Category Archives: Mauritius

Mauritian Cuisine: Island Flavours

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ANURAG MALLICK deconstructs the multi-cultural flavours of Mauritian cuisine through its most famous product – sugarcane

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If there’s one thing that shaped the landscape, cuisine, economy and in fact, the very destiny of Mauritius, it is sugarcane. Such is its importance that it features in the Mauritian coat of arms. The endemic dodo, though extinct, lives on in the insignia, where the flightless bird and a sambar support stalks of sugarcane.

From this wondrous grass, other lucrative products like sugar and rum were derived. Mauritius may be located just over a thousand kilometers east of Madagascar, yet its cultural and culinary influences are far-reaching – from African, Dutch, French, British and Indian to Chinese. The reason again, is sugarcane…

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While the Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on Mauritius in 1505, the Dutch colonized the island in 1598 and named it after their ruler Maurice, Prince of Orange. Besides introducing African slaves, wild boar and tobacco, the Dutch also brought in sugarcane from Java in mid-17th century. Being inferior in quality, it was mostly used for producing rum.

After the Dutch left in 1710, the country came under the French, who initiated sugar production and turned ‘Ilé Maurice’ into a successful trading base. Plantation workers and slaves brought from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation to work on the sugarcane fields eventually formed the Mauritian Creole community.

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By the end of the 18th century, Mauritius was producing enough sugar to supply passing ships and the Mascarene Islands (a collective term for Mauritius, Rodriguez and Reunion islands). In 1810, Mauritius was ceded to Britain, who freed the slaves and transformed sugar into an industry.

The turning point came in 1825 when Governor Farquhar persuaded the British Empire to allow Mauritian sugar into the British market at the same rate as West Indies. The exploitative navigation law was also repealed, allowing Mauritius to trade with countries other than England.

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After slavery was abolished in 1835, new immigrants were needed to develop the island and the workforce was replenished with workers from China and India. Indian immigrants landed at the Apravasi Ghat in capital Port Louis to work as indentured labourers and Mauritius became the first country to benefit from Indian labour under contract. Governor Higginson (1851-1857) called them “the key to colonial prosperity”. Whether they came from Bharuch or Bhagalpur, the Indian immigrants brought their food with them.

From frata (paratha), achard (anchar), briani (biryani), samoussa (samosa), gajak (pakoda), alouda (falooda) and curries to an assortment of chutneys; many dishes in Mauritian cuisine are of Indian parentage. Perhaps the most iconic crossover and easily the national dish is dholl puri. Borrowed from the Bihari staple dalpuri (a dal paratha), it is often rolled up with white bean curry, pickle and chutney.

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In Mauritius, everything seems like a case of misheard lyrics. Familiar Indian words are softened and stretched like dough into convoluted forms, phonetically interpreted with Caribbean flair. The airport is named after the first Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (loosely translated from ‘Shivsagar Ram Ghulam’).

As we drove off, the road was lined with sugarcane fields that extended to the coast on one side and collided against jagged mountains on the other. The island was formed after the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano, now a crater on the island’s southwest with a fresh water lake.

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It was a short ride to our resort Shanti Maurice, an oasis by the sea with diverse culinary experiences. At Rum Shed manager Bobby Ghoora plied us with bottomless barrels of spiced rum, as we feasted on prawn pancakes and calamari. There were signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime infused rum and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla infused rum!

The resort has its own herb garden, where La Kaze Mama (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. At Fish Shack, we enjoyed beachside barbecues and fresh seafood amid lantern-lights, Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.

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But there’s more to eat in Mauritius than mere seafood. At La Vanille Crocodile Park, a 3.5-hectare reserve, besides feeding giant Aldabra turtles and petting iguanas, you could try crocodile meat. Ironically, the restaurant is called Le Crocodile Affamé or the Hungry Crocodile and it serves a sample crocodile degustation platter with mini spring rolls, mini kebabs, smoked crocodile and salad.

The local favourite cœurs de palmier or heart of palm makes a great salad, often mixed with salad leaves and a variety of seafood – oysters, shrimp, crayfish, prawns, smoked marlin and crabs – and tossed with sauce rouge (red sauce) into Millionaire’s Salad.

