SUN & SAND SEYCHELLES
Sun & Sand Seychelles - Luxury Travel Magazine
Sun & Sand Seychelles
|By: Jenny Koh, Issue 47 – Winter 11|
|(Seychelles, Mahe Island)|
|THE SEYCHELLES HAS ALL THE INGREDIENTS OF AN ISLAND PARADISE – WHITE SAND BEACHES, WARM TURQUOISE WATER AND LUSH TROPICAL RAINFOREST. JENNY KOH FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE ROYAL COUPLE TO CONFIRM THAT IT IS INDEED A HOTSPOT FOR THOSE IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.|
If my toes could talk, this is what they’d be saying: I’m in heaven. I’m on a glorious stretch of white sand in the Beau Vallon Bay, with the turquoise hues of the Indian Ocean beckoning me to come closer. From the shore I can already see right through to the bottom, and I know that I’d have plenty of company when I get in the water.
So in I fall into the embrace of the Seychelles, with nothing more than a snorkel, a purple bikini and a generous dose of sunscreen. I’m quickly greeted on all sides by a curious school of scissortail sergeants and other finned residents. What a great cure for jet lag after a nine-hour flight from Singapore! The 115 islands of the Seychelles are scattered across one million square kilometres of the Indian Ocean, lying a long way (1,600 kilometres) off the African coast. Each of the islands is tiny, with a total landmass of only around 450 square kilometres. The largest island, Mahe, measures 27 kilometres long by eight kilometres wide, while the smallest islands are little more than rocky or coralline outcrops. Seychellois culture is a mix of African, Asian and European cultures with strong links to the French who colonised the uninhabited islands.
Only 13 of what are known as the inner islands, and two of the outer islands, have traveller accommodation. The luxury options fall roughly into three categories: resorts, villas and private islands. Many of the big name chains operate a resort in the region, mostly on the main island of Mahe, each on their own secluded beach. Expect lush jungle, powder white sand, warm turquoise water and ultra-luxe accommodation. There are private villas that can be rented on Mahe and other islands and these generally come with a full staff. Some islands are privately owned with only a few luxury villas and can be booked out in their entirety by one party.
Konman sava? says the bartender at his counter as I check out the drinks menu after my morning dip. I’m quickly reminded that I’m in a melting pot of cultures. The locals speak both Creole (which is remarkably similar to French) and English, and although many places retain French names, most signs are in English.
I’m also melting under the 30-degree heat, and so my mixologist recommends me one for the ladies – a delightful concoction of passionfruit, pineapple and other fruit called Cinderella. This I gratefully sip as I nibble on the famous Seychellois red snapper. There are many ways to cook this local delicacy, but the version grilled in butter with a dash of lemongrass is to die for. With my power level back into the green, I set off to experience more of the sand and sea that the archipelago is known for. A half-hour boat ride later, I am swimming with seven-metre-wide mantas in a dive site called Shark Bank. I spend the next couple of days diving just a few of the countless sites in Seychelles – L’ilot Island, Brissare Rocks, Dragon’s Teeth – and every dive delivers with amazing visibility and a smorgasbord of corals and exotic marine life that range from turtles to mackerel and whale sharks!
What my dive buddies tell me is true indeed: the Seychelles can be considered one massive dive site. When it’s time to take a break from breathing from a tank, there are other wet pursuits available. Zoom around on a jetski, get high on a parasail or go island-hopping on a yacht. Or just relax on the powdery sand and chill with a glass of SeyBrew, a local beer. These fabled islands are a lot more than first-class sun, sand and sea, of course. Just ask William and Kate. The royal newlyweds famously chose to spend some time on Descroches Island and North Island, where they could enjoy a piece of paradise all to themselves. And the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are not the first celebrities to receive the royal treatment. The Seychelles has also played host to Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, David Beckham and all the who’s who in entertainment, sports and politics.
It’s not hard to see why the Seychelles is the quintessential romantic getaway. Picture this: wake up to the sight of clear turquoise waters that reach to the horizon. Enjoy a fine bubbly in your private infinity pool with the love of your life. Or order a bed and breakfast if you’d like more time snuggling in bed and whispering sweet nothings to each other. Check out the local produce such as cinnamon and breadfruit in the market in Victoria, the world’s smallest capital city, and buy a distinctively local hat made by hand from coconut fibre.
