Seychelles is much more than just stunning beaches and clear waters. Expert Rachel explains just what makes the dream destination the ultimate exclusive escape...
I think I can say with confidence that some of the world's most beautiful beaches can be found 1,137 nautical miles east of Kenya deep in the Indian Ocean.
On a map they are a few pinpricks in a vast wash of blue, but waking up on a descent into Mahé's international airport, you are able to see that all 115 islands are in reality the postcard perfect, palm-tree fringed, luscious green archipelago known as the Seychelles.
Holidays to the Seychelles
With three airlines flying to Mahé from London Heathrow and another joining the route in 2010, there is simply no excuse not to go. I was lucky enough to escape the ever-increasing cold of London and board an Air Seychelles flight on Sunday evening to find myself in Mahé, stripping off all layers in 30 degrees warmth on Monday morning at 1100, waiting to board the small twin prop to Praslin Island… it really was a case of "I can't believe I am here".
The Seychelles consists of 115 islands - actually, it's one more now, with Eden Island having been newly reclaimed. Mahé is the largest and the highest at 905m where the capital, Victoria, nestles below Morne Seychellois in the north east and is probably the only capital in the world to have just one set of traffic lights. Both the British and the French left a lasting impression on the Seychellois - they drive on the left, there is a replica of Big Ben in the centre of town, everyone supports Manchester United (or Liverpool, but not Arsenal I am told) and most of the names of places and hotels have a very French tone to them. Creole, the local language, is a a French patois and was developed during the slave era with the French plantation owners needing to communicate with African and Malagasy slaves. Hello =Bonzour and Goodbye=Orevwar, to give an example.
Another great point about holidays to the Seychelles is that travelling is minimal once you are there. The furthest islands are the Amirantes group, which are a breathtakingly beautiful 45 minute flight away. You can practically see the ocean bed and all that lives on it, as the water is so crystal clear. Light and air pollution are so minimal that millions and millions of stars canvas the skies and shooting stars are a regular occurrence.
Suitable for everyone
Holidays to the Seychelles cater for everyone. Having been originally labelled very much a honeymooners destination, there are more and more family hotels that are cropping up including the new Constance Ephelia on Mahé, and on my visits I came across very few hotels with a minimum age. An added bonus is that the most perfect times to be there are February half term, Easter and October half term when temperatures never drop below 24 degrees.
During the summer months (end of May to beginning of September), the South East trades blow which brings dry weather but the winds can be strong and certain coast lines can be rough. From November to February the North West trades blow down from the Equator bringing humid and calm weather. Mahé can experience some heavy showers which build up in the afternoons in December and January, so it is best avoided then. It is these rains which provide the ideal climate for all plants hence the rainforest-style vegetation which covers every island.
Lots to do and see
There is, however, far more to the Seychelles than just beautiful beaches and crystal waters. On most of the islands you will find resident conservationists who work on restoring the natural, endemic plants and birds species to the way they were pre-pirates and coconut plantations.
If you go to Fregate Island, you can visit a plantation house, also used as a restaurant, which has been converted to a mini museum where pirate coats, coins, chains, scripts and tools have been collected over the years by the island's owners and staff. I was disappointed not to see a hook, but it is totally fascinating to see all these things so well preserved and to read up on Fregate island history.
At the incredibly indulgent North Island, where there is no menu and you have your own golf buggy to drive around in, regular talks are given on topics such as biodiversity, ecology and conservation.
If you are a nature lover, Cousine Island is a haven of animals great and small, from the 60 Giant Tortoises to the small Spinks (lizards) and half a million birds which call this island their home. Jock and Janine, the managers, say that all the animals have "island naivety" due to the absence of any predators, so birds don't fly off and Spinks don't run for cover when you pass by them, but rather stare inquisitively.
Desroches Island is heaven for activity-lovers, offering diving, snorkelling, line fishing, kayaking, aqua biking and the increasingly popular bone fishing.
Where to stay
There are some truly indulgent and beautiful hotels to stay all over the Seychelles, and not just on the outer islands. Mahé has some fantastic properties including the colonial style Banyan Tree and the serene and peaceful Maia. If you are interested in the Coco de Mer, Praslin is the island and Lemuria is the hotel. The list is endless, and you could spend 14 nights and still feel as though you have not really hit the sides, as every hotel has its own character and style. From my two weeks of island hopping, soaking up winter sun and eating deliciously fresh Creole food, I have come to the conclusion that the Seychelles is like a box of chocolates - once you have tasted them, it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to go back for more….