud at times, but don’t worry, you won’t hear a thing once you’re inside your room.
There are hammocks, benches and beach chairs around the property that you can use if you prefer to just hang out by the shore and enjoy the sound of the waves, staring into the starry night.
After all, what’s a holiday without some quiet time by yourself?
Flight: Air Mauritius flies 3X weekly from Kuala Lumpur, and 3X weekly from Mauritius to KL; there is no flight on Sundays. The flight duration is about seven hours, but Air Mauritius makes a short stop at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, so the duration may vary.
Malaysia Airlines has a codeshare agreement with Air Mauritius, so you can book via MAS. The only other airline that flies to Mauritius from Malaysia is Emirates.
Currency: Mauritian rupee (MUR10 = RM1.15)
Weather: Mauritius is in East Africa, and it has two seasons in a year – winter (May to October) and summer (November to April).