Time for lunch. For authentic Creole fare, check out the classy Marie Antoinette Restaurant on the outskirts of Victoria in a colonial house. Try the distinctive Creole curries, which are big on spices such as cumin and coriander, and yet not fiery hot. The house specials include fish stew, battered eggplant, chicken curry and bat curry (yes, the fruit-eating flying fox is a local delicacy, and it tastes somewhat like a cross between chicken and beef). After more shopping for the folks back home, it’s time to head back to the resort. Take a slow stroll along the beach and feel the sand slipping between your toes as the sun goes down. Then finish your day with a candlelit seafood dinner under a shimmering blanket of stars, as you gaze into each other’s eyes and promise to remember this moment forever. Intimate, relaxed and pampered – the way a perfect honeymoon should be.
It’s not just lovers who’d feel snug and protected in the Seychelles. The island republic has done an enviable job in protecting its wildlife and marine environment. All its beaches are kept in pristine condition, with crystal-clear waters and sands free of litter, and there is a clear sense of local pride in having the best beaches in the world. It’s worth noting that there’s no such thing as a private beach in the Seychelles. No resort is allowed to own its own stretch of white sand, which means all visitors and locals alike can enjoy that piece of paradise for free.
From Mahe Island I take a 20-minute helicopter ride to the second-largest island of Praslin, where I venture into the giant palm forest of the Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this reserve is home to many rare species found only in Seychelles, one of which is the coco de mer – the world’s heaviest nut, which takes the perfect form of a female pelvis. Also affectionately called the “love nut”, the coco de mer is a national treasure and an embodiment of the otherworldly charm of this island paradise. And a hollowed-out specimen of the coco de mer is yours for just US$200 apiece. Just be sure to buy only those with a special tag and permit that indicates it was harvested legally.
The Seychelles is also home to the Aldabra giant tortoise and some of the largest seabird colonies in the world. Formed 150 million years ago when the supercontinent Gondwanaland broke up, the Seychelles were isolated between India and Africa, leaving the islands as the splendid wildlife sanctuary that they are today. Of course, the wildlife has remained intact because human settlers only made it here as late as 1770. Another World Heritage Site to visit is Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll. Here you’ll find hundreds of giant tortoises, seabirds, mantas and hammerhead sharks (and spot a dugong or two if you’re really lucky).
I head back to my resort for the last time after my whirlwind tour of the Seychelles. But before I pack my bags for the dreaded flight home, I order another Cinderella from the bartender.
I tell myself someday I’ll be back – this time with my very own prince.
|MAHE ISLAND RESORTS |
Compiled by Lucy Jones
FOUR SEASONS RESORT SEYCHELLES
|The 67 villas and suites of the Four Seasons spill down the hillside towards Petit Anse beach on the southwestern side of Mahe. The villas range from tree houses perched on stilts high above the bay to ocean and garden view bungalows set beside the path leading to the private beach. The five suites are set throughout the resort with the two-bedroom, 860 square metre Presidential Suite just metres from the shoreline. All are over 180 square metres and have more outdoor space than indoor. A spa and a yoga pavilion are located on the hilltop and guests can dine at one of two restaurants, or privately in their villa. |
RATES: from c700 (about A$957) per night for a Garden View Villa to c3,700 (about A$5,059) per night for a two-bedroom Ocean View Hilltop Suite including breakfast.
|HILTON SEYCHELLES NORTHOLME |
|The Hilton resort is only a 25-minute drive from the international airport in Victoria, set along the secluded Beau Vallon Bay. Guests can choose between the 90 square metre oceanfront or hillside villas or the James Bond-inspired suites. The 40 villas are built on stilts and are all sea facing, with whirlpool baths and private balconies. Guests can snorkel directly in front of the resort, dine in one of three restaurants and relax at the Duniye Spa. |
RATES: from c354 (about A$484) per night for a King Hillside Villa to c441 (about A$603) per night for a King Oceanfront Villa.
|LE MERIDIEN FISHERMAN’S COVE |
|Also located on Beau Vallon Bay, the Le Meridien was one of the first hotels to open in the Seychelles in 1943. It underwent a major refurbishment and reopened as a five-star resort in 2004. The 68 rooms and suites are spread across the beach or along the hillside and constructed from natural granite with traditional thatched roofs. |
RATES: from c278 (about A$380) per night for an Ocean View Room to c650 (about A$888) per night for an Executive Ocean View Suite.
|BANYAN TREE SEYCHELLES |
|Set around Intendance Bay in the south of Mahe Island, all 60 villas in the Banyan Tree resort feature private pools and sea views. The Presidential Villa occupies its own private cove and features an infinity pool carved from granite boulders, a large sundeck and separate living and dining pavilions. Banyan Tree properties are renowned for their spas, and at this resort eight spa pavilions are set in amongst vegetation on the hillside. |
RATES: from c1,293 (about A$1,767) per night for a Hillside Pool Villa to c4,221 (about A$5,769) per night for a two-bedroom Double Pool Villa.
