Mauritius: A south coast road trip
If you’re staying in laid back Le Morne on the island’s south west corner, then you’re moments away from the B9 coast road – one of the loveliest stretches of highway in Mauritius. Whether you hire a personal driver, rent a car or choose the healthy option and go by bike, this is an unspoiled, less-visited part of the country you’ll be glad to discover. Ready? Then let’s go.
History and heritage
Le Morne itself is the ideal place to start. The laid back peninsula is not only home to some of the finest resorts and beaches on the island, it’s also a place of immense historical significance and meaning for Mauritians.
Le Morne Brabant, the sheer-sided mountain which dominates the landscape, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was inscribed in 2008 to recognise and contribute to our understanding of slavery. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, escaped slaves known as ‘maroons’ came to shelter in the mountain’s barely-accessible caves, and the site remains a powerful symbol of the slaves’ resistance and ultimate fight for freedom. The mountain can be explored in various ways – including climbing to the top with a licensed guide – or simply pay a visit to the UNESCO monument at the foot of the monolith, where the cultural relevance of the landscape is explained in greater detail.
Now it’s time to get onto the B9 and begin the drive east in the direction of Souillac, passing through tiny, tumbledown Le Morne Brabant fishing village as you leave the peninsula behind. Cast your eyes over the ocean towards Fourneau islet and you may spot some of the settlement’s 150 fishermen hauling in their catch. From here, the road skirts the coastline all the way to Bel Ombre, where it cuts slightly inland, but before we get there we’ve a few more things to see along the way.
A landmark view
Just around the corner from Le Morne is the equally tiny village of Baie-du-Cap, located at the point where the Riviere du Cap empties into the sea. The road swings inwards in a wide inverted ‘U’ shape before rising up to meet one of the best known viewpoints in Mauritius. Here, right at the narrowest spot on a challenging hairpin bend is a jagged headland formed of solidified lava. The landmark, known as Macondé Rock, is navigable by way of a zig-zagging staircase and offers great views of the ocean and – even more interestingly – of the winding road behind; a truly impressive feat of engineering whose improbable tightness can only really be appreciated from above.
The south coast road is an easy, breezy drive with little traffic. However, the popularity of Macondé draws coachloads of tourists to this particular spot, and this is the only point in our drive where you’re likely to run into lots of other people. This can occasionally make it difficult to park despite there being several places to pull over. But if you do find a space, don’t just snap a few photos and jump straight back into the car. On the inland side of the road you’ll find several street food stands where you can chat with the locals while slurping down the juice of an expertly-sabered coconut or freshly peeled pineapple.
As Macondé Rock fades into the background, you’ll drive towards Bel Ombre through the pretty little village of Saint Martin, where a stone monument on the beach remembers the survivors of the shipwrecked cargo ship SS Trevessa in 1923, captained by Welsh master mariner Cecil Foster. The calamity – a remarkable story of fortitude and endurance as told in this BBC feature – made headlines around the world, turning Foster into a household name in the process.
Bel Ombre itself is well-known in Mauritius for the 2,500-hectare Domaine de Bel Ombre estate; home to Le Chateau de Bel Ombre and the luxury Heritage The Villas, Heritage Le Telfair and Heritage Awali hotels. It’s also the home of the famous Heritage Golf Club – an 18-hole, par-72 Championship course which hosted the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open tournament earlier this year.
But if you’re looking for something more casual, make a beeline for a roadside café called La Roche Cari, named after the traditional stone roller used for crushing herbs and spices and still found in many Mauritian homes. This small Bel Ombre restaurant – easily to spot from its bright yellow umbrellas – serves up freshly squeezed juices, authentic Creole curries and fish dishes, all home made in the kitchen by Laura Monroe who has single-handedly built up the business from scratch.
And if – like most customers – you’re wondering about all the black and white photos of a certain actress and the sign above the awning that reads “Marilyn Monroe”, don’t be afraid to ask. Turns out that ‘Laura’ is actually an adopted name. When she was born her parents decided to name her Maryline – perhaps not quite realising how many times she’d have to convince other people and repeat herself over the years – so in the end it became easier to simply choose a new moniker!
After Bel Ombre but before the small town of Chemin Grier, you’ll pass alongside the beach known as Jacotet Bay – a historic naval site where the British first attempted to take Mauritius from the French in 1810. Here’s where you’ll find the tiny islet of Sanchot which, as well as allegedly being home to some hidden pirate treasures, is also a popular point break surf spot.
Continue along the coast road – which also doubles as the route of the Mauritius marathon – and you’ll soon come across the beaches we wrote about in our guide to three of the best beaches of the Mauritius south coast. St Félix, near the village of Rivière des Galets, is an ideal place to stop for a swim and snorkel. Next up is the wild and deserted beach at Riambel, and finally the famous sands of Gris Gris where extremely strong currents make swimming a no-no. But if you don’t follow the path down onto the beach itself, you can always take in the views from on top of the cliffs. This is one of the only places in Mauritius where the coastline is unprotected by a coral reef, so the waves crash ferociously against the rocks and it’s an awesome place to witness the sheer power of the Indian Ocean.
The beach at Gris Gris signals arrival at the small town of Souillac, and from here the coast road becomes the A9 and heads inland towards Curepipe. You can either choose to head back the way you came, or make a longer road trip by circling back via the Black River Gorges National Park and Chamarel. Either way, it’s a fabulous day out.
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For tailor-made itineraries on the ground in Mauritius see SOLIS INDIAN OCEAN.
Photos: Le Morne Brabant, Macondé Rock, South Coast Road, Gris Gris Beach