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Memories of My Trip to Domaine de L'Ylang-Ylang

by Teresa Lloyd(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 75 - April 2002

Heading for Mauritius

I departed from Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport in sub-zero temperatures on Friday 19 January 2001. It was the most longed-for date on our New Year calendar. I couldn't wait to turn my back on the snowy, bitterly cold weather overshadowing London.

Despite all the adverse publicity on the life-threatening condition deep vein thrombosis related to long haul flights, I promised myself to remain calm and positive and take a precautionary aspirin just to give my circulation a boost for the challenging 12-hour flight. This was to be my first experience of long- haul flying.

Curious readers might be asking themselves what possessed me to venture so far – over 6,000 miles – to the remote Indian Ocean island of Mauritius? My response to this question is for personal reasons which involved some family research in Port Louis. I considered this trip to be a reconnaissance rather than a conventional holiday.

The Lush vegetation of Domaine de L'Ylang-Ylang
The Lush vegetation of Domaine de L'Ylang-Ylang

I booked our trip in September 2000 with Carriers, a specialist travel company based in Cheshire. We stayed at the 5-star newly refurbished Maritim hotel, based on the northern coast located on the old colonial site of Balaclava, on an all-inclusive basis for two weeks. After visiting most of the notable tourist spots by taxiing around the island, having decided against the idea of hiring our own car due to the costs and complications involved, plus the fact that many of the local roads were poorly indicated. Complete strangers are more likely to get lost and frustrated going around in circles!

Visiting the Essential Oil Distillery

It was not until well into the second week of our stay at the Maritim that I browsed through some tourist pamphlets and discovered this landmark site - Domaine de L'Ylang Ylang. The caption caught my attention, stating, "being the oldest distillery on the island".

"We've never been to an essential oil factory before. There's only a few days left before we return to London. This will be our only opportunity to watch the process of extraction. Why don't we book a taxi to pick us up here in the morning and then take us to the factory? Looking at the map it's about 15km from the local airport", I said, putting my enthusiastic ideas to David (my husband).

"Anything to keep you happy", he said with his usual sense of humour. So be it – I put my intentions into action. On 31 January 2001 we taxied through the capital, Port Louis, towards the airport south-east of Mauritius.

The English translation of the French term 'Domaine de' is 'land of'. To me the very name of the site conjured up images of natural beauty, atmosphere and mystery.

While our experienced taxi driver challenged the precarious roads, the rainy season embraced us in strong, temperamental showers. But, whatever the weather, my camera went everywhere with me. I just had to wait and pray for the right moment to capture the undulating landscape. Driving through unending, narrow, winding roads without any clear signposts for Anse Jonchee, I began to wonder if were ever going to find the place! To call it 'off the beaten track' is an understatement.

The oldest distillery on the island
The oldest distillery on the island

"This is it, you're here", our taxi driver announced proudly. We stepped out of the car onto soggy terrain. I sensed that the powerful showers provided a thirst-quenching exchange while the magical unseen process of photosynthesis was in true operation. I earlier imagined lots of people. But no other visitors could be seen. Only enthusiastic oil lovers would attempt this adventure, I thought to myself. I stared at the acres of cultivated landscape. But what attracted me most initially were the immediate sights of wild exotic flowers and plants, growing in stunning, radiant colours. I could hardly take my eyes off them. Once the showers had lifted and valuable sunshine glistened through the lush trees, I photographed some wild Bird's of Paradise because of their bold, eye-catching orange/mauve heads. According to my guide, 15,000 ylang-ylang trees are cultivated here for commercial use. We approached the factory where a young female worker welcomed us. It soon felt both energizing and relaxing inhaling the subtle scents of the wild mix of herbs, flowers and trees. Somehow the recent showers created a dewy mist over the entire area.

