Chirongui, Mayotte

Photo: Le Jardin Maoré
Photo: Le Jardin Maoré

Do your favorite islands tend to be the French ones? You head to Guadeloupe for rich French cuisine. You travel to Martinique for bottles of wine rarely seen outside of Europe. Plus you fly to Réunion for remote, gorgeous resorts. But you seem to have overlooked one. It’s time to explore Mayotte.

Mayotte is in the Mozambique Channel off the coast of Southeast Africa. Geographically, the archipelago—which includes Grande-Terre, Petite-Terre, and many small islets—is part of the Comoro Islands. But when the neighboring islands voted for independence in 1974, Mayotte chose to remain part of France. Somehow, the French have managed to keep this seahorse-shaped island under the radar ever since.

You arrive on Grande-Terre, the oldest of the Comoro Islands. The volcanic island has rich soil and many protected forest reserves. Huge baobab trees dot the coastline. A double barrier reef encircles the island. You enter the South Ridge Forest Reserve as you head south toward Chirongui. Mangroves line the Baie of Bouéni. Madagascar pond herons, Mayotte drongos, and endangered Robert Mertens’ day geckos live among the shrubs and the mudflats. Ngouja Beach, perhaps the most-beautiful beach on the island, has golden sand and calm, turquoise water. While a little ecolodge is hidden in the gardens just steps from the sand.

Photo: Le Jardin Maoré
Photo: Le Jardin Maoré

Le Jardin Maoré is tucked in between giant bamboo, mango and lemon trees, and frangipani and ylang-ylang blossoms. Lemurs and flying foxes live in the trees. The rustic bungalows—with names like hibiscus and vanilla—are made of braided coconut, bamboo, stone, and mud. Sea turtles feed in the sea grass at high tide and slowly move up the beach to lay their eggs at night. Coconut crabs also come out once the sun goes down. Plus sleeper sharks, manta rays, and schools of barracudas move through the reef just beyond the bay.

After checking out your bungalow, with its exotic wood furniture made of movingui, you’re anxious to start exploring. Feed bananas to the friendly lemurs. Pull a sea kayak—they’re sitting next to a pirogue on the beach—into the water to paddle around the bay. Ride a boat to the Maoré Garden to scuba dive among the graceful sea turtles. Hike Mont Choungui, the island’s second-highest peak, for panoramic views of the southern half of Grande-Terre and the vast Indian Ocean. Then return to Le Jardin Maoré for a spectacular sunset from under the restaurant’s bamboo pergola. Dancers from Kani-Keli (a traditional village), fresh seafood prepared with proper techniques, and wine from a remote part of France will follow shortly.

You found a gorgeous ecolodge, delicious food, and perfectly paired wine off the southeast coast of Africa. Your love affair with the French islands continues.

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