Lashings of crayon box covers … the Seychelles
Somewhere beneath the tranquil surface of this remote archipelago nestling in the Indian Ocean lies a fortune in gold and precious stones.
The story goes that French pirate Olivier le Vasseur buried a hoard of treasure here in the 1700s. Rather disappointingly for would-be fortune hunters though, he went to the gallows with an extraordinary show of bravado and his lips firmly sealed as to its exact whereabouts…
…but besides fearsome skull-and-crossbone pirates and bloody battles for the islands’ bountiful treasures, there is no denying the Seychelles, 115 of the oldest oceanic islands on earth, does ‘different’ rather well. For starters, think Jellyfish trees, the planet’s heaviest tortoise and the Coco-de-Mer palm which produces the largest seed in the world.
Floating in the Indian Ocean a thousand miles from anywhere, this archipelago has become one of the world’s most vibrant and sought after holiday destinations – hipper say the experts, than the Caribbean. It certainly offers the tropical romantic ideal, the stuff of which holiday dreams are made. Glamorous resorts have every amenity you can think of, while idyllic island retreats offer holidaymakers the last word in pampered seclusion.
Spookily beautiful Jurassic-Park-like Vallee de Mai is on Praslin, Seychelles second largest island. Home to the elusive black parrot and one of the islands’ two UNESCO Heritage Sites, it is whispered to be the original biblical Garden of Eden. After you’ve seen this remnant of prehistoric forest and the fantasy beaches of Grand Anse and Anse Lazio, (the latter, all bendy coconut palms and silky sand, was voted the world’s most beautiful beach), there isn’t really much else to do or see on Praslin. However, once ensconced behind the gates of the island’s elegant, all-trimmings-present five-star Constance Lemuria Resort, it’s no problem at all to stay inside your gilded cage.
What a great place to hole up in pampered seclusion!
The Resort, with its fleets of golf-buggies to drive you anywhere on the merest whim, offers a whole phalanx of activities as well as a glam spa, tennis courts and children’s centre. It has an 18-hole championship golf course too, first in the Seychelles. The whole resort centres round a spectacular triple-decker pool which gushes down through granite boulders and verdant foliage.
Mind-blowing … market – Victoria, one of the world’s smallest capital cities, a raffish place with villagey atmosphere, is on Mahe, the largest island. It has a claim to fame in the shape of the Seychelles only set of traffic lights. Soak up the atmosphere and satisfy your shopping itch by plunging into the explosion of colour that is the town’s Sir Selwyn Clarke Market. Besides a profusion of kingfish, parrotfish and barracuda, there is a mind-blowing array of local handicrafts, parasols, straw hats, pungent spices as hot as the sun, sprigs of whatnot, models of boats crafted from camphor scented wood, cohorts of delicious juicy hued fruits and herbal remedies ‘guaranteed’ to cure all ills and then some. Hints of French and British colonial days remain, reflected in buildings like the courthouse and post office. The clock tower in the town centre is a replica of ‘Little Ben’, built in 1903 as a memorial to Queen Victoria. The original stands near London’s Victoria station.
The Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort, packing a glamour punch and oozing wall-to-wall discreet service, is Mahe’s jewel-in-the-crown. For the glossier sort of visitor, this sublime hotel provides pretty much everything. Just like home really, only oh-so-much better. This was Ian Fleming’s favourite hangout and locals say that this creator of James Bond wrote some of his books here. Rooms here are enormous with wood-panelled floors, walls and ceiling and decorated with vivid local artworks.
However, every trip has a highlight and mine was Bird Island, far away from the last hints and stresses of urban life and reached by mosquito-sized plane. This coral island perched on the northern edge of the archipelago is where the floor of the Indian Ocean drops 2000 metres. The name gives a clue as to what to expect. It’s the location that attracts them. When winter rattles across the northern hemisphere, windblown vagrants and shivering rare species arrive bedraggled but jolly thankful at this first Seychelles landfall. It’s not only birds though, the island is also home to Esmeralda. At 304 kilos, this giant tortoise is the world’s heaviest and oldest, born in the late-1700s. Although given a female name, Esmeralda is actually male – and possibly somewhat confused.
Originally called Dugong Island after the now extinct sea cows which swam in the waters, Bird is a private nature reserve owned by Seychellois Nick Savy and his English wife Jo. They run the 4 star Bird Island Eco Lodge, the only accommodation on the island, built on the grounds of a former coconut plantation. Other than the guests and staff of Bird Island Lodge, there are no human inhabitants on the island.
Each room, which faces the foreverness of a sea of so many greens and blues you lose count, is exquisitely clean, though basic. Wooden louvres open to invite the tiny breeze through. There is a ceiling fan too. It helps a little when the heat gets too much to bear. This is Simplicity Central. No mobile phone signal, no air-con, no luxury toiletries, no television, no radio, no glass in the windows, no keys to your room because there are no locks on the door. It all helps to make it easy to get into Robinson Crusoe mode, so little wonder some guests stay for months on end in this peace-seekers idyll. Celebs have come here to recharge their batteries and what’s more, they don’t even have to hide behind their Gucci sunnies to do so. It’s a great place to get married too and an English couple got married while I was there.
Lashings of crayon box colours, the kind of sun-spangled welcome no place can fake, plus extra Brownie points for political stability, no perceptible racial tension, no large predators, little crime and no malaria. That’s the Seychelles. What more could you ask?
Staying there :
Hilton Northolme Hotel & Spa, Mahe offers 7 nights in the Seychelles, staying 2 nights bed & breakfast in an oceanview hillside room;
Bird Island Lodge on full board basis;
Constance Lemuria Resort, Praslin,2 nights on bed and breakfast basis in a suite, including flights with Air Seychelles from Heathrow, transfers and domestic flights in resort.
Courtesy : Sun Newspapers
By Gilly Pickup
Published: 12 December 2008