Bay2Bay Tour Stops
Stop 1 - Baie du Jacotet and Îlot Sancho
On the road between Rivière des Galets and Bel Ombre are two places that will fascinate those interested in pirate stories and historical battles: Baie du Jacotet and Îlot Sancho. Initially called Ebbenhouts Baay (Ebony Bay) by the Dutch, then Baie sans Fin (Endless Bay) by Mauritius’ first French settlers, Baie du Jacotet’s current name dates back to the eighteenth century, when a French military outpost commanded by an officer named Jacoté defended this strategic location.Though Baie du Jacotet is today a picture of calm, this placid bay was previously fortified by French naval installations and two cannons, and was the setting for the first English assault on French-held Mauritius. On the 1st of May 1810, Captain Willoughby of the British Navy, aboard his frigate Nereide, attempted to take possession of an imposing three-masted ship. Attacking in the middle of the night, Willoughby took a French commander prisoner, but was only able to capture a sloop and was forced to leave the more desirable three-master behind.Today renowned for its beauty but also for its surf break, Îlot Sancho is accessible on foot at low tide from Baie du Jacotet. Composed of sand hardened by the elements, the island is home to a wide variety of trees including “pomme jaco", or monkey’s apple; veloutier; Indian-almond; and bois matelot. You can also admire an old ship’s anchor that appears to have melted in the rock, and whose origin is unclear: is it a remnant of the French period? Or proof of the passage of pirates? Mauritius was indeed a refuge for a great many pirates and corsairs, including the famous Surcouf. It is also whispered that the tunnels and caves in proximity to the bay still house a treasure... Despite an absence of evidence, rumours continue to be rife!
Stop 2 - Bel Ombre’s Historical Sugar Industry
Bel Ombre’s two-hundred-year old history is closely linked to that of sugar cane in Mauritius.The Domaine de Bel Ombre officially came into existence in 1765. At the time, it was an agricultural estate with a particular focus on the cultivation of sugar cane. Renowned naturalist Charles Telfair then acquired the estate in 1816. A visionary scientist and humanist, he would go on to have a major influence in the region, whose industries he helped develop thanks to his technical and botanical innovations. After his death in 1833, the estate was helmed by various different owners, while Mauritius’ governors regularly came to stay in the area.In 1910, the Compagnie Sucrière de Bel Ombre (CSBO) was incorporated. Over the following decades, it acquired several neighbouring sugar estates and other tracts of land. By 1951, the CSBO owned a total of 15,200 acres of agricultural land (including 5,000 acres planted with sugar cane) and 3,200 acres of forest (partly dedicated to deer farming).In 1971, the Rogers group bought the Bel Ombre estate. Then, in 1999, following a restructure within the sugar industry, its crushing factory closed for good. And from 2004 onwards, the estate became a leading tourist attraction. Today, it includes luxury hotels and villas, the Heritage Nature Reserve, a championship golf course (home to the world's only tri-tour-sanctioned golf tournament), a heliport... and of course, sugar cane fields.After entering the estate via a majestic drive lined with towering coconut trees, you’ll discover the Place du Moulin, Bel Ombre’s cleverly restored former sugar factory, which now hosts a variety of high-profile events and whose stone walls continue to shelter a ‘’fangourin’’ (a sugar cane grinding mill) and vintage turbines. You can also explore the remains of the estate’s old haulage station, previously used to transport sugar cane to the factory.
Stop 3 - Lavish Château Living
The Château de Bel Ombre is the quintessential plantation house – a luxurious home whose name alone evokes vivid scenes from another time...At the turn of the 19th century, Hajee Jackaria Hajee Ahmed erected this superb colonial mansion on the Bel Ombre estate. It was built by the same architect and in the same style as the Treasury Building in Port Louis. Sadly, its wealthy owner, who resided in India, was never able to come back to Mauritius and admire what he had created… Set in opulent French gardens dotted with fountains, the imposing residence offers breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains and of the Bel Ombre golf course. A veranda encircles the building on the ground and first floors and shields its main living spaces from the sun, while the house’s openings at the front and rear of the building are aligned to provide natural ventilation. A magnificent Intendance tree, or Indian laurel fig, almost as old as the estate itself, provides some welcome shade, as do superb blue lataniers, a palm species endemic to Mauritius.The Château de Bel Ombre, which was completely renovated in 2017, lends itself perfectly to a wide variety of events thanks to its generous spaces and undeniable historical cachet. Its restaurant, which is open every evening, offers a refined cuisine and is a haven for gourmets. The Château is also ideal for couples looking for a unique and romantic getaway: indeed, its first floor can be reserved in its entirety overnight.
