BLUE BAY
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First settled in 1498 by Portuguese immigrants, and rapidly followed by the Dutch, the French and the English, Mauritius was finally granted independence in 1968. Today it offers visitors a colourful cocktail of French and British influences with a healthy dose of Creole and Indian cultures thrown in; particularly in the form of the island?s music, festivals and cuisine.

Other than being one of the world?s premier honeymoon and beach destinations, Mauritius? main claim to fame is that it was once home to the ill-fated dodo ? a flightless, hopeless bird that fell into extinction hundreds of years ago. Its descendent, the pink pigeon, is currently being reintroduced onto the nature reserve of Ile aux Aigrettes, another small island off the Blue Bay.

Surrounded by a near-perfect half-moon of Casuarina trees, Blue Bay and the nearby lagoon of Pointe d?Esny are so named for the coat of many colours that wash through the water from sunrise to sunset. Now formally recognized as a marine reserve, the area has the richest displays of wildlife and underwater flora on the island. And, with its perfect arc of white, powdery sand and gentle, jewel-blue water, it is also one of the best beaches on the island for bathing.

But Mauritius is one of those places that offers more than meets the eye. The Gran Baie, or, Mauritian Riviera on the North of the island is most visited by romantically inclined beach bums, but if you?re looking to loose the crowd, head for the islands? undiscovered South.

This is the least developed part of the island, providing peace and tranquillity for adventure-seekers and sun worshippers alike. Blue Bay offers a wealth of water sports from underwater walking in oxygenated bubble helmets to sailing and windsurfing, while the interior has world-class trekking through the spectacular scenery of the islands natural parks, and along rugged cliff paths and hidden coves. In particular Rochester Falls and Le Souffler ? a now, defunct geyser ? are both excellent half-day excursions from the bay.

Also nearby, a visit to the picturesque town of Mahebourg is a must for anyone interested in French colonial history. This friendly little town has been largely protected from the ravages of development, and is inhabited mainly by a low-key fishing and farming community. Indeed, it is here that you get to taste a slice of real Mauritian life.

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With year round temperatures of between 18 and 28 degrees Celsius there is no bad time to visit Mauritius. During summer months (November through to March) temperatures soar, dropping to balmy days and pleasantly cool evenings the rest of the year. January through to April is cyclone season and rains can be extremely heavy, with the South and Eastern parts of the island being the wettest of all. Water sports are good year round, but the water is clearest for divers from December through to March, and the surfs up from June through to August.

The South coast has a constant, year-round breeze thanks to trade winds, which means temperatures can be misleadingly comfortable. Keep on topping up the high factor sun lotion and bear in mind that the area can get very windy during the winter. For more sheltered bathing, the beach at Pointe d'Esny is one of the best.

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Air Mauritius flies three times a week from London, Heathrow, and once a week from Manchester. British Airways offers twice weekly flights from London, Gatwick.

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Blue Bay itself is a top spot for water sports such as windsurfing and sailing, as well as for more chilled out vacationers just looking for a spot in the sun. The establishment of the marine reserve means that in recent years it has grown as a destination for snorkelling and scuba diving. Inland, hiking and mountain biking is superb, while thrill-seekers can be kept happy with more extreme sports like canyoning ? a mix of abseiling, clambering and slithering your way through a series of waterfall and cliff ledges.

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