Let’s get it said. There isn’t much to do at night. Not if you’re the sort that likes the nightlife and loves to boogie. If your idea of a beach vacation is Baga or Bali, then save yourself a lot of money and forget Seychelles. Singles, avoid. Bachelor parties, ditto. But if you have the good fortune to be with the one you love, then this gorgeous country will give you ample opportunities to love the one you’re with.
The Seychelles drip romance. It seeps from the colour of the blue sea, the white sand of the beaches, even the silver of the clouds when they wander into view. No wonder it’s a haven for those two sets of people most hungry for what this congenial place serves up in spades: honeymooners, and those in search of a last spark before their relationship goes terminal. No matter the state of your union: a week in a suite by the sea at any one of the many top-class resorts here will ensure that your holiday goes with a bang.
The archipelago–very few of the islands are inhabited–is located just south of the Equator, about a thousand miles east of Kenya. For Indians, the route lies through the Middle East, most commonly Dubai or Abu Dhabi. My flight arrived very early in the morning, my first midnight-layover addled glimpse of MahÃ©–the nation’s biggest island and seat of most of its population and capital city, Victoria–that of a hill breaking through the monsoon clouds, and then water lapping the edge of a runway. The airport is almost cheerily small, with numerous Islanders and other small planes sharing space with the big jets. We cross immigration, grab our bags and are ushered towards the domestic terminal, which is basically a holding pen for those propeller planes we’d seen earlier. Then we’re in the little rattletrap and, it seems, not that far above the surface of the sea, en route to the island of Praslin. The sun peeks through the clouds, the colour of the water below changes to a deep blue shading to a light green in the shallows and, suddenly, I’m not sleepy anymore. My nose is pressed against the glass for the remainder of our short hop, and I almost shout in my excitement when the plane crosses the golf course of the Constance Lemuria Resort. The course will swallow a lot of my golf balls in the next few days but that first glimpse from the air was, and remains, magical.
If you thought MahÃ©’s airport was small, Praslin’s is tiny. It looks like a cross between a planter’s club and a post office. People smile at you and wave you through and you’re in the hands of the hotel’s staff ushering you into a vehicle and then you’re driving by the beautiful sea. A little lyrical, you say? Well, it’s hard not to be, when the Indian Ocean is by your side. Literally. In places, the beach is only about the width of the car, and then there’s the water. This proximity isn’t always the stuff of honeymoon charm. The Seychelles copped a pasting from the tsunami a decade ago; in places, you can see the damage memorialised.
But all thoughts of tsunamis are swept from your head once you enter the gates of the Lemuria. This is a fantastic resort. It’s showing its age a bit–the rooms could do with a touchup–and apparently there’s a major renovation planned. But what you can’t beat is its location. HabituÃ©s of newer, ‘family’ resorts will sniff at the size of the pool. They’re idiots for two reasons. One, this really isn’t a place for kids, the ‘children’s club’ notwithstanding. And two, well, the beaches. Yes, plural. Who needs a pool when the warm Indian Ocean is close enough that you can fall asleep while listening to it?
A common refrain of the beaches in the Seychelles is that such and such movie has been shot there. Is it true? Who cares: they’re all impossibly lovely. At the Lemuria, you get your choice of three. Perhaps the prettiest is the hardest to get to. There’s a little golf buggy that runs guests to Anse Georgette. Or you can look down on it from the fifteenth tee, the white strand bounded by the blue sea and separated from the tiny, manicured green by waving trees. Think it over while your personal butler stands by and hands you a sundowner with bubbles in it, and a silver tray of canapÃ©s. Then skull your shot into the water. Without your partner noticing, because he or she is dazed by all that champagne and beauty.
Rinse. Tee up. Repeat.
It is a very intimate place, this. Odd, because one doesn’t associate golf resorts with intimacy. But there are limited rooms, and many repeat offenders. Apparently people who’ve been can’t stay away. I play every day with one such tragic. I can see why; the level of personal interest from everyone here would be creepy back in the real world. Managers and bellboys know your name, want to know if they can help, ask to hold your hand. Well, no. But close enough. It could be super training, of course, and no doubt the life of a resort professional can be lonely. But I got the impression that the people who work here are genuinely interested in conversation.