An entrance fee of 40 rupees was required to have a guided tour around the factory. Once we had entered the ticket barrier, we watched an ancient kiln being loaded with thousands of petals. The rest of the equipment channelled and collected the vaporous oils. Though only two or three people handled the entire process, I was fascinated by the whole mysterious method of distillation and actually being able to watch it for the first time.

A Cycad Palm (Cycas Revoluta)

A Cycad Palm (Cycas Revoluta)

Purchasing Useful Oils

After nearly 20 minutes the basic lecture ended and so I chose to browse through the humble shop premises. It resembled a bathroom cabinet cleverly chiselled in wood outside, but nevertheless was still a shop. It offered tourists choice and abundance in a variety of sizes of home-grown oils.

Due to all the travelling and the overpowering sunshine, I wanted a handy selection to pep-up my skin and simply give my body a natural tonic. Having already fallen victim to dreaded mosquito bites soon after arriving, we both needed some soothing, healing oils to tend to our skin. David's legs still showed red patches, which obviously needed some extra help from God's pharmacy.

Earlier in Port Louis I had been recommended Geranium oil to act as both a repellent and soother for skin attacked by mosquitoes, though I knew Citronella oil has the best reputation for acting as an insect repellent. I still have the receipt for my purchases for that day, which were: 5ml Geranium, 5ml Pine, 10ml Citronella, l0ml Lavender (2), and a 50ml Huile Neutre (natural carrier oil). My receipt, written in longhand, indicates that I spent 58 rupees, which included 10% VAT. Each individual bottle was tagged with a tiny card around the neck.

I proudly carried my new purchases in a pretty, small carrier bag. Now I felt well stocked up for the long flight back to London. But, more importantly, I could sprinkle a therapeutic blend into our baths at the hotel.

Geranium (Pelargonium graveclens) is excellent for rescuing the skin. The herb is grown in neighbouring Madagascar, Egypt, Spain, France, Italy, Russia and the Congo. But it was not discovered until the 1850s. Geranium oil blended in a carrier oil nourishes dry/mature skin and is ideal for cuts, bruises, burns and acne. I relished sampling these floral droplets to uplift my skin.

I wanted Citronella to combat the possibility of any more mosquito bites! One of the chief reasons for buying a small Pine (Pinus palustris) oil is that it forms part of a concoction for making home-made chest rubs. Pine oil is a very practical, useful oil to have in a medicine box at home. Several years ago I attended a short course at the City Lit in ear1y December - 'Winter herbs for the Festive Season' and learned a lot of useful tips.

Ylang-ylang trees are also grown for commercial reasons in Madagascar, the Philippines and on Reunion Island. The early inhabitants of tropical Asia used Ylang-ylang to treat insect bites, inflamed skin and to help ward off fevers and infections. Oil derived from Ylang-ylang leaves is sweet, floral and highly aromatic, and has more power to uplift the mind and emotions than to influence users on a physical level. It has the ability to rejuvenate the skin and hair, though caution must be taken to use it only sparingly. However, it can be relied upon to soothe away any sign of stress, which can be a side effect of travelling long distances.

The Future

We intend to travel to the Seychelles and return to Mauritius again in January 2002 because we found the remote Indian Ocean climate such a contrast to that of Britain. I am already excited about the prospect of returning to that magical spot in the middle of nowhere! But at least our new destination, the Ambre hotel, is situated on the east coast at Pallor Bay and is within a shorter distance of Anse Jonchee than the Maritim hotel. We departed Plaissance Airport to board Air Mauritius flight MK046 to Heathrow on 3 February 2001. I will always cherish that challenging visit to the oldest distillery on the island. I hope to capture more inspiring images of such an elusive location in the New Year.


  1. Gina said..

    This was such a lovely read, I am looking to go there and you really helped my decision, thanks

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About Teresa Lloyd

Teresa Lloyd is a freelance writer for Mauritius News with a special interest in horticultural beauty spots and distillery sites both in England and Mauritius. She lives in south London with her husband. Her first book Where Do You Come From was due to be published late in 2004.

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