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The best place to learn more about the history of Mauritius and its tryst with sugar is L’Aventure du Sucre, the Sugar Factory and museum near the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. The self-guided tour, enlivened by info panels and videos, ends with tasting 12 types of sugars and 9 rums! Dotted with rhumeries (rum factories) and distilleries like St Aubin House and Chamarel, there’s always some rum tasting going on in Mauritius.

At Chamarel, besides exotic flavours like vanilla, mandarin and coffee rum on offer, the L’Alchimiste restaurant liberally uses rum for various dishes – Chamarel espresso, pork braised with Chamarel rum and Chamarel rum baba or baba au rhum, a small yeast cake saturated in syrup made with rum. Chateau de Labourdonnais, a historic estate started in 1771, has a distillery and old bungalow run like a heritage museum, showcasing Mauritian lifestyle in the 19th century.

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July to December is sugarcane harvest season when distilleries are busy with production. Mauritius is a tropical paradise also known for its sweet pineapples and coconuts, best enjoyed on the beach. Be it Casela Wildlife Park or La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, most tourist attractions have great dining options.

In capital Port Louis, a visit to the food market is a must. For an authentic French and Mauritian gastronomical experience, head to Le Courtyard, a boutique restaurant set in a courtyard around a fountain. They serve terrific seafood paired with French wines – scallops, scampi, salmon, mahi mahi and gueule pavé (Goldlined sea bream), with special touches like confectionery and amuse-bouche (literally ‘mouth amusers’ – single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre) as compliments from the chef. The desserts are to die for, especially the crème brulé, made with Mauritian Muscovado – unrefined brown sugar, a chefs’ favourite.

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If sugar is a precious commodity in Mauritius, its salt is equally coveted. Fleur de sel or flor de sal in Portuguese – literally ‘Flower of Salt’ – is hailed as the Queen of Salts. It is formed as a thin, delicate crust on the surface of seawater as it evaporates and is known for its characteristic crunch and clean light taste.

Despite being a small island nation, Mauritius packs in great culinary diversity. The French touch is apparent in the love for bouillon, tuna salad and coq au vin. The Chinese influence can be seen in the spicy noodles, fried rice and seafood dim sums. Mauritian favourites include calamari salad, daube, an octopus stew, fish vindaye (local version of the vindaloo) and rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of fish or meat with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Creole classics like Mauritian fish and aubergine curry and chicken curry are relished with rice and a chilli paste called mazavaroo.

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At its peak in the 19th century, there were nearly 400 sugar factories in Mauritius. Many of these have now been converted into museums, resorts and restaurants. Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, built around an old sugarcane factory, has a dilapidated chimney as a reminder of colonial plantation life. Overlooking the pool, the Le Comptoir restaurant serves ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade and hearty breakfasts with seafood at Ocean One overlooking the private Azuri beach.

Today, sugarcane is grown over 85% of the arable land in Mauritius and on an average, 6,00,000 tonnes of sugar is produced annually. And yes, a lot of rum! I bit into my caramelized pineapple dessert flambéed with Mauritian rum and sighed… Joseph Conrad was right. Visiting Mauritius in 1885, the author set his story ‘A Smile of Fortune’ here and called Mauritius the ‘Sweet Pearl of the Indian Ocean.’

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Where to Eat/Drink

St. Aubin House
www.saintaubin.mu

Rhumerie de Chamarel
http://www.rhumeriedechamarel.com

L’Aventure du Sucre
www.aventuredusucre.com

Chateau Labourdonnais
www.chateaulabourdonnais.com

Hotel Shanti Maurice, Chemin Grenier
www.shantimaurice.com

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Hotel Radisson Blu Azuri
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

Hotel Paradis & Dinarobin, Le Morne
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes (Crocodile Park)
www.lavanille-reserve.com

La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, Mare Anguilles
www.lavalleedescouleurs.com

Casela World of Adventures, Cascavelle
www.caselapark.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 5 November 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

 

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Stags Only: The best bachelor holidays

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Planning a bachelor party with the boys? Skip Las Vegas and Bangkok and try these holiday ideas from ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY.

