Domaine de Labourdonnais, a window to Mauritius’s past

The Island of Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean as well as the island of Réunion; both were French colonies during the eighteenth century. These islands produce food for local as well as amenities for the wealthy. If you want to see a glimpse of what life was like in those days there is no better place to visit than Domaine de Labourdonnais.

This old plantation was close to my hotel in Grand Bay as well as the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden. We visited both places in one morning.

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Avenue of the Banyans

Arriving there is a booth where they sell tickets. Then you pass through the garden until you finally reach an avenue with massive trees on both sides that frame the Château de Labourdonnais. It’s the same as plantations in places like South Carolina, Louisiana or Georgia. Those who watched the film ‘Gone with the Wind’ may remember the description of Tara, Scarlett O’Hara’s mansion. It is similar, only that instead of being a tunnel of cedars, in Domaine de Labourdonnais you find banyans, which are the largest trees in India.

These trees were planted in 1847 by Jacques de Chasteigner Dumée who bought the house in 1821. Even with the strength of the Banyans, they were damaged when the cyclones attacked the island.

Château de Labourdonnais

The mansion was built in 1856 and has been the home of the Wiehe family for 150 years. In those days Christian Wiehe, fifty years old, was at the peak of his success and built the house to show his social position. At 32 he married his distant 16-year-old cousin who bore him eight children. She inherited Domaine de Labourdonnais from her family and it became the purpose of Christian’s life.

Between 2006 and 2010 it was completely renovated to transport visitors to see life in Mauritius in the nineteenth century. A great terrace wraps the two floors of the house painted purple and cream. As is typical of rural areas, the terrace served as a seating area.

The life of the house depended on the dispensary that was located on the left side of Château de Labourdonnais. It was very dangerous to have a kitchen in a wooden building, therefore, it should be outside in direct line with the pantry. They loaded all the food through the garden. On the wall of the cellar you can see a wooden cupboard with items that were used in that era, such as terracotta pots to store dry food, scales, glass bottles and crockery.

A pantry with doors that had bars protected the perishable food. The four legs of the pantry had containers with water and oil to keep the insects away. A jar glazed with salt preserved the pork and fish.

Two stairs go up to the top, an iron spiral on the terrace and a more traditional wooden one on the inside.

Above were the bedrooms. There is only one that portrays traditional life of that time, with a dorcel bed that combines with the wallpaper. Next to the bed there are clothes that seems more for cold climates that tropical.

History of Mauritius

Passing the room you will arrive at a small museum that tells the story of the family and the island of Mauritius. The Dutch had the island until September 20, 1715 when Captain Dufrense d’Arcel took possession calling it “Isle of France”. The island was administered by the French Company of the East Indies and was a stopping point en route to the Indies.

Bertrand François Mahé de La Bourdonnais was born in 1699 and began his marine adventures at the age of 10. In November 1734 he was named Governor of the Isle of France and the Isle of Bourbon (today known as Réunion Island). The Stella Matutina Museum in Réunion Island tells the importance of sugar for the islands of the Indian Ocean.

When he arrived both islands were a disaster, without soldiers, sailors or workers. They did not have anything planted either. He worked for 11 years without stopping organizing the island. When he left he had created roads, improved the port and town of Port-Louis, built mills, fortifications, hospitals, aqueducts, galleys, etc.

A system of land exploitation based on concessions was set up. The colonists received land in exchange for agricultural improvements with the help of slaves. Many exiled families from a France with problems decided to adopt the island as their new home. The island was filled with a society of intellectual and ambitious people. In 1767 the French Company was dissolved and trade between France and its colony grew. Not everything was good since they had many problems including hurricanes, the French revolution, smallpox, among others.

Domaine de Labourdonnais

The lands of Domaine de Labourdonnais were consecrated in 1774. In them, a sugar refinery was established. The current name “Labourdonnais” was given in 1839. In Port-Louis there is a luxurious hotel called Labourdonnais Waterfront Hotel which is not from the same owners.

Since its inception, Domaine de Labourdonnais was a sugar plantation and refinery. From the mansion you can see the chimney and the old mill. In 1920, Adrien Wiehe asked that they introduce the BH 10 variety of cane to Mauritius. Today it covers 45% of the land cultivated with cane on the island. They used a revolutionary method with a vacuum tray to produce sugar that won prizes at the Paris World’s Fair. They continued to grow until 1957, earning the record for the highest sugar production in Mauritius. In the end they could not keep the mill and were left with only 540 hectares.

They continue to plant sugar on 350 hectares that annually produce 35,000 tons of cane to obtain 2,800 tons of sugar. 50 hectares are an orchard that produces 1,000 tons of fruit. Citrus fruits include tangerines, calamondins, oranges, grapefruit and lemons. As well as tropical fruits like pineapples, guavas, papayas and lychees. If you want to see the plantations, there is a train that takes you on a 45 minute tour.

In 2008 they opened a rum distillery. In the islands of the Indian Ocean, fruits are added to the rum. The best part of the visit is the tasting that you do at the end.

You get a list with the different types of rum as well as tropical drinks and fruit gums. You can try as many times as you want. Apart from the fruit also you find rums with vanilla and coffee.

You can buy the products they make on site and you can also make your own rum if you book a group with more than six people. They have a restaurant and a boutique next to the tasting space. When you visit Mauritius make sure you spend a few hours in the beautiful plantation of Domaine de Labourdonnais.

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