The Sprawling Estates of Chateau de Labourdonnais

posted in: Mauritius, Africa, Culture, Heritage | 40

Mauritius does tend to keep its tourists and travelers occupied with its beaches, adventure sports and nature parks. And rightly so, given the plethora of beaches and mountains that they have. Mauritius has a lovely fusion culture and the one thing that people often miss out or skip here is – digging deeper into the illustrious history of the Island. One place to start this is the gorgeous estates of Chateau de Labourdonnais – the erstwhile mansion of 19th century Sugar Lords.

Chateau de Labourdonnais in French translates to the Castle of Labourdonnais. This is not really a castle but a mansion. It nonetheless, fascinated me on various counts – with its 100+-year-old orchards, a sprawling mansion complete with its restored furnishings and the little artifacts that are preserved so carefully here. A guided tour through the Chateau de Labourdonnais allows you to get an insight into the customs and traditions followed by people back then. It also, in some ways explains how French became a key influence in Mauritius. This is one place that I would highly recommend amidst the many places to visit in Mauritius.

There is enough for you to see and experience in this huge estate. If you are a history buff like me, then a half day visit is what you will likely enjoy. Let me give you a glimpse of what to expect by giving you my favorite highlights of Chateau de Labourdonnais, starting with a quick history of the place.

History of Chateau de Labourdonnais

The original estate grounds was bought in the 1770s and was primarily used to build a sugar mill. The estate changed many hands till it was bought by Jacques de Chasteigner Du Mée. This gentleman expanded the estate from 186 acres to 1400 acres and named it Labourdonnais. After his death, it became the property of his two sisters – Ladies Bourgault and Aubin. In the 1850s, the estate was taken over by Lady Bourgault’s son-in-law – Christian Wiehe, who then constructed the Chateau. The Wiehe family owns it for 3 generations now.

Christian Wiehe was quite an influential person – with his agricultural background and the fact that he was the member of the Legislative Assembly. He was instrumental in the development of the estate and even today, this place is primarily associated with him. Through my grand tour of the Chateau, I discovered more about him, his family, his habits and his lifestyle. All of which makes a fascinating story of Mauritius.

The Green estates of Labourdonnais

The first thing that bowled me over were the never-ending orchards of Labourdonnais. The estate has over 50 varieties of Mangoes – a lot of them from India. These trees are over a century old and as we walked around, we could spot the fruits hanging around. Besides these, there are lovely pink blossoms – which I absolutely adored and could not get enough of. It became my favorite photography spot.

You will also, be able to spot various spice trees – nutmeg and clove among the few. For one moment, I felt I was back in the spice gardens of Goa. The sights and smells seeming so similar. Here and there, you will spot unique flowers – some that I hadn’t seen before. The whole scenario seems to be perfect for some garden tea with family and friends. And as I imagined the same, our guide Selvee pointed to a spot in the backyard that was used for the very same purpose.

Somewhere at the back, you can meet the giant tortoises – something we had to skip as time was short.

Central piece of Chateau de Labourdonnais

A lovely Allee de Interdances- an alley paves the path to the main mansion. The Alley is designed such it just gives you a glimpse of the double storeyed chateau from afar. As you walk towards the mansion, your view just gets better and better till you reach a point where you see this.

Just in front of the home, is a lovely fountain with a boy kissing a swan. For me, this fountain was the centerpiece of the entire estate – there was something calming and yet attractive about it.

As you climb onto the foyer, there is no way you will miss these majestic lions, carved perfectly, welcoming you.

The layout of the Chateau de Labourdonnais

The mansion is a fusion of British and French-styled architecture. The double-storied mansion was quite unusual in a lot of ways –

  • The rooms on the ground floor were all lined in a row with a foyer opening in the middle.The foyer essentially divided the floor into a dining and sitting area.
  • The sitting area led to a staircase that took you up to the private chambers of the family. There was just one other staircase near the kitchen for the staff to get up
  • The upper floor was quite unique with a single corridor. However, the access to all the inner rooms was through one single room which was the mistress’ bedroom. Each room was interconnected and you had to go through the main room to access the children’s bedrooms.
  • The master of the house had a separate room that was not accessible to the visitors.
  • On the whole, the layout felt a bit like a train with its carriages – straight and interconnected.

The Dining room

The first thing that I saw and was completely floored by was the exquisite panorama wallpaper. The wallpaper was ordered in France by Christian Wiehe’s grandson and fitted to exact measurements. The forest landscape with its pale blue and pastel shades was not just soothing to look at but gave the entire room a cozy feel. Don’t miss the stunning chandelier – another relic of the past.

Through the dining room, you can even see a small pantry with its wooden cupboards and artifacts here. This little room was a connect between the dining room and the outdoor kitchen. All the food prepared outside the house was brought here, stored here and served from here.

