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Once in a Lifetime in the Seychelles

Nearly deserted beach at North Island

Sensual coco de mer

Colorful lobby at the Four Seasons, Mahé
by Cynthia Sewell

My husband and I just returned from a magical trip to the Seychelles. We celebrated our 25th anniversary and wanted to travel some place far and exotic; we got both in the Seychelles.

The Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 granite and coral islands which lies a few degrees south of the equator in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of east Africa and north of Madagascar. Mother nature has been generous with these islands. The beaches are exquisite ribbons of white sand lapped by turquoise water and backed by lush hills and enormous granite boulders.

There are so many islands, choosing the ones that will meet travelers’ specific criteria requires some research. My husband and I wanted to dive, laze on the postcard beautiful beaches, do some jungle hikes, and get a sense of the history of the islands. Based on these parameters we chose three: Praslin, North Island, and Mahé.

Praslin is the Seychelles’ second largest island. It is the site of the exotic Vallee de Mai, one of Seychelles’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Imagine a forest millions of years old full of all sorts of plants endemic to the Seychelles including the majestic Coco de Mer palm trees. On the tree, the coconut is a giant green orb, but inside, with the outer husk removed, it closely resembles a female human bottom. And as if the nut's rotund charms were not enough, the trees themselves are clearly male and female. While the female trees bear the nuts, the male trees grow enormous catkins, giant phallus shaped tubes studded with hundreds of delicate yellow flowers that give off a musky odor. My husband and I employed a knowledgeable guide in the Vallee de Mai. We walked about an hour with her and were free to explore on our own afterwards. While making our way along the well-tended paths that run through the valley we noticed that the palm fronds form such a thick roof that the sun cannot penetrate and when the wind blows they make a noise like sheets of metal rattling.

Praslin is also home to some of the most photographed beaches in the Seychelles, of which we saw two: Anse Georgette and Anse Lazio. Anse is French for bay, but the Seychellois use this word to mean beach. Anse Georgette is by far the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. Indescribably blue water, confectioners' sugar sand, boulders strewn here and there, and nearly deserted. No beaches are technically private in the Seychelles, but access to Georgette is by boat or through the private resort of Constance Lemuria. Anse Lazio was somewhat disappointing as the beach has a roped-off designated swimming area which gives the feel of a commercial public beach.

Our next stop was North Island. We arrived by a 15-minute helicopter ride direct from Praslin. North can also be reached by boat from Mahé. This ultra-luxe, all-inclusive Robinson Crusoe resort exceeded our expectations. North Island is unashamedly aimed at providing the very best in privacy, location, accommodation, services and facilities to the most discerning travelers. On North Island “all-inclusive” means nearly everything including scuba diving and alcohol [except premium wines and spirits]. We found plenty of wines and spirits we thoroughly enjoyed without having to look to the premium category. Really the only thing that is not included is spa treatments, but I would suggest indulging in at least one, as the setting of the spa is magical.

In 2003 Wilderness Safaris opened the 11-villa, five-star resort on the island targeting the luxury eco-tourism market, promising visitors interaction with the island’s biodiversity at the same time offering a high standard of barefoot luxury. Each villa is nearly 5,000 square feet, with a private butler and a buggy to motor around the island. While on North, we did three dives, and had the Island's charming and knowledgeable dive master, Jean Paul, all to ourselves. The sea life was plentiful with large rays, reef sharks, and several varieties of tropical fish. September is not the prime time to dive in the Seychelles, as this is the end of the windy season, which impacts visibility. We nonetheless enjoyed our dives and would recommend at least a few dives off North.

We took island hikes; its best to take a guide as the trails are not well marked and hikers can easily get lost. We enjoyed hanging out in our beautiful villa, and ended most evenings at West Beach for a sundowner with our favorite bartender.

We thoroughly enjoyed the “no menu” concept and spoke daily with the head chef for a custom-made culinary experience. The resort taps into the abundance of fresh fish and produce on and around the island for almost all of its cuisine, so every meal was deliciously fresh.

On our last morning at North, our butler woke us at 7a to watch the release of the islands’ most recent sea turtle babies. The turtles hatched in the wee hours of the morning, and we watched nature takes its course as 80 tiny turtles made their trek over the sand and into the sea.
Be assured that the staff on North Island will go to every length to pamper you, to enrich you and to rejuvenate your soul. But the essence of North Island remains one of sustainable, ecologically sensitive utilization of a precious natural treasure.

Our last stop was Mahé, the largest island and the international gateway to Seychelles. It is home to the international airport and the nation's capital, Victoria. The island is home to almost 90% of the total population and is the cultural and economic hub of the Inner Islands. There are many beautiful beaches on Mahé and it is easy to simply stay at one of the many luxury resorts and not attempt to explore any further. We had intended to make some excursions around the island, but in the end, we went to Victoria and called it quits after that. I had hoped to get a sense of the history of the Seychelles in her capital city, dubbed the smallest capital in the world, and with the exception of Kenwyn House, which is a restored colonial Creole style home which now sells upscale duty free jewelry and local art, and a stroll along the open market street, I did not particularly feel like I was in a former French and subsequently British colonial outpost. However, I was able to get a sense of its history through the Seychellois people, who are a colorful blend of different races, cultures and religions. At different times in its history, people of African, European and Asian origin have come to the Seychelles, bringing with them their distinct traditions and customs.

In the end, we enjoyed our exotic beach vacation to the Seychelles, a far-flung place where we had always dreamed of traveling. Would we travel that far again - upwards of 24 hours total travel time from San Francisco to Mahé? Probably not, but you only celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary once!

If You Go:
Praslin: Raffles Resort – a new resort that I would not particularly recommend. While it was new and the staff friendly, it had a somewhat sterile feel and I was disturbed by the fact that the developers had clear cut the land to make way for the resort instead of building around its natural beauty.
North Island: North Island Private. Very expensive, but worth every penny for a once in a lifetime splurge.
Mahé: Four Seasons Resort. Beautiful all-villa resort with private plunge pools, gorgeous beach, and refined fit and finish.
From San Francisco, we flew nonstop on Emirates Air to Dubai, connecting to Mahé.

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