Stop 4 - The village of Bel Ombre
Bel Ombre, a charming coastal village nestled between verdant mountains and a turquoise lagoon, is nonetheless something of a puzzle to French speakers. Why give a feminine noun, “Ombre”, a masculine descriptor, “Bel”? According to one theory, "Bel Ombre" was named for a fish, the ombre, or shi drum – a perhaps improbable explanation given that it is a North American species. A second, more plausible, explanation is that it refers to the pleasant shade offered by the region’s many trees. Over the years, the Bel Ombre estate has played host to a great many travellers who appreciated its cool temperatures and breeze. Author Bernardin de St Pierre (who penned the famed Paul and Virginie) first mentioned a house named “Belle Ombre” at which he had stopped during his tour of Mauritius in 1769. It is likely that the name’s feminine gender has simply been lost over time.Today, Bel Ombre is a laid-back village full of authentically Mauritian places to visit, including La Roche Cari snack bar. This café, in which you can sample typical local fare, is also known as the "Marylin Monroe", because its owner shares a first name with the American actress!
Stop 5 - Heritage Nature Reserve
Set over 1,300 hectares and home to an exceptional array of flora and fauna, the Heritage Nature Reserve is the ultimate playground for lovers of the outdoors.Here, you’ll discover three areas that are home to remarkable wildlife: Bel Ombre’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve; the Abbatis des Cipayes (a former camp used by Indian soldiers and set along the banks of the Rivière Jacotet); and the Frederica Nature Reserve.The Heritage Nature Reserve Visitor’s Centre, located at the edge of the nature reserve, is steeped in history: it is housed in a building that was used as a summer residence by successive Mauritian governors during the French and English colonial periods in the 18th and 19th century. The building has recently been renovated and restored.Visitors can enjoy a picnic with close ones in the most privileged and private spots or explore the reserve on foot, in a buggy or 4x4, or by quad, accompanied by professional guides who will introduce them to the area’s unique flora and fauna. Fresh air guaranteed!
Stop 6 - The Bel Ombre “Batelage”
Between 1890 and 1955, this warehouse was the point of embarkation for sugar – and other goods – to be shipped by sea between Bel Ombre and the Mauritian capital, Port Louis.Packed into jute sacks, the sugar left the Bel Ombre factory aboard a small locomotive. It was then stored in the warehouse before being packed onto côtiers (small sailboats) that transported the precious cargo to Port Louis. The journey typically lasted about six hours, but could take up to several days if the winds were unfavourable or the sea became rough! The côtiers, usually between fifteen to twenty-three meters in length, were generally constructed from bois de natte, tambalacoque or torchwood, whose timber was valued for its solidity and ability to withstand decay. Because Bel Ombre was very isolated at the time, a large number of other products were also transported to and from the area by sea: foodstuffs to resupply the Chinese-run corner shop located a short distance from the warehouse; wood from the surrounding forests (which Charles Telfair harvested heavily at the beginning of the 19th century); and lime, a fertiliser that was also used to decant sugar cane juice.Bel Ombre’s marine warehouse ceased its activities in 1955, when the island’s railway and road network superseded its maritime transport routes in efficiency.
Stop 7 - The Trevessa Memorial
A stone’s throw from the marine warehouse, where the Rivière Creole flows into the ocean, is a memorial to the survivors of a shipwreck who washed up here on the 29th of June 1923… after an incredible twenty-five days drift in the Indian Ocean!On the 4th of June 1923, the freighter Trevessa sank off the coast of Freemantle, Australia, following a violent storm. Her crew of about forty sailors was evacuated in two lifeboats, one commanded by Captain Foster and the other by his second mate, Officer Smith. The currents quickly swept them away from the Australian mainland, and the two lifeboats lost sight of one another after a few days. Throughout their perilous passage, each surviving crew member was rationed to three tablespoons of water, four teaspoons of milk and a piece of ship’s biscuit a day. But some sailors could not resist the temptation of drinking seawater and perished before reaching terra firma...Foster's boat landed in Rodrigues Island after twenty-three days adrift, having lost three men during the crossing. Smith, for his part, arrived in Mauritius, off of Bel Ombre, after twenty-five days at sea. His boat was helped into the lagoon by fishermen, and the castaways were then transferred to the Bel Ombre hospital. Of the twenty-five men originally on board Smith’s lifeboat, eight had died during the crossing, while a ninth died upon arrival. The survivors were discharged several days later and made their way back to Australia.Mementoes from the Trevessa crew’s perilous journey are exhibited at the Mahébourg Naval Museum.