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So you’re getting hitched and your wild lifestyle is threatened by an Extinction Level Event (read marriage). Mad drunken parties with the boys, binge eating, dirty weekends, scanning dance floors and bars for fun, checking out the ‘scene’, ah the joys of bachelorhood… All this might seem history to the groom apparent, however, your friends couldn’t care less. They just want you to ride into the sunset of marital fidelity with all guns blazing. The idea is to go out and have fun. Here’s how to make it a bachelor party to remember… or forget!

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Get high in Dubai
What better way to celebrate with your mates than getting high together? And what better place than the world’s tallest building and the loftiest observation deck? Just short of a kilometer (828 m, 160 stories) At The Top in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is as high as it gets. Make it special with a signature taster menu (caviar, truffles, foie gras) at the stylish SKY lounge and Atmosphere restaurant at level 148, manned by top chef Jerome Lagarde.

But there’s no reason you can’t get higher! Feel the adrenaline rush as you skydive from 13,000 ft over Palm Jumeirah or get on a hot air balloon, chopper, gyrocoptor or a Sea Wings seaplane for an aerial tour. Dubai is the place for bad boys to have a good time, with dune-bashing, belly-dancing and adventures like Ski Dubai (Middle East’s first indoor ski resort) and iFLY Dubai (indoor sky diving and wind tunnel experience).

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Easy rentals make it easy to zip around in your dream luxe car or set sail on the Persian Gulf in a luxurious yacht with Jacuzzi, barbeques and champagne. Pimp it up with model hostesses, resident DJ and bouncers. And if you don’t mind getting wet, strap on a hydrojet equipment and get set for shred sleds, jet packs and jet blades.

Stay in style at Palm Jumeirah at Anantara Resorts as you go party-hopping at Sanctuary in Atlantis nearby, Zero Gravity, White Dubai, Trilogy, Rattlesnake, Ku-Bu, Cyclone or Ibiza club Blue Marlin, a weekend-only beach bar. With Dubai’s diverse expat mix, it’s like attending the UN’s sorority bash.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

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Get lucky in Hong Kong
For King Kong fun, head straight to Hong Kong. Terrific street food, night markets, rooftop bars, a vibrant ‘scene’ and the world’s largest permanent light and sound show Symphony of Lights; what’s not to like? The central party district of Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai and SoHo buzz with bars and clubs like Magnum, Volar, Play, Dragon-i, Ce La Vi, the world’s highest bar Ozone at Ritz Carlton and Aqua Spirit rooftop bar overlooking Victoria Harbour.

To up the ante, take the hour-long ferry to Macau, a mecca for boys who like to party hard. Like HK, a Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Portuguese presence in Macau over four centuries gives it an exotic appeal – from its food, culture to architecture. Having the world’s highest population density (20,497 people per sq km), two islands south of the mainland Coloane and Taipa were joined in a massive land reclamation project to form the Co-tai Strip, a 5.2 sq km gambling haven.

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In 2007, it turned the tables on Las Vegas as the world leader in gambling revenue. Most of the 30 million visitors to Macau are drawn by 24-hour gambling at the 33 casinos and integrated resorts – Venetian Resort, City of Dreams, Sands Cotai, Galaxy Macau Resort and Wynn Palace, which opened this year. Event planners like Ludih can help you organize the ultimate stag bash with stretch limos, VIP access at clubs and private parties in luxury hotel suites.

Jet Airways flies to Hong Kong

For more info, visit www.macaotourism.gov.mo

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Go beer guzzling in Germany
Beer by the tankards or ‘ein mass’ (one measure in a large mug), pigging out on red meat (sausages to steaks) and busty bier mädchen (beer maidens) dressed in dirndls (Alpine peasant costume) and tight-fitting bodices that make Hooters seem like a church choir; Germany is custom-built for a boys’ week out. Beer Bike Tours combine two of the best German specialties – beer and engineering – plonk with your pals on stools around a small bar and quaff beer while pedaling your beermobile. It’s a good way to burn off what you’ll put on.

Drive from north to south Germany on the Deutsch Fachwerke Strasse (Half-Timbered House Road), checking out local brews at the 1200 breweries between Bremen and Munich. Pop in at Munich’s famous beer hall Hofbräuhaus and the Bier & Oktoberfest Museum. Or head straight to Berlin, legendary for its hedonistic club scene and endless party hours. There’s hardly a block in Berlin without a bar though the top spots are in the hipster district of Kreuzberg.

