SUGAR, NOT BEACHES, SHAPED MAURITIUS

L'Aventure Du Sucre, Mauritius

Beau Plan Sugar factory was founded in 1797 and shut down in 1999.

Did you know that a single stalk of sugarcane can produce up to 20 litres of juice from which 2 kgs of sugar can be extracted? Or that the sugar that is used to make Tiramisu is not suitable for making vanilla custard? Before I stepped into L’Aventure du Sucre (the sugar museum) in Mauritius, I only thought there were two kinds of sugar —white and brown. So, pardon me if I mistook Muscovado Dark for an enticing men’s perfume.

When, after 177 years of sugar production, the Beau Plan Sugar Estate in Mauritius shut shop in 1999, the factory building was converted into a museum —L’Aventure du Sucre. The museum is part of the Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage launched by Unesco in 1994 to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and its history around the world. L’Aventure de Sucre tells the complex story of sugar which is entwined with the history of Mauritius for four centuries.

Back Story

Mauritius, Sugar museum

The authentic large wooden barge, which was used to transport sugar from Mauritius to Madagascar occupies centre stage. –

Before Mauritius became known as a tourist hotspot in the world, sugar was the primary economic driver of the island. The first sugarcane plant was brought to the island by the Dutch in 1635 from Java Indonesia. The technology to make sugar crystals had not been invented yet, so the sugarcane was crushed with the help of hand mill to obtain sugar syrup from which came arrack.

Arrack was the first thing to be produced in Mauritius, which was formed eight million years ago, but took only 400 years to be the nation that it is today.

Under the French rule (1710-1810), the history of Mauritius was shaped by sugar. The settlers were encouraged to grow sugarcane to produce sugar and arrack to be supplied to the East India Company’s fleet that used to dock in Port Louis en route to the East. The French established 60-80 sugar factories in the island, and African slaves were brought in to work in the sugarcane fields. During this period the ‘plantation lifestyle’ and colonial architecture took root in the island.

However, it was under the British rule that more than 280 sugar factories were established and sugar exportation began.  When slavery was abolished in 1835, the British brought indentured or contract labourers from India to work in the plantations leading to one of the biggest migrations of people (around 2 million) in the world. Sugarcane and the plantation life laid the foundation for the diverse Mauritius that we see now. In the shadow of the chimneys of the sugar factories, the foundation of a diverse Mauritian society was laid.

Inside Story

Mauritius

The museum has numerous original machinery from the factory

At the end of a pathway hedged by sugarcane is the Beau Plan Sugar factory which was founded in 1797. It looks gritty, edgy and mysterious. Looming large is the old factory chimney — a 108 feet tall circular-shaped chimney, made of magnificent cut stones. It is unlike the regular rectangular-shaped chimneys, which once dotted the Mauritian landscape.

Also read: Interesting facts about Junagarh Fort

The museum has some of the original machinery —pipes, vats, vessels and also two locomotives— from the factory that explains the process of sugar making. However, it is the large wooden barge, which was used to transport sugar from Mauritius to Madagascar that occupies centre stage. The eco-museum is exhaustive in its telling of the story of sugar and its early cultivation, the role of slavery and the export of sugar to the world. In the authentically recreated ambience, there are exhibits, interactive aids, videos, photos and so on. Apparently, sugar was first discovered in 1000 BC in Melanesia. In the Middle Ages it was used as a medicine but in the early modern period (1492-1789) sugar became a luxury product. It was during this time that Nostradamus wrote his ‘Treaty of Jams’ (1555) and around 1700 drinking coffee and hot chocolate became a fad.

In the Middle Ages it was used as a medicine but in the early modern period (1492-1789) sugar became a luxury product. It was during this time that Nostradamus wrote his ‘Treaty of Jams’ (1555) and around 1700 drinking coffee and hot chocolate became a fad.

The museum’s two mascots, Floryse the mongoose and Raj the Indian mynah, guide children regaling them with stories and quizzes. (Interestingly, the French brought the Indian mynah to Mauritius to control the locusts and the mongoose to kill the rats and snakes in the sugarcane fields). Former factory workers act as guides and are readily available to answer questions. One can also tour the museum using the freely downloadable audio guide app. A complete tour of the museum takes three hours.

At the end of the tour, one can dine in the award-winning on-site restaurant called LeFangourin overlooking the mountains and plateaus. There’s also a Village Boutik where one can taste over 30 products including 12 varieties of unrefined sugar, local rums, jams and honey. At the end of the museum tour, the sugar-ignoramus in me learnt that the Dark Muscovado is not a men’s perfume but sugar that is used for flavoursome meat marinades.

 

Mauritius

The tour ends with a tasting of locally produced sugars, jams, honey and rum

Sweet notes

Coffee crystals Large, golden, dry brown sugar with a crunchy texture and best used in coffee, toppings and yoghurt.
Golden caster Crispy in texture and is used in cheesecake, apple pie, tea and coffee.
Golden granulated sugar Has a free-flowing texture and is best used in cakes, jams, fresh juice, tiramisu and cereals.

Special raw sugar Granulated sugar used in rice puddings, custards and loaf cakes.
Light Muscovado: Fine pale brown sugar crystals ideal for chocolate pies and pancakes.
Demerara Fine, shiny and crispy sugar crystals that taste best in teacakes, crispy cookies and apple crumble.
Dry Demerara Used in pancakes, French toast, Swiss rolls and brioche.
Standard Demerara Suitable for vanilla custard, crème brûlée, caramel sauce and infusions.
Dark brown Demerara Best for dark chocolate fondant.

Essentials

Where: The Museum is near the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens.

Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket office closes at 4.15 pm

Open: Open seven days a week including public holidays. However, the museum will be closed on 24-26 and 31 December and 1-2 January

Duration of the visit: Detailed tour: 3h; truncated tour: 1h 30 mins

Tickets: Adults: Rs 425. Children (6 to 13): Rs 200. Students (13 to 26): Rs 200 (student ID required). In Mauritian currency.

Guided tours: with no extra charge are scheduled from Monday to Thursday at 10.30 am and 2.30 pm and on Friday at 2.30 pm for a maximum group of 10 people. This is not  available on public holidays

Handicap logo Nearly all sections of the site are accessible to wheelchair users.

Audio guide: L’Aventure du Sucre’s official app can be downloaded from the AppStore and Google Play. Available in English, French, German, Chinese, Russian, Italian and Spanish.

More pics…

Sugar Museum, Mauritius

The 108 feet circular-shaped chimney is made of cut stones and is different from the other rectangular-shaped chimneys

Mauritius

One can walk through the barge, and learn the story of sugar and how it shaped Mauritius

Mauritius

The museum is set in the gorgeous Domaine de Beau Plan surrounded by mountains and valleys

This article was first published in The Hindu BusinessLine – Blink magazine 
2019-12-04T15:34:55+00:00 Destinations|0 Comments

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