From big seeds to bigger tortoises, from bat stew to Creole curry, there's more to the Seychelles than just stunning beaches
Flying into Seychelles’ international airport may not be for the faint-hearted; the small airport is located on reclaimed land on the island of Mahe, so you might panic a little – as I did – as the impending clear turquoise waters get dangerously close to the descending plane. This, however, was the highest level of stress that I experienced on my trip to the Seychelles; everything else about this archipelago nation in a secluded corner of the Indian Ocean is unadulterated relaxation.
The Seychelles’ granite and coral islands are the only islands in the middle of the ocean that are not of volcanic origin, and some say that they’re the oldest oceanic islands on earth. The impressive granite boulders are one of the reasons why the scenery is so breathtaking - film crews, models and photographers are regular visitors.
On the island of Praslin (pronounced praline) is where the Vallée de Mai is located, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that people say is the location of the Garden of Eden, due to its beauty and prehistoric plants. The Seychelles is made up of 115 islands, 20 of which are accessible to tourists. The most popular ones are Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, but each island has its own unique beauty and offers something different . . .
Big seeds and giant tortoises
Our first port of call was Praslin, which is a short 15-minute flight from Mahe. You can also take the ferry but you miss out on the spectacular views. The national park is famous for being the indigenous home to the coco de mer, the world’s largest seed, which weighs 15kg plus and looks like two coconuts merged together. It is, however, more commonly visually compared to a woman’s bits; with the male part of the plant looking very similar to a man’s bit, schoolgirl sniggers are guaranteed to ensue!
We stayed at the relaxed, unpretentious and friendly La Reserve hotel. A family-run establishment, it's pretty and quiet, with bright, tropical flowers all over the place and a large collection of giant tortoises that will keep you entertained for hours. What I loved about this hotel was its small, private beach, which is actually located in a Marine National Park. The waters are clear and gentle and it’s great for spotting brightly coloured tropical fish.
It has one restaurant that has different themes each night and good food. It’s located on a wooden jetty going into the sea and is lit up at night, but it’s the mornings that are particularly glorious. Enjoy fresh fruit, coffee and pancakes in gentle sunshine, overlooking clear blue water with hundreds of tropical fish swimming under your feet - it’s the only way to start your day and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
After the hearty breakfast, we were off to Baie St Anne to get a ferry to La Digue. La Digue has a different atmosphere to Praslin; it’s a little livelier, with a slight hustle bustle (Seychelles style) compared to the laidback Praslin.
Biking to the beach
The best way to get around the island is to hire a bicycle. Riding around the island in 30°C heat is great as long as you remember to take water and sunscreen with you! There are many gorgeous beaches to explore, and little cafés to stop off at and have a much-needed rest and cool-down with some fresh ice cream. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, visit L’Union Estate. This beautiful estate is home to a copra factory (where you can learn how coconuts are turned into oil using traditional methods), a vanilla plantation and horse riding facilities. It’s also home to the famous Anse Source d’Argent beach.
This protected beach – the most photographed on earth – was nominated as one of the top beaches in the world; the pink powdery sands, gentle clear blue waters and pink and black granite boulders make it hypnotic. When you walk towards it, you’ll notice a little stall that sells fresh tropical fruit salad. Do not walk past! The charismatic fruit-sellers cut up every fruit imaginable in front of you, filling the tub till it’s bursting full of wonderfully delicious delights. If that hasn’t quashed your appetite, there is also a restaurant just outside the entrance of the beach, called Lanbousir. A hit with tourists and locals alike, it serves good, local, authentic, Creole-style food.
A rich mixture of cultures influences every aspect of these islands; there's a colourful and harmonious blend of African, European and Asian. This diversity is also reflected in the food, though the local cuisine is Creole. Being a tropical island, fish and fruit are the obvious main ingredients - red snapper, octopus, squid, sea urchin, parrot fish, rabbit fish, papaya, pineapple and mango - but other common ingredients are bat (you’ll see many flying about at night), chilli, coconut and chutneys of every persuasion.
Curries are spicy but they also love using coconut milk so they’re quite mild. And the chutneys are freshly made with local fruits such as papaya or golden apple; we’re used to saucy chutneys and regard them as a preserve, but a Creole chutney is fresh and light. The main ingredient is finely cut and fried for a few minutes with other spices and then served. Some other national favourites are grilled fish or octopus basted with a light sauce of crushed chillies, ginger and garlic, or parrot fish fried in a curry batter – very moreish! Popular amongst the locals is toddy (fermented coconut juice) or jangle juice, which is homemade alcohol (so watch out, as it can be quite potent!) made from the fermented juice of various fruits.
Under the banyan tree
The rest of our trip took me back to the island of Mahe, where we were lucky enough to stay in the beautiful Banyan Tree Resort. Banyan Tree has resorts all over the world and is known for its five-star luxury, beautiful spas and environmental ethics. The villas are amazing and it's tempting not to leave them for the whole time you’re there, but this would be a shame because you wouldn’t be able to experience the beautiful beach, award-winning spa and four amazing restaurants. And, of course, you wouldn’t be able to explore the island.
Victoria is one of the world’s smallest capitals, but despite this there is still lots to see and do; shopping, viewing some traditional Creole colonial-style architecture, and visiting Sir Selwyn Clarke Market, where there's a colourful array of fish, fruit, flowers and vegetables. And if you fancy a spot of Creole lunch, then visit one of the oldest restaurants in the Seychelles: Marie Antoinette. You can also have a cookery lesson and learn how to make traditional cuisine in this impressive historic colonial mansion, which is over 100 years old.
After a day in town head back to the Banyan Tree and visit the amazing spa for some treatments amongst the trees. Out of the four restaurants at the Banyan Tree, my personal favourite was Chez Lamar, which is fine dining Creole-style. If you’ve tried some of the local restaurants and think you know Creole cuisine, Chez Lamar will offer another perspective. I recommend the tasting menu, to give you an extensive run-through - you can try sea urchin soup, bat curry (tastes like rabbit), green papaya chutney or octopus curry. And if this has given you a taste of Seychelles cuisine you can even have a cookery lesson, leaving you with the skills to make these dishes at home.
Air Seychelles is the only airline offering non-stop flights from London to the Seychelles.