Paul & Virginie

Mauritius' most popular folk tale tells the story of two lovers, Paul and Virginie, who encounter tragedy when the ship that is carrying Virginie founders on the reef. Although Paul swims out to the wreck to save her, Virginie modestly refuses to remove her clothes to swim ashore, and drowns. Paul dies of a broken heart shortly afterwards.

The story was written by Bernardin de St-Pierre in the 18th century, but it was inspired by a real-life tragedy that took place some years earlier. In 1744, the St Géran was wrecked during a storm off Île Ambre, to the southeast of Grand Gaube, with almost 200 people lost. Among them were two female passengers who refused to undress to swim ashore and were dragged down by the weight of their clothes. The true story is more a tragedy of social mores than one of romance!

The St Géran was carrying a hoard of Spanish money and machinery from France for the island's first sugar refinery. A French dive expedition explored the wreck in 1966 and many of their finds are on display in Mahébourg's National History Museum and the Blue Penny Museum in Port Louis.

You'll run into Paul and Virginie everywhere in Mauritius. The statue by Prosper d'Épinay is perhaps the most famous memorial. The original is in the Blue Penny Museum and there's a copy near the town hall in Curepipe.