People say that exquisite treasures usually lie concealed in remote places. The Seychelles were once so hidden away that they were a favorite port of call for pirates looking to bury their loot. While the 115 islands in the Indian Ocean are still rather remote – “a thousand miles from anywhere,” as the song goes – they are now easily accessible by plane. Today, however, their most precious treasures are their areas of unspoiled natural beauty.
Just stay calm, I tell myself. Take deep breaths and wait for the staff member showing you around your villa to leave. I am finding this extremely difficult. There is nothing amiss, nothing I would need to get upset about. Quite to the contrary – I feel an urge to whoop with sheer delight. But I manage to control myself… Finally, I am alone. I have arrived in paradise. From the terrace, I survey my private infinity pool, which is surrounded on all sides by lush green. A little farther, I see a turquoise bay. Far off in the distance, the sea and the sky seem to fuse into a single shade of blue. Places like this leave me speechless. The Seychelles are, without doubt, one of the world’s dream destinations. Even years before my actual trip, I was surfing the Internet, looking at pictures of the islands. Now I am actually here.
Just touching down in the Seychelles is a special experience, even for seasoned travelers. The 115 islands vary in size and are located in the Indian Ocean east of Africa and north of Mauritius and Madagascar. Seen from the air, they seem like specks of land scattered across the sea, dominated by hues of green, gold and turquoise. No sooner have they passed through immigration, than visitors receive a very special souvenir. Those who have the outline of a Coco de Mer palm tree stamped in their passport are among the chosen few who have had the privilege of seeing this paradise in person.
The island of Mahé, on which international visitors first land, is the Seychelles’ main and largest island, measuring 27 kilometers in length. Nevertheless, it takes roughly an hour to get from one side of Mahé to the other, as you have to cross some mountains on winding roads with tight bends. These lead through lush jungle, and past turquoise bays and palm tree-lined shores, where fishermen sell their catch, girls and boys in school uniforms wait for the bus, and reggae tunes boom from inside the bars. Heavily laden pick-up trucks can be seen driving everywhere. On the smaller islands, these are replaced by traditional ox-drawn carts, which can be challenging for people with a delicate sense of smell…
At the Botanical Gardens in Mahé I am greeted with a Creole “Bonzour.” Here, I see an actual Coco de Mer palm tree for the first time. It is magnificent. The iconic tree can grow to a height of 24 meters. The old palm trees in the gardens are a great source of shade for the giant tortoises, which also live here. And when tourists pass by, there is great excitement. You are allowed to feed the tortoises with various greens. I could have done this for hours, had it not been for the hot weather. I really felt like a dip in the ocean. One thing I learned quickly: looking for the best beaches in the Seychelles is an idle and unnecessary pursuit. It would be silly to try, as a smiling local man revealed to me. This is because every one of the beaches on the islands is stunning. Some are secluded, while others are right next to the side of one of the small roads. Some are surrounded by large rocks; others by green hillsides. The water often seems to be too beautiful to be real.
One beach is particularly unique: when I arrive at Grand Anse beach on the island of La Digue, it is as if someone had opened the pages of a gigantic picture book. In the 1990s, what is probably the most famous rum commercial of all times was shot right here on this beach. Everyone knows the tune “Come on over, have some fun …!” Okay, I will do just that and jump into the waves. The water temperature here is a pleasant 27 degrees centigrade all year round, and the sea feels as smooth as the powdery sands. A short distance away, a group of divers emerges from the blue waters. This is a rare sight, because the sea around the Seychelles has so far escaped mass tourism. The divers grin from ear to ear. I swim towards them to fi nd out why. Maybe they have found a hidden treasure? They say they have, and a live one at that: a colorful lionfish, which is native to these waters and very distinctive, thanks to its magnificent antennae.
Treasures of a different kind are said to be located on Moyenne, one of the smaller islands, as well as on Silhouette Island. It is rumored that “La Buse’s treasure” was actually buried somewhere here, as well as that of French corsair Jean-François Hodoul. At the end of the 18th century, he is reputed to have boarded and raided a number of British ships, and his loot consisted of pearls, gold and coins. Oh well, it’s probably best to leave the search to real treasure hunters.
Praslin Island, the Seychelles’ second largest, also has something to off er adventurers. It features what must be the world’s most beautiful tropical nature reserve: Vallée de Mai, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Geographically isolated for a very long time, the island’s flora and fauna have evolved to be utterly unique. Nor did this fact escape the Seychelles government, which soon recognized that the natural beauty of the island was its most important asset – and became the first government to enshrine the protection of natural beauty in law. Doing so evidently does not come cheap, but has been made possible thanks to the island’s revenues from tourism.
In the evening, after returning to my personal paradise at the Four Seasons, I get an introduction to the secrets of the islands’ Creole cuisine. People here use all the ingredients the sea and the forests have to offer, including coconuts, of course. I help the chef prepare three courses: a fresh, spicy salad as an appetizer, a fish curry for the main course and a dessert with an eye-watering calorie count – baked bananas with ice cream. By the time my delicious meal has been consumed and I am standing on the beach – cocktail in hand – the sun has long set, leaving only a faint, reddish glimmer on the horizon. I glance left and right, place my glass on the sand and jump fully clothed back into the sea. I’m here already, after all…
Fly to Seychelles International Airport on
the island of Mahé. From there, flights to a few of the
smaller islands are available.
The Four Seasons Seychelles offers exclusive, private
villas of different sizes, with their own pools.
The Botanical Gardens provide an insight into the
islands’ native plant life. Only the Vallée de Mai nature
reserve on the island of Praslin is more authentic.
A visit to the market in the capital Victoria is a must.
Open daily except Sundays.