The grandeur of Port Louis’ colonial past is felt in the stately avenue of royal palms that flank Place S Bissoondoyal opposite the harbour. Named after a Mauritian independence leader, it’s still known by its old name, Place d’Armes, which reflects its origins as an army parade ground. The avenue stretches from a statue of the city’s founder, Mahé de La Bourdonnais, up to the oldest building on the island, the beautifully restored grey Government House (not open to the public), where a bust of Queen Victoria peers sternly through the railings. Nearby, offering a respite from the heat, the pretty Jardins de la Compagnie (Company Gardens) are where the first French settlers once lived in primitive, thatched mud huts.
Adjacent to Place S Bissoondoyal, Victorian wrought-iron gates lead into the island’s oldest, largest and most vibrant market, Central Market. A couple of blocks further north is Chinatown, created by Chinese traders at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In a peculiarly multicultural Mauritian twist, its main attraction is the impressive Jummah Mosque, with its white domes and ornate teak doors inlaid with ivory.
Heading towards the hills, a vestige of Port Louis’ heyday can be seen in the pretty colonnaded frontage of the Grand Theatre. Opened in 1822, it’s the oldest theatre in the southern hemisphere, although these days séga shows have replaced opera. Opposite lies the atmospheric, cobbled Rue de Vieux Conseil (Old Council Street).