A smattering of island jewels set in an azure sea – there are few destinations more idyllic than the Seychelles, says Joanna Booth
There are plenty of shells in the Seychelles, but finding them involves a spot more excitement than your average day of beachcombing.
In the space of one day on the sleepy island of La Digue I’d had more shell-based thrills than I could have bargained for, spending the morning feeding giant tortoises and the afternoon snorkelling with wild turtles off the picture‑perfect sands of Anse Source D’Argent beach.
SELL: DIVERSITY AND VALUE
Unscripted moments of delight like these are part and parcel of a trip to the Seychelles. The islands have the white sands, the warm seas and the luxury hotels that are compulsory for any stuff-of-dreams beach holiday, but it’s the note-perfect blend of extras that make the Seychelles truly special.
Tourists can explore easily, walking in ancient rainforests, visiting islands inhabited only by wildlife, browsing the produce at a local market, sipping a chilled bottle of Seybrew in a beachside bar and eating Creole cuisine – there’s even the national dish of Fruit Bat Curry for the adventurous.
The Seychelles are extraordinarily beautiful – even well-travelled TV adventurer Simon Reeve called them “the most spectacular islands on the planet” when he visited for his Indian Ocean BBC series. No wonder William and Kate chose the Seychelles for the royal honeymoon. The rest of the UK is following suit – visitor numbers in 2011 were up 8% year on year.
The diversity of holidays on offer is a real selling point. With different islands offering a variety of experiences and accommodation ranging from the three-star to private island level, you can tailor it to a range of clients. Once regarded as a couples’ choice, families are increasingly being catered for.
There are some barriers to surmount. It’s perceived as expensive even for the Indian Ocean, and it’s true that there are some extraordinary properties here to suit the very top of the market. However, offers are common, and smaller hotels, guesthouses and self-catering options can be found so mid-market clients needn’t be put off.
All-inclusive is still a relatively rare board basis here except on the private island resorts, which can prove another stumbling block for some Brits, but for many visitors the chance to venture outside their hotel is a bonus.
Airlift has been a headache for some years, but painkillers in the form of Middle Eastern carriers have come to the rescue.
Emirates flies 11 times a week from Dubai to Mahé, with five daily returns to Dubai from Heathrow, three from Gatwick, three from Manchester, two from Birmingham and one each from Glasgow and Newcastle.
Qatar Airways flies daily from Doha to the Seychelles, with daily connections to Manchester and five flights a day to Heathrow. At the start of this year Etihad acquired a 40% stake in Air Seychelles, and has a code-share agreement with the national carrier.
There are six flights a week between Abu Dhabi and Mahe, four operated by Etihad and two by Air Seychelles, connecting to Etihad’s three daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow and two to Manchester. Air Seychelles operates most of the inter-island flights, which all fly out of Mahé where the capital and international airports are located.
The islands lend themselves to twin or even multi-centre combinations. Emirates Tours has an island-hopping page in its brochure for the first time this year, and Elite Vacations not only offers multi-centres by air and ferry but also cruise-and-stay options on a luxury catamaran.
STAY: BOUTIQUES AND BRANDS
The Seychelles is perceived as expensive, but that needn’t be the case. Seychelles Secrets is a range of smaller three to five-star guesthouse and self-catering properties offered by specialists such as Elite Vacations.
Even traditionally luxury resorts are offering deals and added value: the Hilton Seychelles Labriz has savings of 40% on some stays, while at Raffles Praslin couples could save £2,000 on a six-night stay. Hayes & Jarvis is offering five nights for the price of four at the mid-range Coco de Mer with a free spa treatment thrown in too.
Recognisable brands are proving popular with Brits, with Hilton, Banyan Tree and Four Seasons properties selling well for all operators. Kuoni finds the Constance hotels sell well in the UK market, with the Ephelia property particularly suited to families.
Many operators have seen the family market here grow. Elegant Resorts recommends the Four Seasons Seychelles, and Travel 2 has had success with Indian Ocean Beach Lodge. Another family-friendly option is the new Kempinski property on Mahé, which soft-opened in March and is already generating a lot of interest for Sunset, Travel 2 and Elite.
Even the private island resorts offer real variety. North Island, where William and Kate honeymooned, and Fregate Island warrant the tag ultra-luxury – we’re talking clients who are happy spending £10,000 plus per person per week.
But there’s also tiny Cousine (pictured below), a nature reserve with a maximum occupancy of 10 people, and Bird Island, an even more reasonably priced eco‑island retreat. And Denis Private Island, Desroches Island (new for Emirates Tours and Elegant Resorts this year) and Beachcomber’s Sainte Anne Resort now all offer all-inclusive, giving those who prefer it the chance to set their budget in stone.
SEE: NATURAL WONDERS
All the Seychelles islands have stunning beaches, with Anse Lazio in Praslin and Anse Source D’Argent in La Digue often name-checked as the best. Snorkelling, diving and deep-sea fishing are all world class in standard.
The natural environment on land is stunning too. The Vallée de Mai national park in Praslin is a favourite, allowing visitors to wander among the huge palm trees and see the famous derrière‑shaped coco de mer coconuts.
Praslin is within easy reach of many other islands, making it the perfect base for day trips to the bird sanctuary islands of Aride and Cousin, the tortoise breeding colony at Curieuse and laid-back, car-free La Digue, where there are small hotels on offer for those who want to stay longer to enjoy its glorious beaches and friendly giant tortoises.
Walks and treks offer stunning views, and Travel 2 has a range of varying difficulty and length, including the easy one-hour Trois Frères walk on Mahe.
The capital, Victoria, is pleasant to wander around, and is home to a vibrant market, the ‘Little Ben’ clocktower and the only set of traffic lights in the islands. Above it in the lush green mountains clients will find a tea plantation where they can see the still-functioning Victorian machinery and try different varieties.