Posted on Friday, 13 November 2015 12:30

Port Louis: A crucible of culture

By Crystal Orderson in Port Louis

Photos© Willy's Pictures/ Ullstein Bild via Getty ImagesMauritius is great for relaxing, but to feel the heartbeat and bustle of this island trading nation don't miss Port Louis

A historical, multicultural city, Port Louis is crafting out a space in Mauritian tourism by bringing together old and new. By day a bustling financial hub, it changes tempo at night when office workers go home and bars and restaurants come to life.

The gleaming high-rises of today's virtual markets tower above the old colonial buildings of Port Louis's trading past. At the heart of the city is the historical Place d'Armes. Lined with palm trees, the square joins the capital's port to the grand Government House built in 1738.

A few kilometres away is the Caudan Waterfront – built in 1996 – which hosts a colourful permanent exhibition on Mauritius's history. Here there are a number of bars where you can get your fill on good local beers. If you want to take home a few trinkets and souvenirs visit some of the craft shops around the harbour that sell the work of local artists.

The Aapravasi Ghat (Hindi for immigration depot) is a UNESCO World Heritage site of particular interest to the millions of people around the world whose ancestors passed through here as indentured [free] labourers from India following the British abolition of slavery. For Mauritius's population, the majority of whom have Indian heritage, the Aapravasi Ghat marks the beginning of their story on the island.

Port Louis's many places of worship testify to its multicultural mix. Brightly coloured Hindu temples such as the Kaylasson Tamil Temple dot the city, while the St James Cathedral, which during French rule was storehouse for powder, displays old British architecture. Close to the city centre is the Jummah Masjid mosque, one of the biggest on the island. It is open for visits during the day, except on Fridays. When the sun goes down be sure to pass by to see it in its illuminated glory.

The island's diverse influences can also be enjoyed on a plate. Good Creole dishes, often based on a rougaille – spicy tomato sauce – are found all over Port Louis, while China Town purveys its own distinctive flavours on Royal Street.

During the day the Central Market is buzzing with traders selling fresh produce as well as textiles and souvenirs. Here you are sure to find some gems but be prepared for some haggling.

There is fruit aplenty: besides pineapple and papaya, which can be found in many countries on the continent, market traders also sell passion fruit, starfruit, jackfruit and loquats to name but a few. If you're looking for a sweet fruity kick try mango with chilli. You can also buy delicious street food here, such as dholl puri, a thin pancake made from lentil flour and crushed cumin seeds, served with red or green chilli sauce or several variations of curries.

If you prefer upscale dining, L'Escale at the famous Labourdonnais Hotel on the Waterfront serves elegantly plated, locally influenced and Western dishes with a beautiful view of the ocean.

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