Mauricia and La Villebague: Verandas facing North
The region’s two architectural gems divulge their secrets…
Festive days at La Villebague
It’s impossible to talk about La Villebague without mentioning the extraordinary people who have lived there. Among its most illustrious residents was Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the French governor who co-founded the estate’s first sugar refinery in 1743. A year later, machinery intended for the factory was washed onto the Mauritian reefs when the Saint-Géran tragically sank.
After La Bourdonnais’ fall from grace in 1747, La Villebague was sold to René Magon. The latter is thought to have built the current estate house in 1759, drawing inspiration from the governor of Pondicherry’s former palace.
Apparently confirming this hypothesis, the house’s ground floor is built of stone in the style of 18 th century colonial architecture… yet its gable roof is more typical of the 19 th century!
At the outset of the 20 th century, the future George V and George VI of Britain stayed at La Villebague and enjoyed some memorable hunting parties there.
In 1930, the estate was purchased by The Mount, whose main shareholders at the time were the Rosnay family. Thanks to painter Gaëtan de Rosnay and his son Arnaud, a jet-setting windsurfer, the house was the setting for many a festive event. And in the 1970s, La Villebague hosted opulent parties attended by global celebrities including Brigitte Bardot!
The scent of the past at Mauricia
Mauricia’s gardens are as remarkable as the house itself. Stately Indian laurel trees line the estate’s main avenue, while its former entrance is flanked by even more majestic camphor trees. An Englishman is said to have cultivated sweet peas on the property in the 1860s; their fragrance apparently pervaded the neighbourhood.
In 1819, Jean-Louis Dagot built the Mauricia sugar refinery. He sold the estate in 1825, and it then passed from hand to hand before being acquired by Nemours Harel in 1866. In 1960, the beautiful wooden building succumbed to the rigours of cyclone Carole. It was rebuilt out of concrete based on the original plans. It retains the style of a traditional Creole house, with a large colonnaded veranda and several doors leading into each room, allowing for cross-ventilation. At the same time as the house was rebuilt, Nemours’ grandson, Albert Mallac, restored its gardens to their former glory. They remain exquisitely beautiful to this day.
A culturally hybrid form of architecture
Traditional Mauritian houses bear witness to the richness and variety of the island’s cultural influences. They feature arabesques drawn from Muslim and Indian architectural traditions, English lawns, French gardens, European engineering, Chinese scrollwork…
Their aesthetics aside, they are also extremely practical, and are ideally suited to the island’s tropical climate. La Villebague’s colonnaded veranda allows air to circulate through the house during the hot summer. Its shutters’ blue-grey paint – the legendary “Wedgwood Blue” – is in fact a mixture of permanganate and lime that protects the wood from termites. Finally, its raised lower-ground floor of volcanic stone – a feature it shares with Mauricia – protects the house from floods and insects.
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