Stuart Pritchard turns his eye to the Indian Ocean and finds himself seduced by the unequalled allure of the Seychelles…
I’ve spent a large part of – what I laughingly refer to as – my professional life telling people where to go. Not in a sweary drunk in the park kind of way, you understand, but rather, after spending much of the last 15 years as a travel writer, cruising the world at 33,000 feet, selfless staying in five star hotels and gorging myself on the finest cuisine available to man, woman or man-woman, before coming back to reality to scribble it all down, I’ve seen an awful lot of places and used an equal awful lot of superlatives to encourage other people to see them.
One such superlative often overused by travel writers is ‘paradise’. A word wheeled out by the very laziest of travel writers to serve as a kind of sum-up catch-all, saving them from having to dig deep into their dictionary to produce some proper prose. In fact, so many places have now been described as being ‘paradise’ that you’d wonder how Milton could ever have lost it. Which is where my problem began – setting sight on the Seychelles for the first time and watching the striking turquoise ocean lapping gently against the fine white sands of the shore whilst a rich canopy of green swayed gently in the breeze behind it, only one word came to mind: ‘paradise’.
But first the facts: an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, just far east enough to avoid all the troubles of Africa, the Seychelles is made up of some 115 islands and is home to some of the most striking scenery outside of movie special effects, which is why the islands have long been the destination of choice of both celebrities and honeymooners alike, seeking out somewhere that still manages to achieve that rare balance of unspoilt beauty and luxury.
Home to an extensive array of sea life, such as turtles, manta rays, hammerheads, whale sharks and fancy looking fish aplenty, this is a diver’s dreamland. And even on land the wildlife is richly diverse with ample airborne examples to keep twitchers twitching and, probably the Seychelles’ most famous residents, some tortoises that you’d really struggle to fit in a shoebox over winter.
Praslin Island & Indian Ocean Lodge
Whilst the beautiful and best still flock to the Seychelles in their chauffeur-driven droves, the most surprising thing about the islands is that it’s far more affordable than you might imagine to rub shoulders with the stars.
Take this little place for example. Nestled on Praslin Island, a short hop from the airport, sits Indian Ocean Lodge, a tranquil haven away from the hustle and bustle of the world. Petite, perfectly designed in the traditional Creole style, impeccably serviced and reasonably priced, the hotel is perfectly positioned on Grande Anse Beach and stands as a slice of luxurious living between the backdrop of Praslin’s lush interior and the beautiful blue of the Indian Ocean. If there’s anywhere more tranquil, it’s difficult to imagine.
A cradle of comfort from the moment you step inside, the soft pastels of the decor enhances the feeling of relaxation, whilst the rooms – only 32 in total – offer utter opulence and, importantly, air conditioning!
Also on offer is some of the finest and freshest seafood you’ll ever experience courtesy of the hotel’s Blue Marlin Bar & Restaurant, alongside a wide selection of other mouth-watering meals for those not so fond of fish.
Given everything Indian Ocean Lodge provides, frankly, it would be tempting to never leave the hotel grounds – and I’m certain that some guests don’t – but when on Praslin, it would be a waste not to venture out and discover the treasures this island holds.
A free shuttle ride provided by the hotel takes you on a tour past island life as the locals go about their business, before bringing you to the lively beach of Anse Volbert. Or for the more curious, the Lodge gladly assists with car rental arrangements so that you can hit the quaint little roads of Praslin, meandering along the hills and exploring all the island has to offer; although make sure that meander takes you to Anse Lazio, one of the most pristine beaches you may ever come across and recently rated as the 6th best beach in world by Tripadvisor reviewers.
Nature enthusiasts should head over to the Vallee De Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A mere five minute drive from the Indian Ocean Lodge, here you’ll find yourself in the shadow of Praslin’s mountainside, surrounded by towering perennial plants which bear the astonishing Coco-de-Mer seeds, the largest seeds of the plant kingdom. Praslin Island and the neighbouring Curieuse Island are the only two places left where you’ll find this remarkable nugget of nature; and if your eyes are keen enough, you may even spot the endemic, but rare, Black Parrots of Praslin as they feed off the flowers of this amazing plant.
Should you wish to venture further afield, the staff of Indian Ocean Lodge will be happy to assist with island-hopping arrangements, leaving you free to explore the nearby islands, with their lush greenery, turquoise waters overflowing with an abundance of marine life, as well as their cultural heritage and history.
Silhouette Island & Hilton Seychelles Labriz
After experiencing Indian Ocean Lodge and the island of Praslin, it would be difficult to believe anyone who told you that there are islands of equal beauty and hotels that can serve up such levels of laid back luxury. Indeed, leaving the lodge could well be one of the hardest things you ever have todo; which is why it helps to have a Hilton to hit…
I speak of the Hilton Seychelles Labriz, another exceptional option for any stay in the Seychelles. Situated on Silhouette Island, approached from a distance the island is a striking sight, with a tropical forest and an imposing mountain reaching into the clouds. Set along a 2.5km stretch of powder-soft beach, Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa brings together all the essential elements of pristine beaches, modern and spacious villas, a first-class spa and fine dining, with exciting activities also on offer, such as trekking through one of the largest National Parks in Seychelles or exploring the surrounding National Marine Park.
