There is a lot more to Mauritius than just sandy beaches and glittering blue water, which any tourist who has ever been to this tropical haven will be able to attest to. Not all the major tourist destinations in Mauritius are located near big towns, and they’re most certainly not all related to beaches. Over the years, many little-known places scattered throughout the island have come to the forefront as some of the major tourist attractions that draw crowds all year round. You probably wouldn’t expect a tiny fishing hamlet to be one of the leading tourist spots that you cannot miss out on while on a visit to Mauritius, but that is how it is. Apart from beaches, most of the prominent places that you should stop by are mostly located in small towns that most people hadn’t heard of till even a decade ago but are now thriving tourist hotspots.
One such town is Curepipe, situated in one of the island's highest plateaus, and renowned across the entire country for its cold, rainy climate and its plethora of upmarket shopping destinations. Curepipe is an area that was a colonial stronghold back when the French, as well as the British, were in possession of the island, and the town is home to one of the oldest buildings in all of Mauritius, the Domaine des Aubineaux.
An Intriguing Colonial Throwback
Domaine des Aubineaux, situated in the eastern town of Curepipe, is not just one of the oldest buildings that are still standing in Mauritius, but it was also the first residential building ever in Mauritius to be fitted with an electrical connection. As can be inferred from its age, Domaine des Aubineaux has a lot of history attached to it, standing for as long as it has. Built back in 1872, the Domaine des Aubineaux has distinct colonial architecture, and its wooden build with pretty blue-grey turrets send you on a trip back in time. However, contrary to this typical colonial architectural style, the house boasts of a vast centrally situated hallway, as well as a few indoor bathrooms, both of which were very unusual features for a house built back in the 1800s. The mansion has been renovated many times since its construction, and today it stands as a museum that is the first stop on the Mauritian Tea Route.
Ever since its inception, the Creole house of Domaine des Aubineaux had been in possession of the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau family. Back during the colonial period, tea production and trade used to be a massive part of the country’s economy and business, and the Guimbeau family were intricately associated with the tea trade of Mauritius. The house continued to be lived in by members of the Guimbeau family till as late as 1993, when the last remaining descendant of the family passed away, following which the Mauritian government took possession of the house, renovated it, and threw it open to the general public as a museum. Despite the mansion being refurbished many times, original furniture, paintings and other antique curios and artefacts from the colonial ages have all been preserved carefully, and are on display for tourists. The Domaine des Aubineaux today stands as one of the last remaining buildings from the colonial period on the entire island to still have preserved all its antique furnishings, including the furniture used by the residents during the colonial era.
Guided Tour of the House
The Domaine des Aubineaux is the first stop on the famed Mauritian Tea Route and offers guided tours through the various rooms of the mansion, giving you a good idea about the history of tea production in Mauritius, as well as the lifestyle back during the colonial era. The rooms that are included in the tour are Philippe Guimbeau study, his wife’s bedroom, the living and dining room, and the terrace/verandah. The dining room, in particular, is awe-inspiring, and its intricately designed boat-hull ceiling along with its massive oak 30-seater dining table is bound to make an impact. The architecture encompasses many minute details of the colonial period and is telling of the kind of life the Guimbeau family used to live back then. There is a collection of other tea plantations and estates that used to be operative in the 1800s in Mauritius; and while that will give you an excellent idea about the tea trade during that era, most of these plantation estates no longer exist. This makes the Domaine des Aubineaux all the more unique in the sense that no other tea plantation like this one exists anywhere else in the country. What used to be the billiards room has now been converted into a formal tea room, and the surrounding stables in the grounds have been transformed into a souvenir shop. Right next to the stables you will find the distillery, which is now used to produce a plethora of essential oils.
The tour ends with a visit to the garden, which is lined with dozens of camphor trees. There is a pathway that starts down the middle of the gardens, and walking along it will take you down tall trees to an extraordinarily dense thicket with vines hanging all the way down to your feet. The canopy overhead lets in only a minimal amount of sunlight, bathing the entire area in a surreal green will make you pause and stand there amidst the ethereal ambience for at least a minute or two. The path ends at a small lake at the farthest end of the premises, and you can sit there for a while listening to the birds chirping and feeling the cool breeze on your face before making your way back to the mansion.
The Domaine des Aubineaux has pride of place in the Mauritian tourist industry, not just as a prominent building from the colonial era, but also as one of the leading wedding destinations in the country, with the mansion seeing as many tourist weddings as local ones.