Crockery and Silverware at Labourdonnais

From the dining room, you can exit the mansion through a small passage. Here you find the Godon – which is nothing but  – “Go Down“. Essentially, the place was used as a wine cellar and even now, is used as a dressing room for the brides who celebrate their wedding at Labourdonnais.

The tea set at Chateau de Labourdonnais
Some of the Silverware at Chateau de Labourdonnais
More of the crockery at Labourdonnais Mansion
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Within this passage, you can also, spot some lovely silverware and glassware. You can see some of my favorites as above.

The living room

Through the corridors at the back, I landed back into the same foyer where I began exploring this mansion. The living room was right across the dining one. The white French-styled seating with its Napolean III furniture added a regal charm to the whole setting. The furniture also, bears the family crest.

The gorgeous chandelier was the ultimate masterpiece in this room. It is said that it has around 36 branches for candles and when illuminated, look absolutely magical. Our guide suggested we look at the same through the mirror kept right under it. And the view was absolutely ………I will leave you to fill this adjective.

Within the room, was an entrance to the study of Christian Wiehe. A complete contrast to the white living room, this was a rich brown wooden paneled one. This also, functioned as his library, One look at it and I was transported to the world of Pride and Prejudice.

The bedroom of the Mistress of Labourdonnais

From here, we visited the upper floors of the mansion. The bedroom of Emile Bourgault de Coudray was a fascinating one for a lot of reasons. In fact, I would say it was my favorite part of this visit. The large four-poster bed was not really large. In fact, it was a little short and the reason for the same was the in those days, they did not lie down and sleep. They would stay upright and sleep. The only time that they would be lying flat would be only when they had died.

This kind of reminded me of the royal beds of Rajasthan, where the beds were small for the Kings- so that they slept with their legs dangling. Of course, the reason for the same was different. It was more to spring away in case of any attack. Well, all said and done, I love my large Queen sized beds – I definitely prefer my luxury sleep.

Beside the bed, the other interesting artifact was the “wandering wardrobe”. A wardrobe that was given to the daughters when they got married and then, handed down further in the line. I also, loved the cute dressing table and day lounge sofa.

There were some old letters that were kept here that gave an insight into the life of Emile. She was a devout Christian and her husband not. Hence, the kids were not baptized until they were older and only if they chose to, were baptized then. One of her children died early and before the burial, she opted to baptize the child. She wrote about this to her sister – a letter that is still preserved on her desk for us to see.

She also, practiced Christianity within the room, as evident from this prayer bench,

While exiting the room, you can even glimpse at some of the clothes that were worn by the couple in those times. Truly a scene from Pride and Prejudice.

The Rhumerie of Chateau de Labourdonnais

There are numerous artifacts that you will encounter through this tour of the mansion. And once you are done, you can visit the Rhumerie or the Rum Cafe of Chateau de Labourdonnais. This was the first time I tasted rum (yes, the first time!). I particularly found myself being partial to the Coffee Vanilla flavor. You get to pick 3 different flavors to taste for free and once you are done, you can order some more at your own expense. You can even buy some bottles and gift packs for home. The shop also, has several other memorabilia for you to take home.

The Cafe here is quite refreshing and you can opt for a quick bite before heading out to your next destination.

Chateau de Labourdonnais showed me and help me appreciate a different side of Mauritius. It also, gave me a better understanding of the French influence that I saw in Mauritius. It definitely added flavor to my visit here and I cannot but recommend it enough as one of the must-visit places of Mauritius. Do you agree?

Getting here:

  • There are plenty of flights -especially those of Air Mauritius that get you to this island.
  • Chateau de Labourdonnais is in the Mapou area of Mauritius. It is best that you get here by hiring a cab.
  • You can even use the Mauritius bus services to get to Mapou.

Travel Tips:

  • Here is the official website of the Chateau de Labourdonnais. You can book your tickets on this website. The prices for the tickets are as in the picture below. (displayed in Mauritian Rupees)
  • There is a lot of walking to be done. Hence, comfortable shoes are recommended.
  • The exhibits here are quite well marked with placards. There is enough information in terms of history and other related details that are displayed on these.
  • The rum tasting experience just gives you 2 teaspoons of rum. It is included in your ticket price.
  • You can even avail a guide for this place by requesting one at the entrance.
  • Do not pluck any of the flowers or fruits while here.
  • I personally, found the prices of the Rum bottles a little on the higher side as compared to the Duty-free prices. However, some of the unique flavors like the Coffee Vanilla were not easily available outside the Chateau. Hence, you might want to still buy them from here.

 

P.S: I was a part of the media trip organized by Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority.

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