A 20 minute helicopter transfer from Seychelles International Airport (because, if you can, you should always arrive on a tropical island via helicopter), Mahé and a 45-minute boat trip via Bel Ombre Jetty, Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa offers guests five spacious, contemporary, private and peaceful villa categories, each infused with tropical chic style, the jewel in the crown being thePresidential Villa, offering panoramic views of the spectacular mountains or the pristine beach. Deluxe Hillside Pool Villas and Deluxe Beachfront Pool Villas each feature a private pool set in a secluded garden and a large circular bath tub, making them perfect for those on a romantic getaway. The elegant Beach Villas, meanwhile, meander discreetly along the seafront, emerging from the vegetation, mere steps from the beach, while, last but not least, the Garden Villas are set within the verdant natural surroundings of the island, offering a truly back-to-nature experience with the added extra of all the amenities expected from a luxury resort.
Whilst peace and privacy are guaranteed at your villa, heading down to the heart of the resort, you’ll find an excellent selection of bars and restaurants, including the Italian Portobello Restaurant, a gastronomic experience with an expansive wine cellar serving some of the most exclusive wines from all over the world, while the beachside Sakura serves Sushi and East Asian cuisine with a modern edge, Cafe Dauban dishes up a delicious variety of international and local delicacies, and Pizzeria presents freshly prepared authentic pizzas and Italian bites.
Of course, Italian and Eastern cuisine is always welcome, but central to the Labriz experience is the Grann Kaz Plantation House. Renovated to its former glory, here guests can enjoy the unique grandeur of a Seychellois plantation house and more traditional fayre, with the ground floor of this magnificent building being home to the resort’s traditional Creole restaurant, served up on the terrace and in the gardens.
Spa and Away
Designed to bring the elements of nature closer to guests and to offer an organic, raw and natural ambience with a treatment menu to match, the Silhouette Spa at Labriz is one of the most strikingly beautiful in the world. Boasting spacious indoor and outdoor couples’ therapy suites with unrivalled views of the jungle-clad slopes of Mount Dauban and the Indian Ocean, the comprehensive Spa Menu ranges from instruction in the ancient art of Yoga to the pacifying effects conveyed by the secrets of Balinese therapies, to Seychelles island spa rituals that leave you feeling cleansed and revitalised.
Those seeking action should head on over to the Eco Centre, the launching point for all on-island and sea pursuits, helping guests get the chance to discover both the marine world of the Seychelles via the only five star National Geographic PADI diving center in the Seychelles region, as well as Silhouette Island through hiking and exploratory journeys of the island’s natural biodiversity.
Featuring first-class design, a breath-taking natural setting, heritage, and the very best of amenities, if anything can help you get over the shock of leaving the Indian Ocean Lodge, it’s the high-end hotel hedonism of the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa!
Mahé Island & The Carana Hilltop Villa
Problem now is: what on earth can help you get over the agony of having to check out of the Hilton?
Well the only way is literally up when it comes to The Carana Hilltop Villa. In an ideal location which exudes peace and island-style tranquillity, and nicely nestled between the verdant mountainsides of north east Mahé Island and the sapphire waters of the ocean, the villa’s unique ambiance within the oasis of its walled private grounds, private swimming pool, garden of tropical flowers and fruit trees make it an ideal location for complete relaxation.
Promising “a true Seychelles experience at your own pace in an authentic Creole establishment” this private and peaceful haven in the hills offers the perfect base from which to explore the island, from its bays and lagoons to its colourful culture and cuisine. A variety of accommodation is available from as little as €90 euros a night for a single room with bed and breakfast, or the whole Villa can also be booked to cater for a large family or group. All comes fully air conditioned and excellently appointed, with those on the ground floor offering instant access to the pool.
Just a five minute walk from the Villa is Carana Beach – the epitome of unspoilt – where you can relax, snorkel or head out to open water for a spot of sport fishing, whilst beauty therapists and in-room masseuses can be called in to work out any memories of ‘tension’ that remain.
As with the Indian Ocean Lodge and the Hilton, cuisine at The Carana is seafood led, with prawns, octopus and fish curry, lobster and crabs all being a speciality. However, despite the seafood being so succulent that it’s almost impossible to resist, the Villa also caters for all comers, offering excellent Asian and European options too.
Peace and quiet is guaranteed at The Carana Hilltop and, plan your days properly and you might just end up feeling that you’re on your own private island. However, as wonderfully remote as that sounds, it is possible in the Seychelles to be even more secluded…
Bird Island & Bird Island Lodge
A 20 minute drive from The Carana Hilltop and a 30 minute flight in a light aircraft brings you to Bird Island, five kilometres of the finest white sand beaches, landing here you find yourself at one of the world’s top eco-holiday destinations and, as the name suggests, a hugely successful wildlife reserve – something you might want to Tweet about or post a picture of on Facebook… yeah, good luck getting a signal. Indeed, you’ll also find no phones at all on Bird Island, or TVs, just nature at its most beautiful.
Bird Island Lodge is an excellent way to ease yourself back into the working world. Comfortable, certainly, ‘luxury’ is not the byword here; more ‘simplicity’. With 24 chalets available, Bird Island’s only hotel offers a king sized bed, large shower room, separate toilet, a spacious veranda and an overhead fan to keep your cool. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a cocktail however, and food at the Lodge is fresh, organic and served buffet style.
Go kayaking with the pod of dolphins that call the waters of Bird Island their home, snorkel with giant manta rays, go whale watching (October to November), go game fishing for marlin, sailfish and tuna and bring it home for dinner, fly fish from the beach, tick off 24 species of Seychelles birds, or just sit and soak it all in.
Say ‘Yes’ to the Seychelles Obviously, not everyone will have the holiday time or the holiday money available to flit between all four of the exceptional accommodation options we’ve looked at here, but if this has given you a taste to find your own piece of, yes, paradise, then you’ll find it waiting for you in the Seychelles.And whether you chose Praslin, Silhoutte, Mahé or Bird to base your adventures from, you’ll be eternally grateful to yourself that you did.