|MAIA LUXURY RESORT & SPA |
|Maia’s 30 villas are set over 30 acres of tropical gardens on a private peninsula in the south west of Mahe island. Ocean Panoramic villas sit at the top of the hill with Ocean View Villas set along the slope and the Ocean Front Villas at the waters edge. For complete privacy the Maia Signature Villas are secluded and some offer direct secret access to the beach. The open-air spa pavilions are separated by natural rock formations and guests can choose from a range of flexible dining options in the restaurants, in their villas or on a private beach. RATES: from c1,670 (about A$2,283) per night for an Ocean View Villa to c2,390 (about A$3,267) per night for a Maia Signature Villa. |
|OTHER ISLAND RESORTS |
RAFFLES PRASLIN SEYCHELLES
|Brought to you by the folks from the legendary Raffles Hotel in Singapore, this resort is set amidst the lush greenery, turquoise waters and pristine white sands on the northeastern tip of Seychelles’ second-largest island. Here you’re not a guest, as the staff are quick to point out, but a resident. A resident who gets a 24-hour butler service while staying in one of 86 exclusive villas, each of which comes with its own infinity plunge pool, an expansive pavilion and an outdoor rain shower. The resort, which opened only in February this year, is a 30-minute drive from the Praslin Island Airport. The island itself is a 15-minute flight or a 45-minute ferry ride from the island of Mahé. |
Lining the seaward side of the resort is Anse Takamaka, a 500-metre stretch of white sand that faces the Indian Ocean. And just minutes away is Anse Lazio, which is said to be one of the five most beautiful beaches in the world. Both offer opportunities for exploring the rich marine life that Seychelles is known for.
RATES: from c680 (about A$914) per night for a Hillside Pool Villa to c2,980 (about A$4,007) for a two-bedroom Raffles Beachfront Villa.
|CONSTANCE LEMURIA |
|Set on the white sand beach of Anse Kerlan on Praslin Island, this resort has 105 suites and villas all facing the ocean and surrounded by tropical jungle. The two-bedroom Luxurious Villas open directly onto the beach and feature a private swimming pool, outdoor bathtub and a Villa Master to attend to guests’ needs. Resort features include an 18-hole golf course and Shiseido spa. |
RATES: from c812 (about A$1,110) per night for a Junior Suite to c3,002 (about A$4,103) per night for a Pool Villa including breakfast and dinner.
|SAINTE ANNE RESORT & SPA |
|This resort on the private island of St Anne has 87 villas, 29 of them with private pools. Garden or ocean facing villas sleep two while the Presidential Pool Villas sleep four with living areas that all open directly onto a large terrace. The Royal Villa is the finest accommodation on the island and is designed as a private residence to sleep six. The island is a favourite nesting ground for sea turtles and hatchlings can be seen on the secluded Anse Manon beach between December and March. |
RATES: from c468 (about A$640) per person per night for a Garden Villa to c4,760 (about A$6,505) per night for the whole Royal Villa including breakfast and dinner.
|DESROCHES ISLAND RESORT |
|Located 230 kilometres south west of Mahe, Desroches is one of only two outer islands with accommodation. The 48 villas are spread around the island’s coast and range from one-bedroom Beach Suites to four-bedroom Luxury Beach Villas and the palatial 750 square metre Presidential Villa. The island has a private airstrip and is reached by charter flight from Mahe. |
RATES: from c550 (about A$752) per person per night for a Beach Suite to c900 (about A$1,230) per person per night for two people sharing a Luxury Beach Villa including all meals and drinks.
|There are a number of private villas available for rent on Mahe. Villa Getaways manages Villa 108, a four-bedroom luxury villa with direct views on Takamaka Beach on the south west coast. The villa is serviced by a chef, maids and villa manager. Villa Getaways also manages Residence on the Rocks, a private villa within the grounds of the Banyan Tree resort on Intendance Bay. This villa is fully staffed and offers the privacy of your own property with all the facilities of a resort.|
RATES: Villa 108 from c7,900 (about A$10,797) to c12,250 (about A$16,742) per week. Residence on the Rocks from c14,000 (about A$19,134) per week for one couple with exclusive use of the villa to c26,600 (about A$36,355) per week for use of all three bedrooms.
