Certainly, these are the beaches that will seduce you first.
Even from the narrow window of the jet, those pearly shores and crystal-clear waters, which seem to appear out of nowhere in the Indian Ocean, seem like taken from a postcard. The grassy sugar cane fields and verdant mountains, which rise vividly into the vivid blue sky, will also dazzle.
Mauritius, south of the equator and east of Madagascar, is lined with chalk beaches and reefs covered in freckles of exotic fish, which has earned it the reputation of being an island getaway. par excellence. Advertisements and brochures will spread how it is a family destination with water sports and waterfalls. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But like so many tropical islands, it’s not just coconut palms and daiquiris. Mauritius is much more textured than its reputation suggests.
The complex history of the island – it was colonized three times by the Dutch, British and French – and its particular geography gave rise to a rich mix of cultures (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, French, Creole and Chinese ), often unrecognized. by visitors. Evidence of the island’s diversity is not to be found behind the towering resort walls, but rather in the streets and thrilling markets of Port Louis, where the jumble of cultures is undeniable. Even more at the Champ de Mars, remarkably the second oldest racetrack in the world (behind Chester in the UK), which attracts foreigners and locals alike, regardless of their background. “It brings together the [island], whatever your social status, ”explains Soun Gujadhur, a trainer whose family owns the prestigious Gujadhur stable, the oldest on the island, and who has participated in horse racing in Mauritius for over 100 years.
The electric vibe of the Champ de Mars, in the capital of Port Louis, is what really draws the crowds. It’s hard not to be captivated by the action in a stadium where the racecourse is close to the grandstand. Here, the horses brush past the onlookers at lightning speed, and the spectators, suspended from the rails, betting cards in hand, are almost sprayed with earth. As the horses cross the finish line, the crowd erupts, making the kind of clamor you would expect to hear at a football game. “From a jockey’s point of view, it’s amazing how close you are,” says Mark Neisius, former jockey and winner of the Maiden Cup, Mauritius’ most prestigious race. “It’s unique how fanatical the crowd is. “
Mauritians are crazy about horse racing. “I have raced in eight countries around the world and have never felt such passion,” says Derreck David, a jockey who moved from South Africa to Mauritius nine years ago to race. It is considered the national sport of Mauritius. But it’s not just the locals who attend. The top races have attracted royalty, including Princess Anne and Sarah of the United Kingdom, the Duchess of York and former Arsenal football player Robert Pires, as well as foreign leaders from across Africa and the Middle East. The stadium, which saw its first competition in 1812 and was the epicenter of independence celebrations in 1968, often hosts races when dignitaries visit the island. Not only is a trail run a majestic affair that offers a window into Mauritian culture, but the setting is also ridiculously picturesque. Surrounded by lush mountains and in the shadow of Pouce, the characteristic thumb-shaped peak of the island, the Champ de Mars alone is worth a visit.
Anyone can arrive at the stadium wearing a T-shirt and sandals, but that doesn’t mean spectators aren’t dressing up. In the boxes, it is not the men in suits that are lacking, the women in breathtaking dresses and hats. “Wearing a jacket and tie is compulsory in the Parade Ring and in the members’ area,” explains Benoît Halbwachs, secretary of the Mauritius Turf Club, the private non-profit organization that orchestrates the races. Leading a horse into the ring is considered an extremely prestigious affair, and guests should dress accordingly.
“This is one of the few racetracks where you get on the track if your horse has won and you bring it back to the paddock. It really is bragging rights, ”says Neisius. “For the owners, it’s a glamorous thing.
Most often, these owners come from the most prestigious stables in Mauritius, Gujadhur and Rousset Stable, managed by trainer Gilbert Rousset. “If you ride for the Gujadhur or Rousset stables, you ride for the best,” explains David, the jockey, adding that they invest in the best horses around (mostly imported from South Africa). While the Gujadhur family owns most of their equines, at the Rousset stable, the island’s wealthier residents are frequent partners. “Everyone wants to get involved, even if they own 5% of a horse,” says David. The advantages: direct access to jockeys, considered local celebrities, and to all equestrian gossip. (Foreign horse owners tend not to compete due to the lower stakes – a Mauritius Rupee purse is dismal compared to winning US dollars.)
Tourists who attend usually opt for the real crowd pleasers, the four classics: Duchess of York Cup, Barbé Cup, Maiden Cup and Duke of York Cup. There is also the International Jockeys’ Weekend, which attracts competitors from all over the world and closes the season in December. But it’s the average Saturday races that testify to the depth of love for the sport here. And it is on these days that foreigners can witness the most authentic Mauritian multiculturalism. “Even these [smaller] the events attract the entire population of the island, ”says Halbwachs. “He represents a microcosm of Mauritian society.
From March to December, the Champ de Mars attracts between 20,000 and 75,000 spectators on each of its 40 or so days of racing. The track acts as the unofficial town square. “It’s an open public space,” says Khalid Rawat, former deputy general manager of the Turf Club. “So whenever there was a horse race in Mauritius, people could still go to the racetrack and even bring their children. “
For many Mauritians, a day at the races is a traditional family affair. “People have become racing fans from generation to generation,” says Rawat, who grew up going to the Champ de Mars with his father. The Gujadhur family has passed the tradition down through the generations to become one of the most elite equestrian families in the country. Gujadhur’s grandfather bought his first horse in 1904; Today, Gujadhur works alongside his two sons in the homonymous stable of the clan, famous for its blue silks seen on many winning jockeys. It is through tradition and family that “everyone gets the virus,” says Rawat.
Even tourists staying at some of the island’s more indulgent beach hotels, including One & Only Le Saint Géran, are encouraged to venture to Champ de Mars. One & Only can ensure that guests have a lavish day in a VIP box at the finish line, with plenty of champagne and canapes and extras such as a photographer to capture the festivities or special track access and to the jockeys. Even after the race is over and the horses are back in their stalls, the champagne is shattered and the parties at the Banana Bar or along the Grand Baie strip often take place late at night.
A day at the races only offers an opening on the Mauritian culture, beyond the gentle seaside resorts. Savvy travelers forgo poolside piña coladas for a stroll through Port Louis, where vendors spill over to bustling markets, selling spices, mangoes, baskets and more. Next, head to the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, where water lilies the size of wine barrels float in ink pools, shaded by baobab trees and mahogany trees. There are mountains to hike in the Black River Gorges National Park and a myriad of different cuisines and street foods to try, from dhal puri, fried rice (fried rice) and peeled pineapples with chili peppers sold in Parisian croissants markets perfect for pastry shops, including Le Fournil in Grand Baie. There’s no shortage of fresh seafood either, with restaurants turning octopus into local curry recipes and fresh tuna served on Indigo Beach at the Constance Belle Mare Plage hotel.
It’s easy to see why travelers are drawn to the island by the country’s beaches and spend their vacations rolling sand by the pool. But if that’s all you’re looking for, there are plenty of other tropical paradises that are much easier to reach. If you are flying in the middle of the Indian Ocean, make this count; the real Mauritius is just too fascinating to ignore, the horses and everything in between.