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Check out Berlin’s oldest biergarten Prater or rent a raft and float down the Spree River. Go dancing at the open-air Club der Visionaire off the Spree or Matrix in an abandoned train station – almost every club in Berlin is built in an abandoned something! Split up into smaller groups to get into clubs like Sysiphos or the infamous techno haven Berghain.

The German love for kink is apparent in strip clubs like Golden Dolls or CP Club and adult entertainment venues like Artimis and Kit Kat Club. For a mad time, visit during the 16-day long Oktoberfest (mid-September to first Sunday in October)! Don’t forget to take home a stein (no, not a stain but a stoneware mug) as a memento.

Jet Airways flies to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, from where its codeshare partners Etihad and KLM have several connections to Frankfurt, Munich or Berlin.

For more info, visit www.germany.travel

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Rum tasting in Mauritius
If you were considering Mauritius for your destination wedding or honeymoon, your bachelor party might be a good way to scope it out. Sensuous Sega dancers and fire-eaters by the beach, endless rum tasting sessions at rhumeries like Chateau de Labourdonnais, Chamarel, L’Aventure du Sucre and Saint Aubin and riding out to reefs for diving or snorkeling with the boys; Mauritius is not your average lazy tropical paradise.

There’s a lot for the adventure enthusiast – SeaKart, UnderSea Walk, Sub Scooter and Submarine tours with Blue Safari (the only sub operation in the Indian Ocean), the world’s third longest zipline and Quad Biking at La Vallée des Couleurs and Casela Nature Park. And if you’re into golf, there are over a dozen world class courses.

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With all the action packed in a relatively small island nation (65km long, 45km wide) and plush beachside resorts like Shanti Maurice, Sofitel Imperial and Radisson Blu Azuri, no adventure is far away. Dine on the best of French, Caribbean and Creole cuisine and wash it down with rum macerated with tropical fruits and spices.

Jet Airways flies twice a week from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to Mauritius

For more info, visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu

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Bar hopping in Dublin
Few cities have the pulse and vibe of Dublin where the pub, the poet and the pint are seemingly inseparable. The Irish are a friendly lot and it’s easy to strike up a conversation, make new friends and party like a local. Start your pilgrimage with a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and their St James Gate Brewery where they teach you everything from how to pour the perfect pint o’ Guinness and how to drink one!

For a traditional Dublin pub experience with a live band, Irish music and food, The Merry Ploughboy Irish music pub is a must do. Wowing audiences since 1989, they even have a pick-up and drop facility from town. Go on a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl with quirky book-themed tours in the footsteps of famous authors through Dublin’s cobbled streets. Professional actors double up as guides performing from the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

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Sounds too dense? Hit the Temple Bar area to wet your whistle at Kitty O’Shea’s, The Hole in the Wall and The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub that opened in 1198. Not into beer? Take the scenic Giant’s Causeway Coastal route and head for an Irish whiskey experience at The Old Jameson Distillery (reopening after a makeover in March 2017).

Jet Airways flies to London, from where you can fly to Dublin or Belfast.

For more info, visit www.ireland.com

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Go Down Under in style in Australia
If you’re all set to change your FB status from Single to Married (or It’s Complicated), go down under in style by celebrating Down Under. Base yourself in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) and you’re just a hop, skip and jump from all the entertainment – bars, restaurants, gentleman’s clubs and a variety of shows. Plus, in CBD, the trams are free!

Stay at Citadines on Bourke Street or check into luxe tents at St. Jerome’s with scenic views and bespoke brewery tours run by the Temple Brewing Co. For whiskey tastings, there’s The Humble Tumbler, Bar 1806 and Whisky & Alement. Australia is the perfect place for XXXX fun and we don’t mean Castlemaine!

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Take the fun out to sea with a stripper cruise or have a poker party with topless barmaids and nude waitresses. Drive out of town with your mates to Philip Island for surfing and to watch penguins, seals and wallabies in the wild. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit which hosts the Moto GP in October also has a 720m go-karting track. Continue the party on the Great Ocean Road past the Twelve Apostles to Sydney if you have more time… and stamina!