If you’re done with all the conversation, however, and want to unwind even further, to a consistency not unlike barely sentient jelly, take the ferry out to La Digue. This throbbing island apparently has a settled population of 2,000 people. Residents and tourists commute by bicycle. Automobiles were only recently allowed. There are even ox-carts. Get there early, before the other daytrippers. It’s worth it. A good way to start is to bike to Grande Anse (yes, I know, I thought of it too). If you’re there early enough, it’s spectacular. But wait. Follow the well-marked path over the hill (you can do it in flip-flops; I did) to Petit Anse and further to where there’s a natural saltwater pool protected by rocks. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re the first person there. Ever. A trackless beach is a marvellous thing, no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. And there isn’t a shack in sight. Naturally, movies have been filmed here.
If you really must have other people, check out Anse Source d’Argent. You can walk out into the transparent water for what seems like miles. Tourists grill themselves beside the striking granite boulders that run along the narrow beach. Locals sell coconuts and curios, and there’s a restaurant selling tourist food. Stick with the smoked fish salad. It’s spectacular.
Back in Praslin, it’s time to tee up a few golf balls. And lose them. The course is short and tight. But you’re on vacation so who really cares? I don’t get to the spa here, unfortunately. But there are deep tubs in the suites from where the sea is visible. Recovery is a breeze.
All too soon, it’s time to leave. Luckily enough, it’s only a short hop back to MahÃ©. Where we’re taken across the island to the Constance Ephelia, a much newer and larger resort. The Ephelia is more grand than the Lemuria, but not as cosy. It also has a lot more people. But they manage to make everyone pretty comfortable. I had to make do with only two bedrooms with attached pools in my beach villa. But I managed.
Again, the location is brilliant. It’s bounded by hills, a mangrove swamp you can kayak through, and two separate beaches. One of these is actually part of the Port Launay Marine National Park. What that means is that once you’re tired of sucking down cocktails on a beach chair or floating in the warm water, you can actually take a boat out and go snorkelling. No training required; just gear you can rent from the resort itself. Elsewhere, you can cycle around the property–recommended. It’s huge. There are cycles with the suites–and kayaks, a stacked gym along with squash court and tennis and lap pool. And finally, yes, I made it to the spa.
This enormous place is run by a friendly Indian gent who is actually a practitioner of Ayurveda. He also dispenses wraps and scrubs and rubs and facials. I got a massage, and went back the next day for another one. The spa has two components. One is the very doable Constance side, and the other is the more premium Shiseido one. I don’t know what the difference is, frankly. They were both great. There’s even a very quiet pool within the spa area, if you’re feeling claustrophobic where you are.
What’s nice about this place is that it actually could be a family destination. The families here though are mostly European ones used to treating the sea as the beginning and end of their holiday. The resort has family villas on offer, with two and even three bedrooms (naturally with their own pools).
There are all sorts of dining options, as befits a resort of its size and youth. There is a Chinese restaurant, a sushi place, standard beach fare, and all the other stuff you’d expect. One morning, the staff fixes us up with breakfast in a hillside villa. These are ridiculously luxurious and very private. I can see the ordinary idiots who can only afford the run-of-the-mill suites and villas at sea level frolicking mindlessly on the beach. Ah well.
The bad news is that the bright lights of Victoria are not close by. But if you do make it to town, it’s pretty charming. As a tourist, an afternoon would about cover it. There’s a South Indian mandir there, a testament to what is still a sizeable minority in this country. The market is a fun place to wander about, though you’ll notice that the ‘local’ artifacts seem to be imported from Indonesia and China. There’s also a Big Ben clocktower. You’ll have to watch out for it though. It’s really quite small.
Apparently, there’s a casino, and bars where you can knock off a convivial beer or two. I can’t point you to them because I didn’t get a chance to go to any. What I did enjoy was the trip to town. Ask for Pravesh at the resort. He’s a bit of an institution. He’s a Mauritian Indian who has been with the group for years and he professes to know the country like the back of his hand. He’s certainly entertaining and he’ll point out the homes of various dignitaries, and the varying cordiality of their relations to each other, as he drives by. Our route lay by a tea garden, peaceful as they all are–they sell citronella tea! Will it protect you from dengue?
