Having been shunned for colder climes in recent years, the Seychelles archipelago is once again having its day in the sun
Situated mid-ocean between Africa and India is a luxurious archipelago made up of 115 islands, offering more than just tranquil turquoise waters lapping at white sands. With three main islands to choose from — namely Mahé, Praslin and La Digue — as well as a myriad smaller islands to explore, Seychelles is the epitome of an exotic escape from the humdrum of normal life. With so much ground — or rather, sea — to cover, here are the top spots to drop anchor.
Part of the Constance group of resorts, the five-star Ephelia and Lemuria are situated on Mahé and Praslin, respectively. At the Ephelia resort, which occupies 120 hectares of land between two beaches, guests can enjoy a dynamic break that includes water activities such as windsurfing, snorkelling, kayaking and diving. For a more relaxing retreat, the resort’s U Spa by Constance will not disappoint. As the largest spa in the Indian Ocean, covering approximately 5 000 square metres, there is not a space more rejuvenating than this. Over on La Digue, Lemuria’s four restaurants and five bars will not leave guests in want off this secluded paradise. Apart from its land- and water-based activities, elegant suits and gourmet cuisine and wine experiences, Lemuria also offers an 18-hole champion golf course — the only one in the Seychelles.
Just off the east coast of Mahé, Eden Island is home to the Eden Bleu Hotel, the perfect departure point for island-hopping in the Seychelles archipelago. The hotel sports 76 deluxe rooms, 12 luxury suites and one opulent presidential suite, although guests are more likely to spend their days away from their room. For the practical traveller, the hotel also neighbours Eden Plaza, the only purpose-built retail centre in the Seychelles, where guests have access to medical services, pharmacies, shops, foreign exchange and ATMs. The Plaza is also the perfect place to book and plan leisure activities such as diving, fishing or yacht cruises.
Much further afield, around a 50-minute flight from Mahé, Alphonse Atoll is home to a population of around 92 000 inhabitants.
Blessed with one of the world’s healthiest climates, incredible natural beauty and prolific marine life, this untouched eden offers families and couples a paradisal getaway.
With a mere 22 bungalows, forming the Beach Bungalow, and five Beach Suites, privacy and five-star luxury await.
Whether based on the mainland or a nearby atoll, visitors to the Seychelles will more than likely spend a great deal of time exploring all the archipelago’s hidden secrets. One not-so-secret spot, the Sir Selwyn Clarke Market, lies in the heart of Victoria — one of the smallest capital cities in the world. Built in 1840 and renovated in 1999, the market is more widely known as the Victoria Market and blends old and new Seychellois traditions. Friendly locals will share their favourite Seychellois Creole recipes while colourful stalls serve up an array of fresh produce, spices and souvenirs.
Wander further down Market Street towards the Arul Mihu Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple, named after the Hindu god of safety and prosperity. Open to the public, the temple provides a colourful contrast to the tin-roofed houses that populate the capital.
For that idyllic tropical island experience, the Sainte Anne Marine National Park encompasses six atolls off the coast of the main island. Established in 1973 to preserve the wildlife found in the Indian Ocean, there are now daily excursions in glass-bottomed boats where visitors can scuba dive and snorkel amongst the coral reefs, enjoying the sights of tropical fish, reef sharks and even bottlenose dolphins and hawksbill sea turtles.
Also part of the park, Moyenne Island boasts a rich history: Back in 1962, a Brit named Brendon Grimshaw purchased the island for a mere £8 000. His love for Moyenne led him to clear the scrub, create hiking trails, a small home and an open-air chapel. The atoll is now a long way from the uninhabitable and impenetrable island it used to be, as Brendon planted about 16 000 trees, including paw paw, mango, palms and other local plants. After his death in 2012, the Seychelles Tourism Board incorporated the Moyenne island into the national park and today, it is home to approximately 2 000 birds, more than 100 giant tortoises, two dogs and a warden.
Although sun-kissed skin, adventure and relaxation are all top of the list when visiting Seychelles, the island’s gastronomy is not to be overlooked. As a resort destination, the many five-star hotels and lodges proffer delicious global cuisine to suit any palate. However, it’s in the heart of Beau Vallon Bay, Mahé, where the Boathouse Restaurant serves up traditional Seychellois-Creole dishes. Situated smack-bang on the beach, it is best known for its dinner buffet where patrons can sip on cocktails while taking in a gorgeous sunset.
Not too far away, in St Louis, Marie Antoinette Restaurant‘s warm, relaxed atmosphere invites you to enjoy authentic food made with only the freshest local ingredients. With a history spanning more than 50 years, the restaurant is still housed in its original structure and boasts an uncomplicated menu and an extensive wine list comprised of many South African greats.
For an on-the-go meal, try Ton Pol’s Shack — where home-made fast food is the name of the game. Serving mostly burgers and sandwiches, Ton Pol’s emphasis on fresh ingredients has guaranteed their success.
Although Seychelles is not the most cost-effective of destinations for South Africans, what it offers in experiences far outweigh the price tag. For travellers that are more cash savvy, the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort & Casino provides a haven of comfort at a more affordable price. Situated on the northwest coast of the largest island and commercial hub of the archipelago, Mahé, it is the ideal base from which to venture on day trips around the Seychelles.
Live like a local
With an assortment of experiences around every corner, Seychelles is no hard sell as a tintillating holiday destination. Yet, it’s the local haunts that truly bring the culture of the Seychellois alive. At Bazar Labrin, a vibrant market held at Beau Vallon Beach every Wednesday and last Sunday of the month, locals jam to the tunes of live music from Seychellois bands as they peruse the stalls. Dig in to curry and chapatis to go or barter for fresh produce and fish, which stallholders will happily gut and even prepare.
On the smaller granatic islands of Praslin and La Digue, rent a bicycle (except for delivery vehicles, there are no cars on La Digue) and pedal to Grand Anse where picture-perfect breakers pummel the white sands. Lucky visitors have also spotted endangered bird species such as the Seychelles Paradise-Flycatcher and the rare Black Parrot. Praslin, too, is a bird-lover’s dream and is known for its tangled velvet jungle, the Unesco World Heritage-listed Vallée de Mai, one of the most beautiful stands of forest.
History buffs will be pleased to know that La Digue is also host to an old colonial cemetery and magnificent vanilla and coconut plantations. Locals flock to the island to purchase both dried vanilla and vanilla essence as well as copra, coconut oil and calou, an alcoholic drink made from the sap of coconuts.
Air Seychelles offers six direct flights from Johannesburg to Mahé, Seychelles, every week from Wednesday to Sunday. Domestic flights to Praslin and La Digue are offered at Seychelles International, as are 90-minute inter-island ferries.
A version of this article first appeared in Edition 2-2018 of Intrepid Explorer.