|Will and Kate booked out this entire exclusive island for their honeymoon and it is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country. The five secluded beaches offer complete privacy and there’s an abundance of marine life. The all-inclusive resort has only 11 villas and there are 130 staff on hand to serve a maximum of 18 guests at a time. All villas have private swimming pools and sun decks, butler service and beach buggy to get around the island. The best villa is the 450 square metre Villa North Island, tucked away from the rest in the Takamaka Forest on the northern end of Anse d’Este beach.|
RATES: from c2,115 (about A$2,890) per person per night for standard villas to c3,340 (about A$4,565) per person per night for Villa North Island inclusive of all meals, drinks, scuba diving and activities.
|FRÉGATE ISLAND PRIVATE|
|Frégate Island’s 16 tropical villas are positioned to maximise ocean views and ensure absolute privacy. Each features a private infinity pool, large terrace, Jacuzzi and indoor/outdoor living areas. The three-bedroom Presidential Villa sits on a plateau high above the eastern shore of the island and can be reached only by a private path. A private butler is assigned to each villa for individualised service.|
RATES: from c2,700 (about A$3,690) per night for a one-bedroom villa to c10,000 (about A$13,675) per night for up to six adults and three children in the Presidential Villa including all meals and non-alcoholic drinks.
|Cousine has only four luxury villas and guests are encouraged to rent out the entire island for their own private use. Each villa features a king bed, indoor and outdoor showers, double verandahs and private Jacuzzi. The main pavilion houses the dining area, gym, library and spa. There is a strong focus on eco-tourism and all profits from tourists are put back into conservation on the island.|
RATES: from c1,200 (about A$1,641) per night to c6,500 (about A$8,889) per night to rent the entire island including all meals.
|WHEN TO GO|
|The Seychelles sits between four and 10 degrees below the equator so the weather is always warm there with average temperatures between 24 and 32 degrees year round, and all but the southernmost islands are out of the cyclone belt unlike neighbouring Mauritius. The weather is generally dictated by the trade winds – the northwest trade winds bring warmer, wetter weather from October to April while the southwest winds bring cooler, drier weather from May to September. The southwest winds can make the sea rough and choppy, so you’ll need to find protected beaches for the best swimming or diving. December to March are the wettest months of the year, though the islands still receive around six hours of sunlight a day. The weather can be unpredictable at any time of year, though bad weather and heavy rain is unlikely to last long. |
The best time to visit the Seychelles can depend on how you plan to spend your trip. Keen sailors, surfers and windsurfers are advised to visit between May and September when the trade winds are stronger. Divers and snorkellers should visit in April or October when the winds are in turnaround. The seas are calm with temperatures around 29 degrees and visibility can be up to 30 metres. The Seychelles fly-fishing season runs from October to May and is best in the outer islands like Alphonse or Desroches.
|Emirates flies direct to Dubai from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane daily. From Dubai there are daily direct flights to the Seychelles, though the flights on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday allow the best connections from Australia as they leave later in the morning and don’t require an overnight stay. Total travel time including the stopover is around 21 hours. Return economy fares start from A$2,786 and business class from A$9,286. |
|Air Seychelles operates direct flights from Singapore once a week departing on Friday and returning on Wednesday. Return economy fares start from US$673 (about A$633) and business fares from US$1,652 (about A$1,554). Singapore Airlines offers daily direct flights to Singapore from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Return economy fares start at A$1,118 and business fares at A$4,228. The total flight cost is around A$1,751 for economy and around A$5,880 for business. With stopovers the total travelling time from Australia is around 20 hours. |
|Qatar Airways and Air Austral also operate flights from Australia to the Seychelles via Doha and Reunion Island respectively. However flight timing requires passengers to spend at least one night in the stopover city before they can continue on. These airlines may be a good option if you are continuing your journey from elsewhere in the Middle East or Indian Ocean. Etihad Airways will commence flying to the Seychelles from their base in Abu Dhabi on 1 November this year, pending government approval. Etihad offers a number of direct fights from Sydney and Melbourne to Abu Dhabi daily. |
|qatarairways.com; airaustral.com.au; etihadairways.com|
|Air Seychelles operates interisland flights between Mahe and Praslin. The flight takes only 15 minutes and return airfares are around US$200 (about A$188). L’Air Dezil operates interisland helicopter flights between all the major islands as well as resort transfers on Mahe itself. Resort transfers on Mahe cost between c360 and c400 (about A$492 to about A$547) per helicopter with up to four passengers each way. Transfers to Praslin, North Island, Fregate Island, Cousine Island and La Digue Island cost between c700 and c900 (about A$957 to about A$1,230) per helicopter each way and transfers to Bird and Denis Islands, 90 kilometres to the north, are about c1,800 to c2,000 (about A$2,461 to A$2,735) per helicopter each way. |
|A number of ferries and charter boats also operate between the islands and can be arranged through resorts at the time of booking.|