Several of these are no longer privately owned and a few are open to the public. On my first weekend alone I went to one of these; Eureka in Moka. I should mention about Moka first. It is a small place, if you drive up the motorway out of Port Louis you could almost miss it as you get close to the conurbation on Plaines Wilhelm. But it holds a special place in Mauritius; it houses the campus for the University of Mauritius, as well as the Presidential Palace or State House. And sheltered in the lee of the northern mountains, it has attracted a number of high end villas. The streets are paved with gold in parts of Moka, or at least with the profits from the sugar trade. Nearby a new development was being built next to the motorway. Ebene was once just another sugar cane plantation but high rise gleaming tower blocks were already starting to appear on my first visit, and they were joined by hotels and high class shops over the few years that I visited.
It was being marketed as Cybercity, and was developing a big push to get technology in government up to date, and reach out to development, marketing, call centres and other internet dependent businesses to congregate there. Funny how use of a technology that should not be geographically dependent was being concentrated in one area.
Eureka was a hark back to a different era, but at its height was as much at the cutting edge as Cybercity was striving for now. The house itself looked very simple from the outside. It was a two storey building, the upper floor integrated within a high roof. The lower floor was almost completely surrounded by a wide veranda. The rooms were well appointed with both practical and ornamental artefacts, all of good quality. The dining room had a heavy oak table and almost medieval chairs, which was surrounded by an array of glass cabinets. The wooden floors creaked with every step frighteningly shaking the crockery in the cabinets.
As I say the practical elements were once the height of technology. In the bathroom, instead of just the metal bath there was a gantry from which the bather could add more hot water. The sink was set in a sumptuous slab of marble.
I walked round the small lawns and down a footpath into a gorge where the River Moka gurgled across the rocks and fell over ten feet in a powerful force. It was a world away from the small villages hidden at the foot of the cane fields. I’ve visited a couple of other plantation houses over the trips; the same picture emerges from all. You wonder at the opulence and see it as the height of tropical living, but you can’t help to also wonder at the sacrifices and injustices at the huge number of slaves or indentured workers who strived to let these owners live this way.