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A roadtrip to remember: Discovering Mauritius in a vintage Morris Minor

21st May 2019 0 comments
A roadtrip to remember Discovering Mauritius in a vintage Morris Minor

Fancy turning back time in a 1950s vintage car? We took Veranda Resorts’ beautiful Morris Minor for a spin along the north coast of Mauritius over the course of a weekend. Fasten your seatbelts!   

SATURDAY

We’re on our way to Veranda Paul et Virginie, located in the fishing village of Grand Gaube in the north of Mauritius. Named after the tragic lovers in Bernardin de St-Pierre’s famous novel – depictions of whom also adorn the hotel’s rooms and common areas – this 4-star, adults-only establishment is ideal for couples in search of peace and intimacy.

The supremely romantic Veranda Paul et Virginie is full of beautiful spaces adorned with natural materials, including a spa and two magnificent swimming pools. We fall in love with the macramé chandeliers, as well as the model of the Saint-Géran (a ship wrecked off the Mauritian coast in 1744, and which features in Bernardin de St-Pierre’s novel).

We’ve settled into our spacious Privilege room and spend some time on balcony, soaking in the 360-degree view of the sea in front of us. Among the hotel’s many charms is the fact that all of its rooms offer views of Grand Gaube’s incredible turquoise lagoon!

At lunchtime, we head to Le Saint-Géran restaurant and beach bar, which is set on a pier facing the water. Stéphane opts for the dish of the day (a delicious marlin briani), while I allow myself to be tempted by a refreshing salad.

A wide variety of complimentary activities, including both land and water sports, are available at Veranda Paul et Virginie guests. The hotel also holds regular workshops under its gazebo, the better to plunge you into Mauritian culture. Today, we’re taking part in a workshop themed around coconuts, during which we discover how the fruit’s delicious flesh and water are used. But depending on the day, you might learn how to cut up a pineapple, dance sega (a traditional local folk dance), or speak Mauritian Creole

In order to discover Mauritius a bit differently this weekend, we’ve opted for an unusual excursion: a road trip aboard a rented Morris Minor, a real throwback to ye olde Mauritius! Though the iconic British car enjoyed considerable popularity on the island between the 1950s and the 1970s, very few of them remain on the road today. Our rental vehicle, emblazoned with the Veranda Resorts colours, is therefore a considerable rarity. It seems that it is particularly popular for weddings and birthdays!

Stéphane gets behind the wheel and we make our way to Goodlands for the afternoon. After a few minutes, Stéphane has got the knack of driving the Minor, and has nothing but praise for its exceptional handling. He’s also enjoying being the centre of attention! He tells me, “When you drive a Porsche, you show off your money; when you drive a Minor, you show off your sense of style!”. It must be said that we feel like celebrities on the red carpet as we take to the road. Passers-by look up from their phones to gawk at this vestige of a bygone era – they smile, admire the car, take pictures of it and call out to us as we drive by!

Goodlands, the bustling village a stone’s throw from Veranda Paul et Virginie, instantly immerses you in Mauritian culture. We stroll through its covered market (or “bazaar” in Mauritian) and admire the stalls laden with a huge variety of fruits and vegetables: chouchou, pomme d’amour (a kind of local tomato), pineapple…

Various street food stalls are dotted around the Goodlands market. We can’t resist tasting local specialties including Pani Puri and Dahi Puri: these snacks, originally from India, are at once sweet, spicy and perfectly crisp. As the locals say, mari bon (delicious)!

Historic Marine, the largest model boat factory in Mauritius (which incidentally produced the model of the Saint-Géran on display at Veranda Paul et Virginie), is located right opposite the market, but unfortunately we arrive too late for a tour. Instead, we visit the colourful Hindu temple located nearby: with its statuettes of deities, offerings to the gods and smells of incense, it has a mystical atmosphere…

We continue to explore the area, and in particular drive around the old sugar estate at St-Antoine. Comfortably ensconced in the Morris Minor’s leather seats, we suddenly feel like we’ve gone back in time… We are awash with nostalgia for a bygone era, in which life was gentler and less stressful; in which technology as we know it didn’t exist; and in which time was just a concept, rather than something we always seem to be short of.

The day is drawing to a close: it’s time to return to the village of Grand Gaube. We stop near the barachois on the seafront to admire the sunset’s vibrant colours. As we start back to the hotel, a villager calls out to us: “With a car like that, you clearly have good taste! It really is one of the most beautiful cars in the world…” Needless to say, we’re very proud of our little Minor!

At nightfall, we make our way to the beach at Veranda Paul et Virginie, where we settle into rattan and wooden chairs and sip cocktails with our toes in the sand. Still barefoot on the beach, we move on to a romantic gourmet dinner. We feast on a special “fisherman’s menu” in the flickering light of torches and candles, and beneath a tree festooned with decorative hearts. We feel enveloped in a warm and cosy cocoon, with the gentle music of lapping waves as a backdrop. 

We finish off the evening at the Poudre d’Or, the hotel’s main bar, which offers a different type of entertainment every night. This evening, we enjoy the considerable talents of a live band.  

SUNDAY

Stéphane wakes up full of energy and decides to try out the Veranda Paul et Virginie gym. Personally, a morning dip in the hotel’s beautiful infinity pool is more my speed! Stéphane joins me later on, and we admire the view of the Northern Islands – the iconic Gunners’ Quoin, Flat Island, Îlot Gabriel and Round Island – as we swim. We also watch the hotel’s catamaran set sail on its daily excursion at sea (in which guests can take part for a fee).