Jet Airways flies to Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Qantas flies to Melbourne and Sydney

For more info, www.visitmelbourne.com

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Island hopping in Indonesia
Imagine this. The moment you land in Bali, you and your Wolf Pack is whisked from the airport to your private pool villa in Semenyak where party girls welcome you with chilled Bintangs. Your pool party has its own DJ, with VIP access to top clubs at night and cruising on a luxury yacht with your bevy of beauties. Yes, in Bali, everything is possible.

If you don’t want to depend on an event planner, DIY, but don’t DUI. Choose a regular hotel in the main tourist hub of Kuta so you’re never far from action. Catch the sunset at beach shacks like Ku De Ta, Potato Head, Cocoon or Mozaic, then go late night clubbing at Sky Garden in Legian. The next day, recover with Balinese massages and foot reflexology. In the posher precinct Semenyak, you can have your own pool villa with party spots like Bounty, Mirror and Koh close by.

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Fly out to Labuan Bajo in Flores, where you can go diving and deep sea fishing or head out on a boat trip to Komodo Island to watch giant reptiles. With getaways like Sulawesi, Lombok and nearly 18,000 islands (of which 8844 are named and 922 permanently inhabited), you are indeed spoilt for choice.

Jet Airways flies to Bangkok and Singapore, from where its codeshare partner Garuda Indonesia flies to Bali

For more info, visit www.indonesia.travel

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Glamping in Oman
Oman may not seem like the most obvious choice for a bachelor party, but if you’re looking for good clean fun, the Desert Nation has quite a few surprises. Smoke sheeshas on the sands like a Bedouin, swim in wadis with barbecue parties at Wadi Bani Khalid, trek in the Al Hajar mountains or go dune bashing, quad biking and sandboarding with your buddies at Sharqiya Sands.

But perish the thoughts of basic ‘Abdullah and the Camel’ sort of tents, Desert Nights Camp will spoil you silly with glamping (glamour-camping). Tents fit for sultans dressed up with plush rugs and drapes, the nomadic strains of the darbouka (stringed instrument) and oud (percussion) and the tantalizing aroma of barbecued meat, Oman is as sensory as its aromatic frankincense. Fly from Muscat to Khasab for 4X4 drives across rugged terrain and luxury dhow cruises with dolphin spotting and snorkeling at Telegraph Island.

Jet Airways flies to Muscat

For more info, visit www.omantourism.gov.om

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Explore the coffee shops of Amsterdam
Amsterdam has all the ingredients to threaten your marriage, so go at your own peril. A lot of the stuff illegal elsewhere is legit here. Much as the city likes to shrug the tag, over half a million tourists are drawn by visions of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Amsterdam’s legendary coffee shops, currently trimmed down to 220, come with elaborate menus offering everything from Moroccan Ice to Malana Cream for a Cheech & Chong stoner holiday.

There’s no better example of Amsterdam’s drug tolerance than Bulldog Leidseplein, formerly a police station, decorated with criminal artifacts! Scour the top forty listed in the local Mellow Pages: A Smoker’s Guide to Amsterdam and pop by at the award-winning Green House, The Grasshopper or Barney’s for a hit. The Cannabis Cup in November used to be a great time to visit until the recent clampdown. Another mandatory pitstop is Amsterdam’s red light district De Wallen, where you’ll learn a new meaning to the term ‘window shopping’. For those racked by guilt, look out for the “Pimp Free Zone” sticker.

Jet Airways flies to Amsterdam

For more info, visit www.holland.com

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Get unreal in Montreal

With its trendy bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, every sort of club, Montreal is not called Sin City of the North for nothing. Get party girls to go clubbing with you, visit lap dance bars, try naked sushi or get your freak on at Kamasutra Club and Club Supersexe. St Laurent is a buzzing entertainment quarter while Crescent Street has great bars like Mad Hatter and Churchill’s, which has daily happy hours.

Montreal has a certain French flair and many time their bachelor parties in time for the cold winter sports season (thus justifying the need for warmth) or events like the jazz festival. Looking for an all-expense paid pre-arranged tour? Connect with www.connectedmontreal.com

Jet Airways flies to London Heathrow from where its codeshare partner Air Canada flies to Montreal, Toronto and other destinations

For more info, visit www.canada.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared in the October 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.