Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Go wild in the Seychelles

Sustainable eco-tourism is big business in this truly beautiful archipelago

Exotic paradise: The view over Victoria on Mahe
Exotic paradise: The view over Victoria on Mahe
Victoria's Hindu temple
The beach attached to Mahe's Kempinski Hotel

Esmeralda advanced towards me, gasping. For 150, she wasn't looking bad. Her skin was dry and stretched. But she approached stealthily, tugging her huge shell towards the apple I was holding.

She was the oldest of a collection of giant turtles which live out their days on a stretch of greenery in the grounds of the luxurious Kempinski Hotel on Mahé, Seychelles' largest island. Seychelles is a haven for exotic birds and sea life.

Eco-tourism is big business on the Indian Ocean archipelago, which lies 1,000 miles off the east African coast.

Sustainability and conservation are buzzwords. Which was why we were there, meeting Esmeralda after a brief snorkel in the turquoise waters of a nearby beach. Descriptions of Seychelles rely heavily on superlatives.

But in this case they give credit to the country's breathtaking natural beauty. Photographs of coconut trees leaning over porcelain white beaches are no trick of Photoshop.

The azure waters cloud over only for staccato monsoon downpours, making it ideal for snorkelling, diving, kayaking and the many other activities on offer.

A swim off the islands' secluded beaches in early May is like soaking in a warm bath, and the water is so salty that you can float with little effort.

Seychelles is a rare combination of beauty and luck. The landscape rises from a sprawling coastline to mountainous jungle terrain, which forms the peaks of many of Seychelles' 115 islands – providing spectacular, open air views for the opulent, tasteful hotels.

The climate is tropical, situated just south of the equator. But the country is disease-free and none of the indigenous animals are poisonous. (The only exception is an insect with a poisonous but non-fatal bite.)

There are several wildlife reserves on the islands, such as Vallee-de-Mai nature reserve on Praslin Island, a one-hour ferry ride from Mahé.

Vallee-de-Mai is a haven for parrots and exotic insects. But it is for the coco-de-mer palm tree that Vallee-de-Mai is famous. The nut from the coco-de-mer tree – sometimes referred to as the 'love nut' for its uncannily erotic dimensions, which resemble a female bottom – can be found everywhere in Seychelles.

A 15-minute ferry ride from Praslin will take you to La Digue. Brightly-painted ox carts and bicycles are the main forms of transport on the island, which has an infectiously slower pace of life. A coastal road of secluded, white beaches swings back into lush fields and jungle, climbing to huge boulders which drop into the Indian Ocean. Guest houses and B&Bs dot the drive.

At anything from around £34 a night (Beryl's Studio Apartment, Beau Vallon, Mahé) to around £51 per night for a double room (Chez Cecile, La Digue), these attractive, open-fronted houses are ideal for tourists on a budget. Guests have the added advantage of staying within the community and eating the local Creole cuisine.

La Digue is a popular island, frequented by high profile figures, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair. It also hosts Le Domaine de L'Orangeraie Hotel (orangeraie.sc), one of Seychelles' chicest hotels. With its clever design, the resort seamlessly blends into the landscape (villas start at £299).

Mahé offers a wide range of activities, most of which are based in Victoria, one of the world's smallest capitals. A short walk from the city centre's Little Ben clock tower, a relic of British colonial days, will take you to the Selwyn Selwyn Clark food market, the hub of the city.

Spices, herbs, soft drinks, vegetables and fruit are sold at very reasonable prices. The selection of fresh fish is exotic, but it is may be wise to get to the market early when the stock has not been affected by the heat.

A Hindu temple adjacent to the market is also worth a visit, if only for its surreal colours and statues.

Getting there: Anna Maguire visited Seychelles courtesy of Etihad Airways and Seychelles' Tourism Board. Flights with Etihad Airways from Dublin Airport to Mahé operate regularly. Prices flying with Coral Economy on Etihad Airways range from £685 to £856 for a return flight between June and September.

The airline flies via Abu Dhabi and offers a wide range of food, refreshments and movies. If you would like to visit in the New Year, a return flight in mid-January 2014 will cost just over £600. To fly Pearl Business Class can vary from £1,714 in January, but the cost can be kept at a minimum by picking the days you fly carefully.

Staying there: Constance Lemuria Resort on Praslin (lemuriaresort.constance hotels.com/tel: 0024 84281281); St Anne's Beachcomber Hotel (beachcomber-hotels.com/hotel/sainte-anne-resort-spa.html); Mahé's Kempinski Hotel kempinski.com/en/baie-lazare/seychelles-resort; tel: 002484386666.

Euro and American dollars are both accepted in Seychelles. The currency is the Seychellois rupee (SCR); €1 is around 16 Seychellois Rupee. Victoria has several restaurants and bars. A beer in a shop in the capital will cost you 50 SCR (€3), but bars charge hotel prices, which are considerably higher.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

Getting there: Anna Maguire visited Seychelles courtesy of Etihad Airways and Seychelles’ Tourism Board. Flights with Etihad Airways from Dublin Airport to Mahé operate regularly. Prices flying with Coral

Economy on Etihad Airways range from £685 to £856 for a return flight between June and September. The airline flies via Abu Dhabi and offers a wide range of food, refreshments and movies. If you would like to visit in the New Year, a return flight in mid-January 2014 will cost just over £600.

To fly Pearl Business Class can vary from £1,714 in January, but the cost can be kept at a minimum by picking the days you fly carefully.

Staying there: Constance Lemuria Resort on Praslin (lemuriaresort.constance hotels.com/tel: 0024 84281281); St Anne's Beachcomber Hotel (beachcomberhotels.com/hotel/sainte-anne-resortspa.html); Mahé’s Kempinski Hotel kempinski.com/en/baie-lazare/seychelles-resort; tel:002484386666.

Euro and American dollars are both accepted in Seychelles. The currency is the Seychellois rupee (SCR); €1 is around 16 Seychellois Rupee. Victoria has several restaurants and bars. A beer in a shop in the capital will cost you 50 SCR (€3), but bars charge hotel prices, which are considerably higher.

 

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