Does the idea of a private villa on a bluff overlooking a dozen shades of blue ocean sound good right now? Throw in beautiful surroundings, its own pool, a deluxe spa, exquisite culinary experiences—maybe even a helicopter transfer to arrive in style on Fregate Island—and you have the apotheosis of indulgent escapes where the only snow is served in a cone.
The islands of Seychelles, home to one of the most ethnically blended cultures in the world, will impress even the most jaded traveler with its pristine beaches, verdant mountains and granite boulder formations. The country’s tourism infrastructure is attuned to the needs of those accustomed to the very best in their vacations, offering outstanding accommodations, fine dining and exceptional experiences. Seychelles has been a favorite destination for Europeans since the opening of the country’s sole international airport in 1972 ( just in time to coincide with the advent of the Jet Age), but nowadays when William and Kate are not on their honeymoon, Seychelles is rarely in the news; the 87,000 people here like it that way.
BLUE-EYED AFRICANS AND CHINESE REDHEADS
Though Seychelles is often classified as an African country, the truth is that these islands in the Indian Ocean have passed from obscurity to prominence via discovery, colonization, revolution and tourism. Having African, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Malagasy and European influences in the gene pool and often in the same family, it is normal to see faces considered exotic most everywhere else. Naturally enough, because of this racism is almost nonexistent. How could it possibly exist in a place where brothers and sisters often look completely different?
As tends to happen when people from different places come together, society in Seychelles is open minded and progressive, especially with regard to the arts. A burgeoning arts scene, showcased in such venues as the Creole Institute and Kenwyn House, is seeing a growth in painting, photography and sculpture to complement the wall murals that brighten the streets of Victoria. Rightfully so, the Seychellois are fiercely proud of their unusual history and make great efforts to see that it is preserved and passed on to the next generation.
A mixture of cultures generally makes for an interesting spice rack in the kitchen, too. In this regard, Seychelles pleases the palate with a wide variety of traditional ingredients and cooking methods from Africa and Asia influencing conventional European dishes to create Seychelles Creole cuisine, which also uses edible pods of the locally grown V. planifolia orchid (vanilla) in many of its dishes. Seychelles has some of the best vanilla in the world and it is used to flavor the many coconut and seafood dishes that form the basis of the islands’ cuisine.
ISLANDS OF LUXURY
Almost all visitors to Seychelles come to enjoy the gorgeous beaches, splendid scenery and alluring resorts that cater to every need. Foremost among them is Fregate Island. Only 14 villas are found on Fregate, serviced by a staff that maximizes guest privacy and minimizes thoughts of the world beyond the flour-fine sand that encloses this extraordinary island. Fregate is the realization of the ultimate vacation fantasy where perfection is the rule. During a recent visit for example, a guest touring the island’s farm commented on the lovely fragrance of a ylang-ylang tree. Overhearing the remark, the chef captured that aroma in a surprise sorbet served the following evening.
Guests enjoyed the sorbet in Fregate’s restaurant, but it could just as easily have been served on the beach, atop the mountain or in a tree house 50 feet above the ground—all locations available for meals. Not surprisingly, complete buyouts of the island are popular for families wanting to celebrate special occasions or simply relax in total seclusion. And these different venues allow them to mix things up when it’s time to eat.
Home to one of the most famous beaches in the world and one of the country’s best resorts, the island of Praslin attracts its share of high-end travelers looking for idyllic pleasure on their vacations. They find it at Anse Lazio, a beach at the northernmost tip of the island where coast and water meet in peaceful harmony and sublime color; it is the combination of calm blue sea, soft white sand and splendid unspoiled scenery that places Anse Lazio on the must-see list for the world’s beach aficionados.
Nearby on Anse Takamaka (anse means beach) Raffles Praslin’s superb accommodations in stylish villas offer beautiful views of the water and sky as well as the best view of Curieuse Island just across the strait. Like the original Raffles in Singapore, the group’s Praslin property excels in providing personal service, fine dining and entertaining experiences for its guests. Among the latter are private visits to the Vallée de Mai and private excursions to Curieuse for exploration of this uninhabited island complete with picnic lunch on a deserted beach.
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
In order to reach Fregate and Praslin, visitors must first pass through Mahe, the main island and home to the capital of Seychelles, Victoria. Mahe is itself a very attractive island of tall peaks at its center and smooth sand along its perimeter, making for picturesque topography. Victoria is the smallest national capital in the world, with a mere 25,000 inhabitants. Although it’s attractive any time of the year, the town is at its most charming during cultural events such as the annual Festival Kreol taking place the last week of October or the Carnaval International de Victoria held in April.
Mahe’s most beautiful beaches are found on the island’s southwest coast. Kempinski Seychelles Resort, located between an imposing granite monolith and the waters of Baie Lazare, offers comfortable rooms and suites on extensive grounds. As in other Kempinski properties around the world, the level of attention and service is matched by superior culinary offerings, here found in the casual Café Lazare and more formal Indochine restaurants.
While the granite boulders of Mahe are impressive, it is the island of La Digue where the most famous granite-backed beaches are situated. Anse Source d’Argent is the postcard view of the island and of all Seychelles. The tiny island with a tiny population is only a short ferry ride from Praslin, or a bit further from Mahe, part of what makes it a popular daytrip for guests at resorts on these two islands. Those seeking even further removal from their daily realities can take shelter at Le Domaine de l’Orangeraie for overnight accommodations or just a tasty lunch in the hotel’s open-air waterfront pavilion.
OPEN TO ALL
US citizens require no visa to visit Seychelles. In fact no one does, making for an urbane mix of international visitors as cosmopolitan as the Seychellois themselves. True to its roots, Seychelles welcomes the whole world with equal hospitality.
Party Time! Seychelles festivals are as much for the locals as international visitors.
April: Carnaval International de Victoria
Seychelles’ biggest international event, Carnaval sees the main streets of Victoria taken over by dancers, floats and marching bands. The parade of nations marks the culmination of weeklong festivities that include exhibits and informative presentations.
October: Seychelles India Day
Newly added to the festival calendar is this day to recognize the important role played by Indians in the development of Seychelles.
October: Festival Kreol
Seychelles’ annual celebration of miscegenation sees art exhibits, theatrical performances and literary readings linked to the Creole presence in Seychelles, the Caribbean and other places in the world where people commingled to create new cultures.
This unique underwater festival focuses attention on Seychelles’ marine attractions by combining diving and snorkeling activities by day with film screenings and audiovisual exhibits by night.
Art Scene In Seychelles
The Creole Institute is Seychelles’ leader in preservation of local culture, especially the literary arts. Kenwyn House, one of the first European-style homes built in the country, is now a boutique and gallery showcasing fine works by local painters and sculptors. The recently reopened Les Palmes Theatre provides a new location for local actors and musicians to present their latest endeavors. Meanwhile, concerts and performances take place around Victoria on a regular basis.
An Eyeful and an Eiffel in One Trip
Flying from JFK, Emirates through Dubai and Etihad through Abu Dhabi are the easiest routes. The country’s surprisingly luxurious national airline, Air Seychelles, will be introducing flights from Paris to Seychelles this year, allowing for a stopover in the world’s most romantic city to/from the world’s most romantic islands. Zil Air helicopter services provides immediate connections from international flights to Fregate and Praslin as well as Kempinski on Mahe.