Off the Beaten Track A tropical paradise November 2003 614 Mauritius features kilometers of white sandy beaches fringed by swaying palm trees. What makes Mauritius so endlessly fascinating to travellers? Some may say it is the kilometers of white sandy beaches fringed by swaying palm trees. Some might say it is the unique Mauritian culture that has evolved through the years due to the exotic mixture of people that have gradually inhabited this tropical island. Others may suggest that it is the stunning scenery and attractions unspoiled by mass tourism. But all would agree Mauritius is the place to go to escape the drudgery of daily life and revitalise the soul.Only in Mauritius can you find such stunning scenery as the extraordinary giant lilies that fill the pond at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens at Pamplemousses. These tropical gardens are one of the island’s biggest tourist attractions, but even if you are not botanically inclined you will be suitably impressed with the range of plants and palms that adorn these gardens. Make sure you hire a guide, as there are many varieties that are not to be missed such as the marmalade tree, the chewing gum tree, the sausage tree or the giant bamboo. Only in Mauritius will you see the strange, seven differently-coloured layers of earth at the village of Chamarel, which are believed to be the result of uneven cooling of molten rock.And only in Mauritius is this cosmopolitan island large enough to cope with tourism and still let you have the feeling of peace and tranquility.With a population of 1,150,000 mainly Indian, African, European and Chinese, Mauritius is a heady mix of ethnic and religious groups, attractive Creole and colonial architecture, transparent seas, low mountains and sugar cane plains. For such a small island, it has variety in abundance.Mauritius has a superb standard of accommodation and service, and probably the densest concentration of five-star and luxury properties of any tropical destination. If your budget permits the best place to stay is The Residence located on the East coast. Although open for just five years, The Residence Mauritius is already considered one of the jewels of the international hotel scene. Situated on the East coast on the long Belle Mare beach, The Residence has a refreshing absence of thatch and the contrast is startling - cool colours, colonial-style architecture, cane furniture and ceiling fans, with graceful staff wafting by in elegant Indian-style dress. The Plantation House restaurant, serving Mauritian cuisine, has such a reputation that advance booking is essential.Mauritian food is a blend of Indian, Chinese and European influence with the emphasis on seafood. The cornerstone of this cuisine is the carri, a spicy rich onion sauce that owes a lot to Indian cooking, but includes local additions such as aromatic leaves of the carri poule bush. Lobsters are plentiful off the coast of Mauritius so you will find many restaurants have lobster dishes on their menu. It’s usually served with a spicy tomato based Creole sauce or the Chinese way with garlic and butter. Fish lovers will not be disappointed as there is an abundance of fish dishes from smoked marlin and red snapper to triggerfish and grouper. A trip to Mauritius would not be complete without a Sega evening. The Sega is an integral part of Mauritian culture. It is an indigenous form of music and dance peculiar to Mauritius. Derived mostly from African music dating from slavery days, the Sega is now performed with sophisticated contemporary influences and instruments. The shuffling, hip swaying dance and Creole lyrics are an integral part of the music.Mauritius doesn’t just offer wonderful beaches, its inland attractions are equally as fascinating and exotic. A visit to the Ylang Ylang plantation in Vieux Grand Port is a must for nature-lovers. As is a hiking trip to the Black River Gorges National Park with its original jungle and bird life that includes the rare Pink Pigeon, the Echo Parakeet and the Mauritius Kestrel. For a glimpse of old Mauritius visit the Domaine Les Pailles, built around a sugar estate, with its working replica of a sugar mill and rum distillery. Whatever it is that makes Mauritius so fascinating visitors to this fascinating island will appreciate the smile of its people as much as its healing beauty and its magnificent sceneries.