But then we were among the tall trees of the forest. There were beautiful views of the distant sea across the green and then we were in the clouds. Villages with names like Bel Air floated by. A cemetery, a monument, fallen pillars and forest giants, the remains of a home for boys, mossy tablets laid down in memory of forgotten names: potted history for those with an interest in such things. For everyone else, there’s a view of Eden Island, a colossal development coming up near Victoria on reclaimed land. Why you’d want to reclaim that beautiful sea is beyond me. But there’s money to be made, no doubt, from selling identical houses set practically on top of each other.
I’d recommend you spend a week. Any less would be risking an incomplete detachment from whatever it is you’re leaving behind. The first couple of days, you’ll still be expecting hooting horns and lying in bed cursing the quiet. By the time you’re telling time by the passage of the sun across the beach and falling asleep on the massage table, you’ll know you’re in the Seychelles. Take your time to enjoy it. You’ll have to come back pretty soon.
We flew on Emirates, which has a good service via Dubai. Etihad also has a frequent service through Abu Dhabi, especially since they acquired a stake in Air Seychelles. There is also a service through Nairobi courtesy Kenya Airways.
Indian visitors to the Seychelles, like most nationalities, do not need visas to enter. Just carry a valid passport, return ticket, accommodation reservations with contact details, and adequate funds for the duration of stay (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org).
1 Seychellois Rupee = Rs 5.18
Where to Stay
Seychelles positioned itself as a premium destination pretty early in the game, so most of the offerings here tend towards the luxurious, and are hence expensive. There are cheaper options available, especially of the homestay variety. My experience was with the Constance group, a Mauritian entity that focuses on the Indian Ocean. Their two properties here are spectacular. The Lemuria on the island of Praslin has the Seychelles’ only championship golf course, and is an intimate luxury hotel (lemuriaresort.constancehotels.com). They also have a resort on the island of MahÃ© called Ephelia (epheliaresort.constancehotels.com). The rooms are pricey but the level of service and individual attention are very high indeed. Otherwise, expect the usual high-end options.
Unless you’re a diver or a hardcore birder/naturalist with permits to go off to the more remote islands, chances are you’ll be concentrating your stay between MahÃ©, Praslin and La Digue. They’re all connected by fast ferry. The quickest way to get from MahÃ© to Praslin is by Air Seychelles (airseychelles.com).
What to Eat
The milieu I was exposed to was basically a resort one, which means that all the eating I did was on site. Which is not a bad thing, since the food here is universally pretty good. It’s quite international though (not just the guests, a lot of the staff at the hotels are expats as well). So if you want local cuisine, you’re going to have to either step out, or ask for it. There’s a local delicacy that I didn’t try. It’s called bat curry. If you try it and like it, let us know. Otherwise, it’s an island country. Stick with the seafood and you won’t go wrong. They serve something called smoked swordfish salad (I suspect they use other fish as well) pretty much everywhere. It was great wherever I had it. There are a couple of local beers, one of which is SeyBrew, a nice fizzy lager.
What to Buy
I honestly couldn’t find anything of particularly local interest. Tea types will enjoy the various options available from the local industry. Tourists who enjoy a laugh will no doubt try and pick up the coco de mer, the enormous fruit of a palm that is local to Praslin and a few surrounding islands. It is intriguing because of its size, and because it looks like, well, a pair of nuts. For those who don’t want to lug an outsize pair of tree testicles home, buy a gift replica. The local T-shirt industry also generously supports the coco de mer legend. The Victoria market is fun to wander about in. The most interesting things for me were the local fish.
If you’re at the Ephelia, ask for Pravesh. He’s possibly the most entertaining driver/guide on the island of MahÃ©. Also at the Ephelia, ask for a sea kayak tour. It’s a great way to get some exercise, and to take in a quiet meander through the mangroves that border the resort.