Though we’re tempted to make the most of the free in-room breakfast – served from 8am to 10pm, a timeframe we’ve never come across before! – we ultimately head to the main restaurant, the Isle de France (a reference to one of Mauritius’ previous names), where we enjoy a breakfast buffet and some beautiful views over the lagoon.

On the way back to our room, we stop at the Wishing Tree (a beautiful banyan) to write our hopes down on a pebble and entrust them to the Universe…

It’s time to get back aboard the Morris Minor and continue our journey along the northwest coast. Before we leave the hotel, we are given a rakhi – a bracelet that symbolises friendship in the Hindu culture.

It must be said that the Veranda Paul et Virginie has completely won us over. We’re already looking forward to coming back!

We drive along the coastal road towards Grand Baie, passing Anse-la-Raie, then stopping at Cap Malheureux to admire its famous red-roofed church, Notre-Dame Auxiliatrice. We arrive just as Sunday mass wraps up. A number of locals come up to us to admire our car and strike up a conversation: “Oooooh, I remember that car from when I was a child!”

We stop at Veranda Grand Baie for a refreshing drink. The hotel is set on a beautiful lagoon opposite the lively village of Grand Baie. The water from a gorgeous fresh coconut is just the thing in this heat!

While we’re here, we explore the family-friendly hotel. We’re smitten by the Veranda Grand Baie’s Creole-style buildings nestled in a superb tropical garden – some of the royal palm trees are tall enough to make you dizzy!

We arrive in Grand Baie and park on the waterfront. The turquoise water is breath-taking. As we walk around, we come across people playing dominoes (a local obsession!) as well as street stalls selling fruit and snacks.

We make our way to the Grand Baie bazaar and spend some time browsing its stalls. When we finally get back to our car, we find a group of friends taking selfies with the Morris Minor!

We take to the road once more, driving through Mont Choisy and the surrounding area, as well as along its beautiful beach. (Stéphane can’t resist the urge to take a photo in front of a former gas station). A few minutes later, we find ourselves at Veranda Pointe aux Biches, where we’ll be staying the night. 

We discover the unique concept behind this relaxed-feeling 4-star hotel: we’re invited to go barefoot throughout our stay! After check-in, we’re treated to the ritual of the three fountains: we dip our feet into each one and invite love, peace and joy into our lives. Mari top, as the Mauritians would say!

We wander the hotel’s sandy pathways and tropical gardens, dotted with thatched buildings in tawny and navy colours that blend perfectly into their surroundings. The décor is a harmonious meld of natural materials – ravenala, wood, rattan, bamboo and stone. 

We discover our airy Privilege room, located in the Sandy Lane Village, a part of the hotel reserved for adults, and which is also home to a beautiful slate pool, a cosy bar with hanging chairs and a restaurant.

Our lunch is original to say the least: we take part in a cooking class during which the hotel’s sous-chef teaches us how to make chicken and prawn curry, a delicious local specialty. Curry powder, turmeric, caraway and aromatics tickle our nostrils – and our appetites! We then devour the dish we’ve just created alongside the classic Mauritian rice and lentils. These popular cooking classes are usually offered twice a week.

It’s time to “kas enn poz” – that is, to relax – first at the pool, then at the beach. At the boathouse, Stéphane hesitates between the many different activities on offer before borrowing a stand-up paddle for a pleasant outing on the lagoon.

In the evening, we enjoy a drink in the tranquillity of the Sandy Lane Village before making our way the hotel’s common areas. We enjoy a delicious dinner at the Deck, the à la carte restaurant located between the beach and pool, as live music floats in from the Foot Loose bar nearby. Another beautiful day has come to an end!

MONDAY

After a restful night’s sleep, we head to the Veranda Pointe aux Biches’ main restaurant, the Senses. Amid a décor awash with shades of blue, a gargantuan buffet awaits us.

Why not take a break to focus on your wellbeing? Veranda Resorts’ Seven Colours spas offer a holistic approach to wellness and personalised treatments centred around the body’s seven chakras (as represented by seven different colours). The spa at Veranda Pointe aux Biches is truly unique and an invitation to complete relaxation: its wooden treatment cabins, with their charming thatched roofs, are all directly opposite the ocean. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a bit of pampering as you listen to the soothing sound of the waves!

We are offered a 15-minute essential oil and coconut foot scrub (complimentary for all guests within two days of their arrival). It’s a delicious opportunity both to take care of our poor feet, which bear our weight all day, and to fully experience the Veranda Pointe aux Biches’ “barefoot” concept. With the ocean as a backdrop, we relish this relaxing treatment to the full… Tou korek! (All good!)

In order to explore the area a little further, we rent vintage bikes (the legendary Phoenix bikes, aka velo corbo in Mauritian) and cycle to the Hindu temple in the nearby village of Triolet: bells ring, prayers are in progress… It’s a meditative experience.

Our weekend is coming to an end, and we have to return the Morris Minor to Veranda Paul et Virginie. On the drive back, we savour our final minutes in the car, admiring the coastal villages that unfold before us: Pointe aux Canonniers, Pereybère, Bain Boeuf, Calodyne…

We arrive back in Grand Gaube… the time has come to part with our beautiful vehicle. Ayo papa! Can’t we keep it a little longer?

#VerandaResorts #DeepIntoMauritius #LocalLiving #Mauritius

Photo credit: Stéphane Mussard

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