About an hour’s drive from Long Beach Gold and Spa Resort on the Mauritian east coast, lies La Vallée de Ferney (Ferney Valley) – a beautiful 200ha sanctuary for a variety of rare or endangered indigenous species including the Mauritian falcon known as the kestrel. The valley is entrusted to a public-private partnership between the Government of Mauritius and Ciel Group, which seeks to restore and protect this part of the island’s rapidly diminishing heritage – less than two percent of the indigenous ecosystems on Mauritius are still intact.
I was part of a select group of media invited to run, walk and hike through intersecting routes of the annual Ciel Ferney Trail in September, easily judged the single largest sporting event on the island by number of participants, playing host to about 3200 competitors. Our experience meant an early department from the Long Beach Gold & Spa Resort the day before the race to reach the Valley where final preparations were in full swing.
The road to the venue took us along the winding coastal road, through little fishing villages with quaint names such as Deux Frères (Two Brothers) and Quatre Soeurs (Four Sisters). This is also the scenic route to the east coast from the airport – and the ideal introduction to the island if you land in daylight. Once at the Valley, our hosts were keen for us to experience the views. As the routes climbed higher into the forests as much as they were for us to try out some of the tracks – ranging from dry open dirt road to narrow shady routes muddied by recent rain that took us through the forest canopy and past pretty waterfalls.
On race day, call time was 3am. We were to meet in the hotel foyer to make sure we were in time for the pre-sunrise start of the more technically challenging Mauritius Union 50km race that would give the competitors the opportunity to reach Lion Mountain by dawn. This is a race for tough competitors, encompassing a 2500m vertical drop and very difficult passages through the mountains of this south-eastern part of Mauritius.
After watching staggered start for the 20km, 10km and Sun Resorts’ 4km category for younger trailers, we went out on the course again, splitting up to pursue different angles for photographs. What an incredible experience to spend the better part of two days in this peaceful environment where mobile phone reception was almost non-existent. The weather gods were kind – race day turned out sunny but not unbearably hot and less windy than the day before. The resident buck hid high up in the trees and we could catch sight of them sometimes darting across open spaces, one at a time.
South African Lisa Krumnikl finished fourth in the Bank One 20km ladies’ race, designed for seasoned runners and adults able to keep the pace on an average distance and cope with 1150 meters of ‘positive drop’ in the hills and forests of the Valley. Lisa is a road runner who trains with the Midrand Striders in Gauteng, so regards herself as ‘super novice’ when it comes to trails. She’s already debating whether she should aim for a top three in the 20km route or attempt the 50km next time. “I did way better than expected in terms of time and position. I finished in second place recently at a trail run in Centurion but it was not technical and fairly flat so no comparison at all,” she says.
The event raised R160 000, all of which will be shared between Inclusion Mauritius and the Vallée de Ferney Conservation Trust. Watching the race finishers queue for their free massage made me rather envious. My body, unused to this type of exertion (my mobile phone tracked 32 000 steps over the two days), craved similar pampering.
After returning to Long Beach after a long day, I was lucky to get a booking at the Cing Mondes Spa. The walk to the outside treatment rooms was a pleasant surprise, lined by lava rock walls, past a natural pool, and into another haven of greenery away from the bustle of the hotel. I opted for the ‘deep-relaxing Balinese massage’, keen to experience the ancestral rituals of gentle Thai stretching and traditional smoothing movements for the first time. The combination of the tranquil environment, practised hands and fragrant Tropical Nuts Melting Body Balm soon had the desired effect. The hotel was full but the wind did nothing to deter sun worshippers from claiming their loungers next to the pool early in the day while others enjoyed walking or running along the beach.
I was delighted to discover the Clarisse Sisters, twins Veronique and Annick and elder sister Dominique, on the entertainment programme on the first night. They’re practically Mauritian royalty, with illustrious careers spanning almost three decades that have seen the twins singing backup for Basia and Erasure, and Dominique performing with Chris de Burgh and Whitney Houston, among others. After spending many years touring the world, they are now all based in Mauritius and focused on recording new songs with their special sound of jazz and soul.