In the village of Pamplemousses, these gardens (also known as the Royal Botanic Gardens) were started in 1735 by Governor Mahé de La Bourdonnais as a vegetable garden for his Mon Plaisir Château. The grounds were gussied up by French horticulturalist Pierre Poivre in 1768 in his bid to introduce spices, but afterwards lay neglected until 1849, when a British horticulturalist, James Duncan, took over. His legacy is seen today in the garden's array of palms.
These modest but well kept gardens are a highlight of a visit to Mauritius. Though there are few flowers inside, one key attraction is the park's giant Victoria regia water lilies, native to the Amazon. From the centre of a huge pad, the lily's flower opens white one day and closes red the next. Other attractions include golden bamboo, chewing gum trees, fish poison trees, a 200-year-old Buddha tree and - for Christians - a cross tree with leaves shaped like crucifixes. The fragrant flora of the garden - ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, camphor and sandalwood - is another high point, as are glimpses of Mauritian wildlife that are all but unavailable elsewhere on the island. Look for enclosures of Java deer and giant tortoises. There's also an art gallery and a cemetery, whichever way your tastes run. Pamplemousses is 11km (7mi) north-east of Port Louis, and there are regular buses between the two.