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Ten spiritual and cultural reasons to visit Mauritius

Those who have been to Mauritius will say that there are more than 101 reasons to visit this paradise island. Khanya Litabe visited Mauritius with Radio Veritas, The Southern Cross and spotlight.africa as part of the recent pilgrimage to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis. In this piece, first posted on his blog, he shares the experience of immersing himself in the island’s spiritual, cultural, and natural treasures.

Mauritius is affectionately known as the Paradise Island because of its beautiful, picturesque beaches. This is why I was totally ecstatic when I received an offer from the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) to cover Pope Francis’ 9 September apostolic voyage to Mauritius. The offer emerged from the collaboration by of Radio VeritasThe Southern Cross and Spotlight Africa collaboration to take pilgrims to Mauritius to see the Pope, have a spiritual revival and a bit of a holiday.

Like a typical inland person, I went to Mauritius expecting to be on the beach all day everyday, except for the Pope’s Mass. However, it turned out that Mauritius has far more to offer than clear beaches, blue oceans and perfect weather.

These are some of the places to visit if you go to Mauritius:

Notre Dame Auxiliatrice de Cap Malhereux Chapel

It’s one of Mauritius’ most photographed sites and one of the most popular Catholic chapels for weddings and wedding photos. It is famous for its red roof and the picturesque land that it sits on, which is said to be the where the British troops landed in Mauritius in 1810 to attack the French.  

This is where I attended Mass on the Sunday morning with four other journalists. The acoustics in the church are amazingly good for such a small chapel.

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Inside the Notre Dame Auxiliatrice parish /Khanya Litabe

Directly behind the Church is a beautiful white sand beach, which is ideal for a family outing after Mass.

Catholic Chapel and Shrine of Marie Reine de la Paix

This marian chapel is where Pope Francis celebrated Mass during his visit to Mauritius. St John Paul II was the first Pope to celebrate Mass in this open space 30 years ago. It is set on  a hill below Signal Mountain overlooking the city of Port Louis. A beautiful 3 metre high marble statue of the chapel’s patron, Mary, Queen of Peace, stands on top of the roof.

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Statue of Mary, Queen of Peace on top of the marian chapel / Khanya Litabe

Be prepared to walk 82 steps from the bottom of the hill to the chapel up at the top. Once you are there you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the city, but more importantly, you will have peace in your heart, inspired from the tranquillity that surrounds this place. It is the perfect place to ask Our Lady Queen of Peace for her intercession for you intentions. A diverse crowd of 125,000 people attended the Papal Mass.

According to the guides in Port Louis, the best way to see the city at night is from the shrine.

Site of the Papal Mass overlooking Port St. Louis / Khanya Litabe

The Shrine of Blessed Pere Laval

Fr Jacques-Desire Laval was a Spiritan priest who served in Mauritius between 1841 and 1864. He is said to have converted 67,000 people in Mauritius and surrounding islands during his time there. He is known as the Apostle of Mauritius. Many miracles are attributed to pilgrimages to his tomb, which is inside the shrine.

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Outside the Shrine of Pere Laval, Spotlight.Africa / Russell Pollitt

On 9 September, after celebrating Mass at Marie Reine de la Paix, Pope Francis made a stop for a silent prayer at the shrine.

P ope Francis arrives at the shrine of Pere Laval for a silent prayer / Vatican News

Many young people stood outside for hours, waiting for him. When he emerged, the Pontiff shook their hands and gave them a blessing.

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Pope greeting the faithful outside Pere Laval shrine / Khanya Litabe

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Located in the district of Pamplemousse not far from Port Louis, the botanical garden has more than 650 varieties of plants, mostly trees from various parts of the world. It also boasts dozens of medicinal plants.

In the middle of the garden you will find trees planted by various Presidents who have visited Mauritius – including Nelson Mandela, Joaquim Chisanno, Robert Mugabe, King Mswati II.

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Diospyros egrettarum tree planted by President Nelson Mandela at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden / Khanya Litabe

The sugar factory – L’Aventure du Sucre

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The entrance of L’Aventure du Sucre / Khanya Litabe

The first stop is the L’Aventure du Sucre restaurant. The food is well-presented and tasty with a fusion of tastes that are complemented by the beautiful tranquil gardens under the tropical trees.

