Beyond the Beach

Issue 8 - 2018
By Susan D’Arcy · Images Alamy; Getty images

Yes, it’s got exotic white-sand shores and private islands. But the natural playground that is the Seychelles has so much more to offer – fantastic hiking, gargantuan rock faces, lush rainforests and 17th-century treasures waiting to be unearthed

Issue 8 - 2018
By Susan D’Arcy · Images Alamy; Getty images

Yes, it’s got exotic white-sand shores and private islands. But the natural playground that is the Seychelles has so much more to offer – fantastic hiking, gargantuan rock faces, lush rainforests and 17th-century treasures waiting to be unearthed

The Seychelles is the Indian Ocean at its finest: teal-green waters lapping golden shores dotted with the region’s iconic black boulders. Such sights are what Instagram was invented for. Yet even so, let’s be honest, after an hour or two on the beach some of us start to get a bit twitchy.

 

We’d never suggest missing out on your daily hit of Vitamin D, but when boredom looms, the Seychelles is one destination with plenty to offer beyond the beach, including taking relaxation to the next level, courtesy of five-star mindfulness at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles. This glamorous property on Mahé, the main island of the 115-strong archipelago, has hideaway villas tiered up a hillside, bragging rights over the perfect lick of Petite Anse bay and an inventive wellness programme, typified by the mountain meditation. Just before sunset, resident yogi Arun Dev takes guests on a steep hike up to a pretty granite plateau where they sit cross-legged, observing the sky dance through various shades of vermilion, synchronising their breath with the waves way down below and easing themselves into the deepest meditative state available this side of Delhi.

 

It’s a dramatic perspective you simply can’t get in, say, the Maldives, where the highest recorded point is just under 8ft – that’s a couple of inches shorter than the world’s tallest man, Sultan Kösen – and definitely no match for the high-octane natural playground provided by the Seychelles’ peaks and carpets of rainforest. There is wonderful hiking in the mountainous Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahé, and, as everyone else is busy getting sunburnt, you don’t have to venture too far into its tropical forests, fairy-dusted with cinnamon trees, to have a trail entirely to yourself. While down on the coast, the family-friendly Constance Ephélia, tucked into 120 hectares of mangrove beside the Port Launay Marine Park, takes full advantage of those natural assets, transforming a 60ft rock face into a climbing wall, heaven for competitive dads, and installing eight zip lines where parents and progeny can bond over the shared terror of zooming at speed over the jungle canopy.

 

You can take down the pace but ramp up the punishment at Hilton’s two glamorous resorts. Northolme on Mahé holds an Eco-Friendly Marathon every February that winds through the mountainous interior and attracts more than 3,000 participants. If you’re not quite at that level, opt instead for Labriz, which has 110 contemporary pavilions and is the only hotel on Silhouette Island – the country’s third-largest with five peaks over 1,600ft and the sort of challenging terrain that makes it ideal for marathon training camps. Instructors take runners up those slopes, through the cutesy early-19th-century village of La Passe, under the shade of breadfruit trees, and on to wild stretches of coast at Anse Lascars and Grand Barbe for the full-on Robinson Crusoe experience.

 

Guests sit cross-legged observing the sky dance through shades of vermilion, synchronising their breathing with the waves down below

 

Centuries ago, such splendidly isolated coves attracted a different kind of visitor: pirates. Although it’s hard to believe now, in the early 1700s the Seychelles was the equivalent of 19th-century Australia – you didn’t have to have a criminal record to go there, but it helped. Notorious privateers, such as Olivier Levasseur, aka The Buzzard, sailed here to hide their hauls. In today’s money, Levasseur’s as-yet-undiscovered ill-gotten gains are thought to be worth around £1bn, and treasure hunters speculate that they are buried on Silhouette… Or maybe on the nearby eco resort of North Island, where Prince William and Kate honeymooned… Or on the equally exclusive Fregate Island, which is as decadent as North Island is rustic.

 

Before you cynically Roger Moore your eyebrow, do bear in mind that James Bond author Ian Fleming and the French military are among those who have scoured the Seychelles in search of that buried booty. Admittedly, as far as we know, all they discovered were the country’s natural riches: its extraordinary wildlife. The archipelago is home to giant Aldabra tortoises, some with carapaces spanning 4ft, and you’ll see them moseying through the undergrowth everywhere, particularly Fregate, which feels like parachuting into Jurassic Park. The Seychelles is also one of the world’s most important breeding grounds for hawksbill turtles, who waddle up the powder-fine beaches to lay their eggs between September and January, with hatching until late March. Happily, green turtles then pick up the baton, laying and hatching throughout the rest of the year, so you are practically guaranteed a sighting.

 

Another draw is the destination’s ability to combine the exclusivity of a private island with the chance to meet the people and get a sense of the local culture. The 30 gorgeous villas at Six Senses Zil Pasyon have the luscious island of Félicité all to themselves, with plenty of space for a magnificent spa cantilevered over the crashing waves and wide-open granite plains you can claim as your own for champagne picnics. But when you want company, Félicité is just a short (and free) boat shuttle to the bigger islands of La Digue and Praslin and their buzzy neighbourhood bars and restaurants.

 

Praslin is developed by Seychellois standards, but don’t worry, that’s still gloriously quiet in our terms. For example, the island has just one set of traffic lights and it only flashes red when a plane is landing, in case it overshoots the runway and lands up in the road. Praslin is also home to the country’s only golf course, which is part of Constance Lemuria, a stylish resort that has recently undergone a £15m revamp to give it a cooler, more modern mood-board. If you mess up on the jaw-dropping 15th hole, you can always blame the view. From the tee, there is a 50m drop to the green in the valley below, overlooking the white sand and gin-clear waters of Anse Georgette beach.

 

In the Seychelles, it often feels like all roads lead back to the beach; but then again, they are some of the best in the world.

 

 

Main image: the villas of the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles are nestled into the granite island of Mahé. Above: spectacular views at Six Senses

 

 

Private residence with pool on Fregate Island

 

 

Four Seasons Resort Seychelles curves around the idyllic Petite Anse beach

 

 

Sunrise at Fairyland Beach

 

SCOTT DUNN SUGGESTS

On arrival in Mahé, you’ll be whisked away by private limousine for five nights in one of Maia Luxury Resort’s Ocean Panoramic Villas, where a personal butler will attend to your every need. The pace of life here is slow, so don’t try to cram too much into one day. First, take the time to explore the island and its tiny capital city, Victoria, the Sir Selwyn Clarke Market and the botanical gardens. The next day, board a catamaran to Sainte Anne Marine Park for a BBQ and world-class snorkelling. While there, treat yourself to a spot of pampering at the rock-side Clarins spa. Next, explore the beautiful isle of Praslin on a traditional schooner, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Vallée de Mai before heading to La Digue for a swim at one of the world’s most stunning beaches. Finally, take a couple of days to learn to surf with the Tropicsurf instructors at Four Seasons Resort. The following day, take a private helicopter to North Island for the very best in barefoot luxury. You’ve had a busy few days, now it’s time to relax. There are only 11 villas on this exclusive island, each one private, nestled on the beachfront, and with its own buggy. Kayaking, fishing charters and scuba diving are all available from the island. After a rejuvenating five days, you’ll return to Mahé by private helicopter and then home, with a stopover in Dubai if you wish.

Scott Dunn offers holidays to the Seychelles from £2,500 pp for seven nights, including flights and transfers. For more information call 020 8682 5040 or visit scottdunn.com/seychelles

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