Forest enclaves and abundant seas

  • Forest enclaves and abundant seas

    The area known today as Bel Ombre and under the tenure of Domaine de Bel Ombre comprises the former sugar estate and its lands, as well as Chamarel and Case Noyale.

Remote, inaccessible and unique landscape

Despite being a region with a large surface area, little is written about the South from the early colonial history of Mauritius. Due to its topography and the inaccessibility of the land  to persons living at the time, it is understandable that estates, villages and other settlements in the South were relatively cut off from the rest of the island. Indeed, Bel Ombre itself is located on the Western side of the Southern coast, with the chain of mountains of the Black River Gorges on its Western and Northern boundaries and rivers and the coastline closing off its Eastern and Southern sides. 

The lush forests on the mountain slopes descend on the savanna plains – mixed woodland and grass ecosystems – to finish on the coast with a shallow lagoon ecosystem and fringing reefs. This incredible landscape has lent itself as an inspiration for many authors and poets visiting or living in the region, who all noted its exceptional beauty.

Chamarel on the other hand is situated close to the upper plateaus of Plaine Champagne. The latter bears a more humid and cool environment and is enclaved by the mountains and forests around it. Chamarel contrasts with Case Noyale, located on the Western slopes descending from Chamarel and enjoying a warmer, drier climate.  [1]


The colonial vocation: becoming a sugar plantation  

The early days of Bel Ombre saw pioneers and colonialists who hoped like many of their peers to become financially successful fast enough to repatriate to their home country within a few years. Concessions were given in the area by the French East India Company or the colonial government to these pioneers, some of whom managed to develop their lands more successfully than others. It is to these early pioneers that we owe the introduction of a variety of crops, such as coffee, cotton, and tea amongst others. For most, the expected rapid gains did not occur, and many went back to France. Those who stayed contributed to the building  of the sugar industry locally.


Twentieth century transitions

Gradually, with the growth of sugar as a major internationally traded commodity, the multitude of small plantations gave way to centralization, with fewer and fewer factories, more mergers and the expansive growth of a select few, within the backdrop of major historical events. Bel Ombre did not escape this reality and the factory closed in 1999.  Despite associated difficulties, the transition from a sugar to a tourism centred economy in this area gradually occurred, thanks to the beautiful landscape but also to the important contributions of all its people.


[1] Yvan Martial,  Compagnie Sucrière de Bel Ombre, Notes d’Histoire

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