The factory itself is described as The Cathedral of sugar-making in Mauritius. It has an interactive museum that explains the history of the sugar cane plantations and those who started working on these fields in Mauritius, and the beginnings of the island, which was named after the Dutch noble Maurice de Nassau.

With its motto as ‘For the future. from 1838,’,  you get a sense that sugar is as precious to the people of Mauritius as gold and oil are to many economies of the world, and is one of the main sources of income for the country.

The visit to the museum needs to end with a visit to the sweet store for the sweets that are not too sweet for the kids. 

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L’Aventure du Sucre shop / Khanya Litabe

Chateau de Labourdonnais

This is an old chateau on an old sugar cane plantation. For 150 years it was owned by the Wiehe family, but over time the chateau’s wood structure deteriorated. In 2010 the refurbishment work restored the house to its original Victorian architecture. Now the house boasts some of the rarest Victorian furniture pieces you will come across. The curator – Bernard Maurice – is always ready to take you on a tour of the chateau and to share his passion about it.

The chateau also boasts a garden and historic orchards. It has over fifty varieties of mango and other fruit trees. La Table du Chateau  restaurant on the grounds of the Chateau offers scrumptious meals and friendly waiters. The visit is only complete after a rum-tasting an opportunity to purchase some souvenir artworks and/or homemade rum.

Inside the museum at Chateau du Labourdonnais / Khanya Litabe

Bois Cheri tea factory

Bois Cheri is the oldest tea plantation in Mauritius, and the largest tea producer in the country. It’s situated in the famous Route du Thé (tea route) and sits on 250 hectares of fertile land. It boasts the famous Bubble Lodge, and Bois Cheri restaurant, where you will get to taste the various teas and treats that are on offer. Even better, it’s all bottomless!

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Bois Cheri tea factory / Khanya Litabe

My guide here was Azar, who has been working at Bois Cheri since 1976 and has in-depth knowledge of how everything works. He walked me through the process from harvesting the leaves to the making of the tea.

Many dear live on the plantation and they also welcome the tourists, grazing along the route between the plantation, the Bois Cheri Restaurant and Bubble Lodge 1.7km away. Or perhaps they’re just waiting for a photo opportunity!

Rhumerie de Chamarel 

n the southwestern part of the island is a village called Chamarel. Its rum factory is a unique tourist attraction. It boasts an agricultural plantation and a distillery. Guide tours show you how the sugar cane arrives the factory and explain the distilling process. The tour ends with a tasting of your choice of rum.

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A choice of rum at the Chamarel Rum Factory / Khanya Litabe

The plantation also has its own restaurant, L’Alchimiste, where tourists can enjoy a well-deserved meal. The staff are remarkable and, as I found, are great photographers too!

Chamarel village also has incredible natural beauty. The River du Cap waterfalls can be found here. I was told that t if you visit the local parish church of St Anne on the feast of the Assumption, you will be treated to “Curry number 2”, a local delicacy.

The Seven Coloured Earths, a small area filled with sand dunes in seven different colours.

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The Seven Coloured Earths / Khanya Litabe

The hotels in Mauritius

During my stay in Mauritius, I was hosted by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority at the Labourdonnais Hotel and Le Suffren Hotel in Port Louis, owned by the Indigo group. Both hotels provide excellent service. They are situated on the Waterfront, and the sound of the boats moving in and out of the harbour’ gives you a sense of both city life and life at the sea side. The two hotels are in close proximity to Le Caudan Waterfont shopping mall which includes a cinema, banking facilities, a casino, boat rides and other activities.

Both hotels are also in walking distance from the Aapravasi Ghat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – which is a former immigration depot for indentured workers from India and bears a great history of Mauritius.

And finally, the beaches of Mauritius

Later, I moved to Casuarina Resort and Spa situated at Troux Aux Biches. This part of the coast is so incredibly beautiful, with its strikingly white sand, the clear blue water of the Indian Ocean, and amazing sunsets. Whether it’s the Troux Aux Biches Beach or the Balaclava Beach, the water is never cold, making for wonderful swimming experience.  You are welcome to engage in the many activities available in this beach village, including snorkeling, and golf, and many others.

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Sunset over the water / Khanya Litebe

To experience this hospitality, organise your holiday early and make sure you have enough time for these adventures and to rest in-between. Admittedly, fitting everything into a few days and  trying to take it all in can be exhausting. For expert advice and bookings, get in touch with the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority here.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.