The west coast Travel Guide

With sheltered sandy beaches and mountain views, the “sunset coast”, which stretches from Port Louis to the exclusive Le Morne Peninsula, has some of the island’s most diverse and breathtaking scenery. Although it lacks nightlife, this lesser-developed coastline is arguably more exotic than its northern cousin, with twisting roads offering glimpses of isolated white sandy bays and a scattering of Creole villages; the district of Black River/Rivière Noire has the strongest African flavour on the island.

A legendary surf spot in the Seventies, the lively seaside town of Flic en Flacis now famed for the dolphins that visit the bay each morning, and a favourite with families and divers. Nearby Tamarin is busy reinventing itself as the “in” place to be, with trekking in Black River Gorges National Park and world record-winning big game fishing on its doorstep. Up-and-coming Chamarel, a sleepy highland hamlet known for geological wonder the Seven Coloured Earths, and the cool coastal kiters’ hangout of La Gaulette, meanwhile make great boltholes. Mauritius’s most exclusive address and kiters’ favourite is the Le Morne Peninsula, whose imposing basalt monolith Le Morne Brabant, is omnipresent in vistas along this coast.

Le Morne Peninsula

Cowering on the island’s southwestern tip, Le Morne Peninsula is nicknamed the “five-star strip”. It is the island’s most exclusive address and a magnet for kiters. Just a few select hotels and resorts stretch along the 4km-long Le Morne beach, one of the island’s finest, sheltered by the dramatic giant monolith of Le Morne Brabant.

Le Morne Brabant

An iconic monolith jutting out into the Indian Ocean, Le Morne Brabant (556m) is among the island’s best climbs: it’s hard to beat the view of coral gardens and verdant forests from the top. The mountain was used as a shelter and hiding place for runaway slaves in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and remains a symbol of their suffering and fight for freedom. Distressingly, some slaves threw themselves to their deaths when approached by soldiers who came to tell them slavery was over, fearing they may be captured. Le Morne Brabant is seen as sacred by the island’s Creole population and it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.

Kitesurfing in Mauritius

Mauritius’s southwest coast has the best conditions for kitesurfing year-round. The epicentre of the sport is the Le Morne Peninsula, which with a large, shallow reef-fringed lagoon, consistent onshore winds and access to great waves lends itself to both beginners and seasoned kiters. It’s one of the world’s safest spots to learn and ideal for improvers to perfect new tricks. Kite freestyle and wave enthusiasts come during winter, May to October, when southeasterly trade winds blow a consistent 15–30 knots. For experienced riders, One Eye at Le Morne, 600m from the lagoon, has some of the best wave conditions. Bel Ombre’s lagoon is less busy, if choppier, than Le Morne, with a stable wind around 50m from shore, and both flat water and waves further out. Just offshore from La Gaulette, Île aux Bénitiers, is in the middle of a 10km, knee-deep lagoon with a northeastern wind.

The slave trade on Mauritius

The first slaves arrived in Mauritius from Madagascar in 1639, a year after the Dutch East India Company established a settlement on the island, to fell ebony trees and work on the tobacco and sugar cane plantations. When trade was opened up to French nationals in 1769, slaves were brought from other places, including Zanzibar, increasing the population dramatically from 15,000 to 49,000 in just thirty years. During the late eighteenth century, slaves accounted for around eighty percent of the island’s population, and by the early nineteenth century there were 60,000 on the island.

Mauritius was the last place in the British colonies to abolish slavery, on 1 February 1835. At that time, slaves accounted for two-thirds of the population: about fifty percent from Madagascar, forty percent from East Africa and just under seven percent from India. After abolition, a village called Trou Chenilles was established for freed slaves on the southern foot of Le Morne Mountain, which was later moved to Le Morne Village. Today, Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund, Royal Road, Le Morne Village (451 5759; Mon–Sat 10am–3pm, Sun 10am–noon) offer tours led by village guides, custodians of traditions handed down from their slave ancestors, which offer a unique perspective on this largely Creole community.

The abolition of slavery is commemorated at the International Slave Route Monument on the Le Morne Peninsula, where the President recently heralded runaway slaves as Mauritius’s first freedom fighters. Despite this, the island is only gradually coming to terms with its colonial past and the Creole population remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged in Mauritian society.

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Andy Turner
8/29/2020
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