September 21, 2022
Ecotourism: discover the hidden side of Mauritius, in Ferney
Beyond its beaches and sunbeds, Mauritius conceals many other secrets… unforgettable undulating landscapes, where the deep green of the endemic forests and mangroves meet the blue of the lagoon. Let’s head to the South-East of the island.
In a country known throughout the world for its 5-star resorts and endless white sandy beaches, we decided to explore an untouched landscape deeply entwined with history and biodiversity. An emerald jewel where the fluttering leaves of the endemic trees and cry of Kestrel exist in perfect harmony. Welcome to La Vallée de Ferney, a land where nature reigns supreme.
Land of new beginnings
Our car is headed to the South-East, where the lion Mountain’s silhouette and the Mahébourg lagoon are already visible on the horizon. Let’s explore a region that encapsulates the dawn of Mauritian history. Taking us back in time, more than 400 years ago, when the first inhabitants of the island arrived here by sea.
Imagine a group of three ships in the late 16th century, involved in one of the first Dutch expeditions to venture into the Indian Ocean. Carried by the monsoon winds, they were separated from the rest of the convoy on their way to Madagascar. In the early morning, after the storm, a distant silhouette emerged as an emerald jewel. The Arab and Portuguese accounts of the existence of an island were therefore true… As the ships crossed the breakers onto the calm blue lagoon, the dense vegetation took shape, framing the red earth of the cliffs and rising towards the sky. As they set foot on land, they would find themselves, as we did in a few minutes, at the entrance of La Vallée de Ferney
Land of biodiversity
An authentic wooden colonial house marks the entrance to La Vallée de Ferney estate. Here we meet our guide for our hike. As we stroll leisurely though the magnificent gardens, she explains that the vanilla grows alongside the coconut palms. Further down the road, the ruins of sugar factory stand proud. It’s there that our adventure truly begins, we hop on to a vehicle waiting for us and head to towards the Ferney Conservation Park.
On our way, we learn that though, the Dutch presence on this island was brief, it had serious consequences for the local fauna and flora. Leading to the extermination of the Dodo, which has since become a legend and a symbol of the finitude of living species. It is strong symbolism that Ferney, the same region that saw the first settlers and with them the first invasive plants and animals, is now a haven for endangered endemic species. A refuge with a unique biodiversity, where endemic species that exist nowhere else on the planet can be nurtured.
To venture into the Ferney Conservation Park is capture the essence of Mauritius as it once was. To rediscover a unique vegetation and ecosystem that was once the norm and is now precautiously preserved for future generations.
Before entering the forest, we stop at the nursery, the antechamber of the reintroduction of endemic species, the laboratory without which the conservation mission would not be possible. Under the increasingly opaque canvases, hundreds of plants go from a seedling to sapling ready to be planted in the forest. They are cared for by specialists in endemic vegetation, able to spot a seedling of oxwood, rosin or tambalacoque among hundreds. They tell us about the different species, and I am very focused, eager to spot them in their natural environment.
Setting off to Ferney Conservation Park with our guide, we venture into the forest where the scent of the trees lining our path immerse us into another world. Engrossed by our surroundings, we cross rivers and run our hands through the water of the small waterfalls that trickle between the trees, we learn about the different stages of recreating an indigenous forest. Invasive species and exotic trees that compete too much with the local species must be removed, and the young endemic seedlings must be planted. This young forest must be maintained for a few years to avoid the reappearance of invasive species. Our guide proudly takes us through the oldest conservation areas: “You see, here we have a completely autonomous forest, we don’t intervene at all. We planted the big trees you see here about ten years ago. The challenge has been met, look how beautiful it is…”.
Land of flavours
Before lunch, we attend another meal… That of the Mauritian Kestrel. This bird of prey was once the rarest in the world, with only 4 known specimens recorded in the Mauritian forests. Conservation work to prevent the extinction of this endemic species began in the 1970s at La Vallée de Ferney, thanks to the intervention of the Durell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The mission was taken over by the Ferney Conservation Trust in the early 2000s. The species is now out of critical danger of extinction and at least two populations of Kestrels, including the Ferney population, thrive in Mauritian forests.
One of the chicks born in Ferney learned as it grew up to come at noon and be fed by a guide from the valley, allowing visitors to observe this legendary bird, which recently became a national emblem, up close. A few metres away, perched on a tree, the bird waits, observing our guide closely as he moves his gloved hand towards the sky. He calls it a first time, but the bird doesn’t seem interested. A second time and then a third… does he have the jitters to show himself in front of our group? “Maybe he’s not hungry today,” says the guide. But she tries again and, miraculously, the Kestrel flies out of the tree and down to him, giving us a magnificent view of his spread wings. The guide tries a few feints, robbing the bird of its piece of meat at the last moment, but the Kestrel is undeterred. It seems to know his interlocutor’s game well, and eventually gets its lunch.
Before heading to the restaurant for lunch, we stop to say hello to the tortoises. Originally from Rodrigues, they are grazing peaceful, not bothered by our presence.
A few minutes away from the Valley, Ferney Falaise Rouge restaurant is a hidden gem. Just off a sea cliff, the restaurant has a panoramic view of Grand Port Bay and the Lion Mountain. Our table at the end of the terrace allows us to enjoy the majestic landscape as we wait for our lunch. Known for its farm to table concept, the restaurant advocates locally sourced products. On the menu, the deer and wild boar meat or the fruit and vegetables, are all sourced from Ferney and the surrounding villages. A real treat.
For dessert, we are lucky enough to see the paille-en-queue, a splendid white mountain bird with an iconic tail, fly over the lagoon.
Land of adventure
Once rested from our morning walk and our good meal, we set off for another adventure. La Vallée de Ferney has yet to reveal all its secrets. Among the activities available, we opted for a stay a night at the Ferney Nature Lodge.
In a 4×4, we take the road again. This time, heading not in the forest but to the lodge. Above us, sits the way ahead. We must hold on tight because the ride is a bit bumpy! Weaving our way between exposed meadow, the most beautiful viewpoints await at every turn. The landscape opens up into the wide valley where the blue sky stretches as far as the eyes can see. We seem dwarfed by the scale of our surroundings.
Suddenly, our driver slows down. What’s going on? “Shhh” … With his finger pointing to the edge of the forest, he signals us to look to the left side of the vehicle. A group of deer is grazing quietly on the hillside nearby…
Land of comfort
On our arrival to the lodge, a butler warmly welcomes us. After such an itinerary, a dip in the infinity pool seems like a prerequisite. Relaxing on the terrasse, we wait for the night to fall and the fire to be lit. Bathed in the golden light, as the sun sets, we can’t help but marvel at the immensity and beauty of the landscape Ferney Nature Lodge has to offer. Gathered around the boma, happy to know, we wouldn’t have to get back on the road yet, we prepared for the next day, determined to finish exploring the South-East, a land of legends and unforgettable landscape. Mesmerised by all these new memories, we went to bed knowing that the valley was here to welcome us when we woke up.