Stop 8 - The villages of St-Martin and Baie du Cap
Further along the winding coastal road, you’ll come across the charming villages of St-Martin and Baie du Cap, both of which offer magnificent views over the cerulean ocean. The village of St-Martin is named for Didier de Saint-Martin, an officer in the French East India Company. He took up residence in the region while acting as Mauritius’ interim Governor General and storekeeper during the 18th century. The village of Baie du Cap, for its part, is named after the nearby Rivière du Cap. You can still admire its picturesque colonial-era post office, with its wooden frame and corrugated roof. Few people know that the wreck of an English ship, the Clan Campbell, still lies in the lagoon opposite the village of St-Martin. The ill-fated steamer sank in 1882 – the same year it was launched! – after an unfortunate incident at sea. However, as the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, once said: "Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed". The wood of the wreckage was therefore used in 1905 to erect the frame of the former Baie du Cap Police Station. The ship’s two bells were salvaged and are still in use, one in the church of St. Francis of Assisi in Baie du Cap and the other at the Château de Bel Ombre.The remains of the shipwreck can still be seen near the coral reef at low tide. Can you spot them?
Stop 9 - A tribute to Matthew Flinders
Not far from Baie du Cap is a memorial to Matthew Flinders, the famous British explorer and navigator who also led the first circumnavigation of Australia. The memorial was erected in 2003 to mark the two-hundred-year anniversary of his arrival in Mauritius. However, he ended up staying in Mauritius far longer than he had anticipated!In 1803, on his way back to England after his exploration of the Australian coast, Flinders was forced to stop in Baie du Cap to make repairs to his ship. At the time, the island was ruled by the French, with whom the English had recently gone to war… a fact that Flinders was unaware of. The island’s French governor, General Decaen, promptly detained him as a prisoner of war. Despite numerous exchanges between the two governments demanding Flinders’ release, Decaen refused to free him, and Flinders was obliged to remain on the island for almost seven years...Initially imprisoned in Port Louis, Flinders was later welcomed as a guest by various families across the island. He took advantage of his enforced stay to begin to write the story of his exploration of Australia. He finally returned to England in 1810 and completed his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis, but died the day after it was published in 1814. He was only 40 years old.This bronze monument, a tribute to Matthew Flinders’ long captivity in Mauritius, represents the explorer in a simple room with stone walls, alongside a flute, a game of chess, a map, a compass, and his faithful cat Trim, who accompanied Flinders on his travels around the world.
Stop 10 - Macondé
Located at the crook of an impressive hairpin bend, the rocky promontory of Macondé offers visitors an exceptional 360-degree view of the iridescent lagoon and the neighbouring Rivière du Cap. To fully appreciate this unique landscape, make your way up the narrow staircase that also leads to a district boundary marker erected in 1878.This picturesque rock derives its name from the Makonde people, originally from Tanzania and Mozambique in southern Africa. During the colonial era, it seems that fugitive slaves from this ethnic group took shelter near the rock.While the Macondé area has long been difficult to access – initially due to the absence of a road until the 1920s, then to the many floods that made the road impassable – the recent construction of a bridge has made it not only a pleasant drive, but also one of the most popular on the island. Macondé recently joined the ranks of the most beautiful roads in the world according to the respected French travel guide Le Petit Futé.While you are here, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to come across a fruit seller proposing pineapple and chilli – the ultimate local delicacy!
Stop 11- La Prairie Bay
A must-visit in Mauritius, La Prairie is the perfect place for a picnic on the beach – or on the grass. It also offers superb views of the imposing mountain of Le Morne and the turquoise lagoon that surrounds it.The bay is graced by a historic lime kiln. During the colonial era, lime had a wide range of applications, including in masonry and agriculture. In particular, it was used to prepare fertilisers and manufacture sugar. Quicklime was obtained by heating locally-harvested coral then extinguishing it using seawater – hence the fact that lime kilns tended to be located near the coast.To the north of La Prairie is Le Morne, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This imposing mountain has become a symbol of marronage. Its steep slopes, which are difficult to access and are covered in dense forest, was a refuge for escaped slaves – known as "marrons" – during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Îlot Fourneau, opposite the village of Le Morne, was used as a military post by the era’s British colonial administration to monitor the escapees.As you soak up the view during this final stop on your tour, perhaps you’ll glimpse colourful kites aloft in the distance. Indeed, the so-called "Kite Lagoon", located at the foot of Le Morne, is considered one of the best kite-surfing spots in the world.