The Seychelles Islands
I’d heard all sorts of things about the Seychelles islands including the tag “5 star location but 3 star hotels and service”, so I was delighted to be able to go and investigate for myself with my husband Peter earlier this year.
Due to the way the international flights combine with the inter-island transfers, many trips start or finish with a night on the main island Mahe. We started our trip with a night at Sainte Anne Resort. This new hotel, owned and run by Beachcomber, is set on a tiny island just 10 minutes by ferry from Mahe.
The 82 rooms are spread across the western and southern shores of the island and there are all the facilities you would expect from a Beachcomber hotel, from children’s club, to spa, indoor and outdoor gym, to a gorgeous infinity pool looking back towards Mahe. All in all, a very comfortable place to spend a few nights, or an ideal stop over before moving on to other islands.
Our first foray away from the capital was to Desroches, about 250km south west of Mahe. After a 30 minute flight we reached this delightful coral island. Just 5km in length and 1km wide, it houses twenty elegant bungalows that comprise Desroches Island Lodge.
It really is a wonderful place with the rooms looking out over a strip of white sand to the sea beyond. There are a couple of giant tortoise wandering about, and during the season turtles lay their eggs randomly in the sand.
Each guest is given a bicycle for their stay and the sandy paths that criss-cross the island are good for cycling. Every now and again a sign directs you off the path through the palm trees to a deserted sandy beach. There’s something quite special about cycling up to a pristine white sand beach with pale blue sea lapping the shoreline – idyllic.
Some of the best diving in the world is very close by and fishing, both from the shore and deep sea, is excellent. It’s well run, very comfortable and with great staff it’s perfect for anyone wanting a beach with a little activity too.
Back in the plane we returned to Mahe before hopping onto the 15 minute inter-island flight to Praslin. This stunning granite island must have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, from long, long stretches of white sand to little palm fringed coves dotted around the island.
We stayed here at Lemuria – the sister hotel to Le Prince Maurice in Mauritius. It’s very glamorous, with three stunning beaches, infinity pool, children’s club and all the toys you would expect from a classic modern/contemporary 5* hotel. A couple of nights here is enough to recharge anyone’s batteries.
Among the other hotels I looked at on Praslin were L’Archipel, a small and very elegantly understated French run property – not so good for families, but lovely for adults. Café des Arts on the fabulous Cote d’Or beach looked another good shout. This simple beach front property accommodates just six people and for laid-back beach front living it seemed both good value and fun.
From Praslin, La Digue is a thirty minute ferry ride, and here on the western side of the island are some of the most photographed beaches in the world. The island has a very different feel to Praslin. It seemed even quieter, perhaps because there are very few cars, the most popular mode of transport being bicycle or ox cart. The big hotel is La Digue Island Lodge, but there are lots of smaller guest houses as well. Perhaps the nicest of these is Chateau St Cloud. With eleven rooms and four suites it’s small by comparison to some of the places we saw, but it had a rustic and simple feel which together with excellent food, pretty gardens and a pool made it seem very good value.
After two nights on Praslin it was back to the domestic terminal in Mahe and the 35 minute flight to Bird Island. This, the most northerly of the Seychelles islands is tiny at just 1500m long by 650m wide. It is though spectacularly beautiful and the most natural of all the places we went to. The manager who has been on the island on and off for thirty years is passionate about the place and went to great lengths to emphasise that you could enjoy a Seychellois island without all the trappings of 5* luxury. He was so right.
Each of the twenty two cottages is simply furnished; without TV, phone, mini bar or air con (but there is an overhead fan). Outside, there’s a large shady verandah for whiling away the hours. It was incredibly relaxing. You can walk around the island in no time at all and the beaches are simply glorious – completely unspoilt. The bird life is very abundant.
The sooty tern colony on the northern tip of the island is inhabited from April to October, but there is tremendous bird activity all year round. I loved Bird Island. After all the luxury we’d been treated to on Desroches and Praslin I wondered whether it might be a bit of a let-down, but the beautiful location and easy simplicity made it somewhere I’d love to revisit.
Our final island and I have to admit the one I had been most excited about, was North Island one of the inner granite islands. We flew by helicopter (another first for me and I loved it!) from Mahe on the 15 minute flight to this new, and much hyped, island resort. It was utter hedonistic luxury from the moment we arrived until we left three glorious days later.
Each of the twelve villas (more of a house really) is set along the lovely beach front. Every one has a huge master bedroom, outside lounge area, bathroom with views to die for, fully equipped kitchen (fresh ice cream in the freezer, fresh fruit juice in the fridge etc.), plunge pool, four showers (we never worked out why so many) and the list goes on. The décor could have been incredibly flash but instead it was finished and equipped in a most understated way that felt welcoming as well as extremely comfortable.
The luxury on North Island is only one side of the story. This private island sanctuary is somewhat of a modern Noah’s Ark and a genuine authentic eco-tourism project. Uninhabited for over thirty years until recently, the original Seychellois fauna and flora species had been lost due to loss of habitat and alien species. Turning the clock back by two hundred years is the aim, and to give visitors the chance to view some of the world’s most critically endangered species which are being re-introduced. These include tortoises, several species of bird and the legendary coco-de-mer palm. Each villa has its own golf buggy which you use to explore the island. A single track takes you to the opposite side of this island paradise where there are two beaches and a sunset bar. One of these beaches has to be just the most perfect tropical island beach, if you think ‘Bounty Bar ad’ you’ll get the general idea. For those who want a little more than merely relaxing, there are dive and deep sea fishing boats. We don’t dive, but thoroughly enjoyed taking out a boat and doing some fishing one afternoon and caught tuna and several bonito. The chef used our catch to produce some delicious sashimi for supper.
If you can tear yourself away from the privacy of your villa, the main areas are also pretty spectacular. The swimming pool has somehow been built into a cliff-side and has amazing views over the beach and to the far end of the island. The main dining and bar area is set back from the beach, has been decorated in the same understated style as the villas and provides the perfect environment in which to enjoy the chef’s daily delights and to work your way through the extensive wine cellar.
North Island is definitely worth its hype. It is the most extraordinary experience and I can’t really find the appropriate words to explain quite how elegant, luxurious and ‘wow’ the experience is!
And finally to say that perhaps Seychelles once deserved its less than complimentary 5*/3* tag, but that is definitely a thing of the past. From the big international hotels to the little family run places, everyone is aware of the need to provide excellent service and that they certainly did. There are places to suit most people’s tastes and budgets, including couples, honeymooners and families. It’s beautiful, it’s friendly, the weather’s lovely and I can’t wait to go back. If you would like to find out about the perfect Seychelles beach holiday please contact us.