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Friday, 11 January 2013 12:00

St Antoine – Friendly people, great food and fine architecture

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St Antoine is a small sugarcane village between Goodlands and Poudre d’Or. It lies off the main road. With the development of Goodlands new traffic and shopping centre it seems to be part of it as the construction of buildings continues and has nearly merged with it.
St Antoine was till recently a sugar estate with all its paraphernalia in terms of sugar camp, sugar factory and light railway for conveying sugar cane belonging to the de Chazal family. Charles Antoine de Chazal, the nephew of Francois de Chazal, Inspector General of Finances of Louis 15, had settled in Mauritius in 1749. He had had constructed in the middle of his sugar estate a colonial building on a very rocky site, non-productive and where nothing could grow.

There was a wooden building destroyed by fire.  It was then made of concrete. The building still stands there proudly as a vestige of the past. The sugar factory had to close down its doors to cut down expenses and also for centralisation purposes that had started as far back as the 1860s.To day it is owned by the De Grivel family as the result of an inheritance .The latter has converted the residential building into a fine table d’hôte that hosts thousands of visitors and gourmets every week.

St Antoine is a small village with a mixed population of Christians, Tamils, Hindus and a few Muslims, the first being in majority as they constituted the main artisans the estate was employing. It still employs a few. Others are fishermen, merchants, labourers, sharecroppers, teachers, and carpenters and masons. The village is doted with a church, a primary school and had a temple that today has made room for houses.

The main attraction of the village is the neoclassical style residence now turned into a table d’hôte making good business. The building comprises a living room and a kitchen separated from the main building. The latter has a central corridor that connects all the rooms on one side and the dining room on the other. There are framed pictures, collection of paintings and a smoking cell used as study. Strangely enough one of the rooms contains the paintings and the books of Malcolm de Chazal. It may be rightly named Malcolm museum. The outside posts a double colonnade veranda that runs round the house and shelters it from the sun and ensures better ventilation. It is cool and very pleasant on hot and sunny days .It is polyvalent, used as terrace, tea parties and a resting place. It creates a countryside atmosphere with the perfume and fragrance with a whole gamut of a variety of flowers, different birds’ songs and a light breeze fuelling sleep.

The surrounding is reminiscent of the old, happy and sweet moments oblivious of its conversion into a restaurant proposing a mouthwatering menu of seafood, lamb, venison, vegetables and other delights and niceties. Arouille and breadfruit too are there for the palate, depending on the time of the year. Lunchtime is a special moment for varied topics and discussions come to the fore while enjoying the food so nicely prepared and in the midst of antiquities dating back to more than hundred years.

The setting is propitious for picnic. It creates a wonderful sensation sitting on a green luxuriant spread in a corner enjoying a short talk, an ice cream, a tantalising novel or romancing with boy or girl friend. The world appears to stand still, so remote and far it is from the din of passing buses and vehicles. The rare droning of the beetles, the bees, the butterflies flying from one flower plant to another, the bees sucking the nectar and returning to their hive in the vicinity. The children’s corner offers a lot of activities from painting, drawing, carom, table tennis and badminton.

Every year on the 20th of November on the occasion of St Edmond, the older members host a big feast. The building is decorated and illuminated by candle bras, candles, candle sticks and the rooms are decked up with enormous bouquets .The adult members can indulge in card games, carrom, table tennis and other indoor games. Almost 200 well dressed young and old turn up for the feast and they go on making merry till the early morning hours. Even the countryside around stretches far and wide with a shimmering skyline, the profusion of big trees and the attraction, offering some rare quiet and peace .The meadows, the woodlands have long been an inspiration most especially to Malcolm . There is plenty to see and do. Children can enjoy several playgrounds, the one close to the RCA School, and that near the complex serving for weddings and other functions.

The countryside is ideal for comfortable strolling with spacious green patches and fields lavishly green. The scarlet passion flower the swan’s neck agave and the sky blue plumbago seduce the visitors, the profusion of flowers wild and normal, is reason enough for visiting the environment. It organises a flower show sometimes in September or October and many people make it a point to attend .There are even a ‘marche sur le feu’ and ‘sabre ladder climbing’, doting the village with special features and attract big crowds from the neighbouring villages.
Sunsets and stylish boutiques opening are powerful reasons for passing by the village and enjoying whatever sensual and sensuous objects it offers: Nature meetings, land treks, cycling horse riding into the interior. The path exposes to fabulous views to the point of forgetting oneself.
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